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!
1. Cascade Falls – 7.5 miles – Dog-Friendly
Located near Grand Lake, Colorado, Cascade Falls is a great hike for those in search of a beautiful tree lined hike with babbling creeks, lakes, huge ravines, and of course a waterfall. This 7.5-mile hike begins at the trailhead at Monarch Lake. Head clockwise around the lake to cut about 3 miles off of your hike. As you hike, be on the lookout for moose, deer, fox, and other wildlife. In 2014 an avalanche took out part of the trail so the route has recently been rerouted. Though you do gain some elevation, it is a steady slope and manageable for a variety of hikers.
Trail Tips: May through the end of July expect high water from mountain snowmelt and runoff. Keep kids and dogs safely away from the quick water currents to prevent accidents. You will lose cell service on this hike so always tell someone where you are headed prior to hiking and if possible, go with a buddy.
2. St. Louis Lake Trail – 900ft elevation gain – Dog-Friendly
With just about 900 feet in elevation gain over the trip, this 7-mile trail is great for all ages and abilities. Dogs are welcome and will enjoy the ample water access throughout the hike as well as the beautiful, secluded lake at the end of the trip.
Trail Tips: A lot of this hike is in moose territory. If you see a moose, keep your distance, back away, and place a sturdy object like a large tree or boulder between you and the moose, and let the moose leave the area. If you have a dog, make sure to keep it quiet and prevent it from chasing the moose. Moose are threatened by dogs and will charge.
3. Byers Peak Trail – 7 Miles – Dog-Friendly
This trail is a favorite of visitors and locals alike. Once on the trail, be prepared for a 1.8-mile steep hike. Once near the top, be on the lookout for mountain goats that can be quite curious. The top provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Trail Tips: Most accessible June through November. Avoid the “boring” 2 miles of road hiking by bringing a bike and biking from the parking area to the trailhead. No bikes are allowed past the trailhead, but there is a bike rack where you can lock your bike at the trailhead.
4. Silver Dollar Lake Trail – 1.5 miles – Dog-Friendly
Located in Idaho Springs this is the perfect hike when you’re heading to or from Winter Park, Colorado. Though only 1.5 miles round trip, this steep trail is full of fantastic views, waterfalls, wildflowers, fishing, and mountain lakes.
Trail Tips: This is a popular hike and the trail can get busy so go early if possible. The first lake you hit s a private lake, the second one is Silver Dollar Lake. If Silver Dollar Lake is too crowded for your liking, keep trekking and you will hit Murray Lake a bit higher up, but much less crowded.