The Winter Park area is filled with many amazing hikes for all levels and abilities. While hikes are an amazing experience for the whole family, there are some precautions you should take when planning and preparing for a hike. Many of the hikes around here are no “walk in the park.”
Here are 10+ tips to hike safe on the trail:
- Check the weather and be prepared for anything: As the old Fraser Valley saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” Weather in the Fraser Valley rolls in quickly. Check the weather before leaving and keep an eye on the skies. Hiking early is recommended to reduce the chance of being on top of the Divide when an afternoon thunderstorm rolls in.
- Layers: Layers are important because the weather can, and does change so drastically and quickly. Bring light layers of clothes to protect yourself should it start to storm. There is always a chance of snow, sleet, heavy rains, falling into water, and dropping temperatures in the mountains. Protect yourself from hypothermia by bringing layers and trading in jean and cotton fabrics for synthetic fabrics that will not retain moisture. Fact: People are more likely to die hypothermia in the spring, summer, and fall because they are not prepared for temperature changes.
- Water: You might not think you need a lot but always be prepared for the worst. You never know what you might run into or what might delay your hike. Dehydration in this elevated and arid climate can set in quickly. Don’t feel like hauling all of your water? Bring a water purification system or purification tablets so you can hike and refill your water bottle on the way. It is recommended to bring 3 quarts of water per person, per day, and if you choose to bring a water purification method, be sure that there is actually water on the trail.
- Phones: Charge phones before you leave and put them in airplane mode when not in use to conserve your battery, (you never know what you might find on the trail). Some hikes in the area do not receive any cell service, some receive only Verizon coverage, and some have full coverage. If ever you need service but don’t have it, climb up to get away from rocks and valleys that might be blocking your service.
- Dogs: Keep dogs under voice command or on leashes. Moose frequent this area and you do not want to be charged by a moose because it felt threatened by a dog.
- Log Books: Many of the longer trails around have log books where you can write your name, license plate number, hiking plan, the number of hikers, and comment on trail conditions after your hike. If you see one of these books take a minute to record your information. This information helps the state parks identify numbers of trail users and should you get lost; they will know where to look for you.
- Safety Contact: Always tell someone where you are going, how many people and dogs are with you, and your estimated time of returning. If you don’t know anyone in the area tell someone from your hometown. If possible, check in with them while you’re on the trail. Let them know that if they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they should contact the Grand County Sheriff’s Department with details. The sooner someone knows your missing, and the more information they have, the more likely you’ll be found.
- Bring an Emergency Kit: Make sure to bring an emergency kit with the following items; first aid kit, whistle, flashlight, energy bars, bright bandana, and a bright colored trash bag for each person.
- Children: If hiking with children keep them close to you. You never know when there will be a significant drop-off or wildlife in the area. Talk with your children about what to do if they do get separated from you. Make sure they know to stay in one spot by a tree and to not hide from strangers. For younger children tell them to “hug a tree.” For older children, teach them how to make a protective shelter that is easily found by rescuers.
- Wildlife: It’s not uncommon to encounter wildlife on the trail. The Colorado Rockies are home to a variety of animals including, coyotes, mule deer, fox, owls, eagles, hawks, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep. Most of the time you will not know they are there, and if you do they will most likely go their own way. Nine times out of ten an animal only will attack if it feels threatened. It is important when hiking to not sneak up on wildlife. Wearing bells or being a bit noisy on the trail will help to keep you and your family safe on the trail. For more tips on what to do when you run into native Colorado wildlife, check out our blog post on Wildlife Safety in the Colorado Rockies.
- Have Fun! Yeah we added an 11th one…but this one is one of the most important ones. Have fun! If you’re not having fun and enjoying the beauty around you there is no point!
If you’re in search of a fall backpacking Colorado trip, here it is! Lone Eagle Peak. This past weekend three of us grabbed our packs and left for the trailhead for a backpacking adventure we are still recovering from!
The Adventures of Lone Eagle Peak Backpacking Trip (14.8+ miles round-trip)
Where It All Began:
We met at 8:00 am in Fraser and stopped by Sharky’s to “fill our tanks” with the breakfast burritos ordered. (Never been? Check them out and join us on the Sharky’s breakfast burrito bandwagon!)
Jumped in the car around 8:40 am and headed to Granby, Colorado where we took the 34-split heading East on US-34 towards Grand Lake, Colorado. Approximately 5.5 miles up you take a right onto Colorado Highway 6 towards Arapaho Bay. There is a pay station on the right where you can buy a parking pass for your car; we weren’t sure if the season was over…so we took our chances. Follow Colorado Highway 6 down all the way until you hit the parking lot by Trailhead Campground. (It’s a stunning drive on a well-maintained dirt road that follows the Lake Granby shoreline – amazing views all around!)
We parked, grabbed our packs, signed the registry, made small-talk with the motherly volunteer who warned us 10+ times about the “ornery bull moose in the area” and reminded us that “it got down to 32*F in Tabernash last night,” and hit the trail!
The Hike: (Part 1)
To start, you take the Western route on the Loop Trail around Monarch Lake. (This will be your left when facing Monarch Lake). The first mile and a half is a pretty flat hike, following the lake around. Unfortunately or fortunately we didn’t see any of the “ornery bull moose.”
At 1.6 miles you’ll take the Arapaho Pass – Cascade Creek Trail Split (It’s the one heading uphill on your left). From here it’s a pretty straightforward hike, you stay on the trail following signs for Crater Lake.
The Hike: (Part 2)
Somewhere between 3 and 3.4 miles in, you’ll enter a valley that has had some major avalanche action on both sides! CRAZY to think about how much power the Avalanche had to take down so many huge trees!
4.5 miles in, you hit Cascade Falls #1 – it’s beautiful! Keep heading up to the second viewpoint. Here you can take a seat, filter water, take a swim, “rock-climb”, and view the falls up close!
Warning: Rocks are slippery!
Keep your eyes peeled for more falls later on in the trail!
The trail is great because it follows Buchanan Creek through a variety of landscapes, so you always have water available. (Don’t be dumb; always filter/treat before you drink…beaver fever isn’t fun!)
The trail gets steep at times but not bad…even with a 40-pound pack. Plus, the steep parts don’t last forever. Other cool parts include giant buried boulders, tree bridges, and amazing views of cliffs and peaks spearing from the valley!
The first lake you’ll come to is Mirror Lake. It’s beautiful but doesn’t stop there! Continue to Crater Lake. You’ll know it when you see it! When facing the Lake, Lone Eagle Peak will be on your left; you can’t miss it. The whole area is stunning and somewhat surreal.
Moral of the Story:
This hike is amazing! It is definitely one for the bucket list…with the right crew. Remember to pack smart, be prepared, clean up after yourselves, and do it! You won’t regret it…promise!
- There are designated campsites for use, (June 1st – September 15th you will need a permit)
- Apparently the fines for having a fire are steep. We made a fire in a pre-existing pit and then made friends who were willing to share the fines with us.
- Cell service is spotty.
- Baby weasels are cute…but they will try to help themselves to your food.
- Dogs are allowed, but only on a leash… Many thanks to the ranger who took pity on me and let me off with a warning vs. a $125 ticket!
- Bear bags are great – especially in the fall.
- It’s fall, hunters are out, wear orange.
If you’re looking for the perfect fall hike Columbine Lake a great option!
On this hike you enjoy limited elevation gain, stunning views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, late blooming wildflowers, and of course the teal blue of the clear mountain lake.
- Bring layers, food, water (or water purification tools), a camera, and a credit card for the fee station if you plan on hiking between Memorial day and September 15th. (The hike will take anywhere from 3+ hours so plan accordingly.)
- Proper footwear. Though the trail is defined, you will encounter roots, rocks, and boulders.
- A dog (if you have one) with a leash and doggie bags.
- A vehicle with higher suspension is recommended because the road to the trailhead has fairly large bumps and potholes. However, if you take it slow, a smaller vehicle will work.
- Take 83 off of highway 40 (as if you’re going to Devil’s Thumb Ranch).
- At the first “T” Take a left onto 84.
- Once you pass Strawberry Road (on your left), keep left at the fork, (this turns into USFS 129 and there should be a creek on your right).
- Stay on USFS 129. There will be a fee station on your left where you can purchase a pass for $5/car.
- Continue on USFS 129 and stay left at the fork before the Meadow Creek Reservoir.
- Approximately three-quarters of the way around the reservoir you will see the trailhead parking lot on the left. (There are fairly primitive bathrooms located here – the only bathrooms you’ll encounter on the hike.)
- Park, display your pass, sign in the hiking registry, and hit the trail!
The trail is approximately 8 miles round-trip and takes anywhere from 3+ hours to complete. The destination is the perfect spot to have a picnic, so plan ahead and make a day of it. The trail is rocky but well maintained and defined. Also, though there are multiple water crossings, all of them have rocks, bridges, or makeshift log bridges to use. (No one likes wet socks!)
Once on the trail keep your eyes peeled for moose and deer, especially in the meadows and forests! (My first time hiking this trail in July, I saw three big bulls and a few cows!)
About a half a mile in, you’ll see an old homestead on your right. It’s pretty cool to check out and imagine how people used to live.
The trail is slightly sloped for the first three quarters and the last leg being a more dramatic incline. The trail runs along a few meadows, the Meadow Creek at times, enters pine forests, boulder fields, next to cliffs, and waterfalls. It is a very beautiful and fairly low impact hike.
Once you get to the lake there are plenty of boulders to sit on and enjoy the view. Some people (and dogs) swim, though the mountain lake’s icy chill prevents many.
Moral of the story:
Columbine Lake is a very accessible, beautiful, and enjoyable hike for anyone looking to get out, explore, and see some of Colorado’s untouched beauty this fall. Protected by cliffs and trees, you will not encounter the cold winds that other hikes are prone to this time of year, and with the cooler temps and natural springs, a variety of wildflowers are still blooming in the meadows and creek beds, (yes even in September).
If you still need more convincing, check out the photos below. Then grab some gear and your friends and hit the trail to Columbine Lake, you’ll be glad you did!