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Hiking Colorado: The Winter Months

Updated on March 20, 2011

Relaxing winter hikes can be a walk in the park and there are at least three reasons why people choose to hike Colorado's high country in the winter:

  • There are no snakes or bugs.
  • There are almost no people.
  • There are no skis, bindings or uncomfortable boots involved.

Contrary to what everyone else around the country thinks not everyone in Colorado skis, but it is especially beautiful in the winter. Everything is so calm and less busy. Everyone else is skiing.

That's not completely true.

A small but faithful contingent of hikers braves the cold of winter to hike the Rocky Mountain region. According to the American Hiking Association, Colorado's high country is the second-most popular destination for winter hiking, just behind Vermont.  What you get in winter that you don't the rest of the year is a wilderness that seems to be at rest.

Winter hiking is a little tamer. You're hiking only where you can move with hiking boots. You can snowshoe too, but hiking is more for relaxation, snowshoeing is for a workout or an adventure.

Winter hikers have plenty of advice to offer. Dress appropriately, and ditch the cotton. Cotton retains moisture, and the moisture cools quickly, leaving the hiker with a cold layer that can cause hypothermia.

Many of your regular hiking apparel will be okay for hiking during winter. Your regular hiking boots, wool socks and a polypropylene liner will work as well. As far as pants go, synthetic hiking pants and gaiters to keep snow out of your boots are required. Polypropylene underwear, a fleece pullover and a shell jacket should round out your hiking uniform.

Other winter hiking tips:

Ice, of course, might be on the hiking trails. A trekking pole with a tip that bites into ice is recommended.

The days are quite a bit shorter in winter. Plan to be back at your vehicle before it starts getting dark. Also, carry a flashlight and a map.

Beware of dehydration. Our sense of thirst can trick us in cold weather. Symptoms of dehydration - confusion, fatigue, headaches - can be even more dangerous when it is cold.

Use sun protection.

Hike with a group of people or at least one friend.

It's common sense, but people seem to need to be reminded all the time of these basics. Obviously, it's not suggested that people go winter hiking into places that require more than common sense. Winter is a time when a lot of things can go wrong out on the trail. Avalanches happen. Wild animals are more aggressive. There are plenty of places to hike in winter and avoid these things.

You also have to consider that the temperatures can quickly go from several comfortable degrees above freezing to well below 0 degrees F in a matter of an hour or two (and sometimes even less). If you are ill equipped and far from your car, you stand the chance of not making it back to safety. There is no way that you can over prepare for Colorado mountain trail winters.

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