Winter Hiking in Colorado: 7 Tips for Great Winter Adventures

Winter hiking in Colorado can be a rewarding and enjoyable outdoor activity, but it can also present unique challenges and risks due to the colder temperatures and often unpredictable weather. It’s important to prepare ahead of time if you want to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are seven tips for winter hiking in Colorado.

1. Check the Weather Forecast

Before you head out on a winter hike in Colorado, be sure to check the weather forecast to get an idea of what conditions you will be facing. This will help you plan your route and pack the right gear. Keep in mind that the weather can change quickly in Colorado, so be prepared for a range of conditions. Here are three good sources to check weather conditions for hiking:

  1. National Weather Service: A reliable source for weather forecasts and alerts for the United States. You can access the forecast for your specific location by visiting the National Weather Service website or downloading their mobile app.
  2. AccuWeather: A private weather forecasting company that provides detailed and accurate forecasts for locations around the world. You can access their forecasts by visiting the AccuWeather website or downloading their mobile app.
  3. Dark Sky: A weather forecasting app that provides detailed and accurate forecasts for your specific location. It is known for its precise short-term forecasts and can be particularly useful for planning outdoor activities.

2. Know Your Route

It is important to know your route and any potential hazards before you head out on a winter hike in Colorado. Snow often covers hiking trails completely and makes it easy to lose your way, even if it is a trail you previously hiked. Be sure to bring a map and compass, and familiarize yourself with the route. Consider hiking with a group or a knowledgeable companion, especially if you are new to the area. If you go alone, I recommend bringing a GPS device of some kind. Don’t rely on GPS apps on your phone as the cold will quickly drain your battery. 

3. Bring the Right Gear

Proper gear is essential for a safe and comfortable winter hike in Colorado. In addition to the gear mentioned in the previous answers, consider bringing traction devices, such as microspikes or crampons, to help you navigate slippery terrain. You may also want to bring a pair of snowshoes if you are hiking in deep snow. Lastly, ensure you have the ten essentials on every adventure you go on. I share some boot recommendations for winter hikes in Colorado further down in the FAQ section.

4. Stay Hydrated and Nourished

It is important to stay hydrated and nourished while hiking in the winter, even if you don’t feel thirsty or hungry. Pack plenty of water and high-energy snacks, such as nuts, jerky, or energy bars. Consider packing some hot drinks or soup in a thermos to warm you up along the way. The cold weather will usually freeze hydration hose systems, so leave those at home during winter months.

5. Know the Signs of Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a serious risk when hiking in the winter, and it can be difficult to recognize the signs, especially if you are already cold. Be on the lookout for symptoms such as shivering, confusion, slurred speech, and drowsiness, and take steps to warm up if you or a hiking partner shows signs of hypothermia. Do not be afraid to call for help if you think someone is struggling with moderate to severe hypothermia as this is a medical emergency and a life-threatening situation.

6. Take Breaks as Needed

Winter hiking can be physically demanding, especially in colder temperatures. Be sure to listen to your body and take breaks as needed to avoid overexertion. It is also a good idea to start with shorter, easier hikes and work your way up to more challenging routes as you gain experience and confidence.

7. Leave No Trace

It is important to respect the environment and leave no trace when hiking in Colorado. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles, such as staying on designated trails, packing out all of your trash, and respecting wildlife. Following these principles can help protect the natural beauty of Colorado’s wilderness areas.

One benefit of hiking in winter is the ability to travel off-trail without trampling plants or causing erosion. As long as the snow completely covers the ground and is at least six inches deep, you can travel off-trail if you are comfortable doing so without worrying about your impact. Once the snow melts it will be as if you were never there.

8. Watch out for Avalanche Risk

Avalanches are a big concern for those winter hiking in Colorado. You can reduce this risk by researching routes and selecting trails that stay far away from avalanche terrain – typically hillsides with a slope between 30 and 45 degrees. There are several good mapping tools, including this backcountry map, that allow you to identify potential avalanche paths across your route so you can avoid them.

If you want to pass through avalanche terrain while winter hiking in Colorado, you should take an AIARE class first. They will teach you how to asses whether a slope is dangerous, what warning signs to watch for, and how to rescue a partner if they are caught in an avalanche. Click here to get more information about these classes.

Winter Hiking in Colorado

Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Hiking in Colorado

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions on the internet related to winter hiking in Colorado. Have a question to add? Leave a comment below at the bottom of the page and I will do my best to respond.

Q: What should I wear for winter hiking in Colorado?

A: Layering is key to staying warm and comfortable while hiking in the winter. Start with a base layer of moisture-wicking material to keep your skin dry, and add layers of insulation to keep you warm. It is also important to have a waterproof outer layer to protect against the elements. Don’t forget to bring extra layers in case the weather changes or you get wet. It is also important to wear proper footwear, such as insulated and waterproof boots, and moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters.

Q: What should I do if I get lost while winter hiking in Colorado?

A: If you get lost while winter hiking in Colorado, the most important thing is to stay calm and think clearly. Use your map and compass to try to get your bearings, and consider retracing your steps if possible. If you are unable to find your way, consider finding shelter and staying put until help arrives. Make sure to bring a whistle and a flashlight, and use them to signal for help if necessary.

Q: What should I do if I or a hiking partner experiences a medical emergency while winter hiking in Colorado?

A: If you or a hiking partner experiences a medical emergency while winter hiking in Colorado, the most important thing is to get help as soon as possible. If you have a satellite phone or personal locator beacon, use it to call for help. If you don’t have these resources, try to get to a place where you can be seen or heard by rescue personnel. If possible, send someone for help while you stay with the person experiencing the medical emergency. If you are unable to get help, do your best to keep the person warm and comfortable until help arrives.

Q: What are some good boot options for winter hiking in Colorado?

A: Salomon Quest 4 GORE-TEX Hiking Boots

These top-rated hiking boots are designed for backpacking and feature a waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex membrane to keep your feet dry and comfortable. They’re ideal for summer and winter hiking in Colorado. 

See Men’s Pair | See Women’s Pair

A: Merrell Thermo Chill Mid Waterproof Boots

Merrell Thermo Chill Mid Waterproof boots are winter overachievers. Waterproof membranes and low-bulk insulation deliver all-over defense from snow and all-around warmth in cold temps. These are my favorite boots to use for winter hiking in Colorado.

See Men’s Pair | See Women’s Pair

Winter Hiking in Colorado: Now You Know!

In conclusion, winter hiking in Colorado can be a thrilling and enjoyable outdoor activity, but it is important to be prepared and take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and comfortable experience. By following the tips and guidelines outlined in this blog, you can have a safe and enjoyable winter hiking experience in Colorado.

We hope this blog has been helpful and informative for those interested in winter hiking in Colorado. If you have any additional tips or experiences to share, please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you and learn more about your adventures in Colorado’s beautiful wilderness.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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