It certainly seems this winter has been colder and snowier than the past few years, and a cursory glance at some historical weather data appears to reinforce this. If you’re new to the Pikes Peak region, this weather might seem a bit harsh, but anyone who has lived here for more than a handful of years will recognize that this frigidity is more normal than not.
I’ll be the first to admit that hiking on a blistering cold day when there isn’t any snow on the ground and the landscape is a dismal brown isn’t very enticing. And while it’s easy to just decide to stay inside and binge whatever catches your attention on Netflix, you could be missing out on some enjoyable outdoor recreation. There are still plenty of places to go and things to see during a cold, hard Colorado winter.
Here are a few suggestions for you, starting with a couple outside of the Pikes Peak region:
Have you ever seen a bald eagle? Want to see lots of them? Then head up to Barr Lake State Park. Known for its year-round birding — along with boating, fishing and a host of other activities — the park really comes alive in the winter when flocks (or more correctly, aeries or convocations) of bald eagles descend upon it. From the visitor’s center, head south (clockwise) on the Lake Loop trail and keep your eyes on the frozen water and in the treetops. You’ll also see plenty of other birds too, including golden eagles and hawks, and don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars.
The park hosts a number of eagle-related events during the winter, and also posts updates on the eagle population on its website and social media. The photo opportunities are plenty, but your cell phone camera isn’t going to cut it. Buy, borrow or rent a telephoto lens for your camera, or go with someone who already has the equipment, and capture some great images. Entry fees do apply. Leashed dogs are allowed, except in the dedicated wildlife refuge area. Bikes and horses are also allowed, with some restrictions. See the parks website, or stop in the visitor’s center, for details.
If you want to enjoy some hiking in the snow (or snowshoeing, if your timing is good) among tall trees, old buildings, lakes and towering rock formations, then Staunton State Park is the place to go. The snow tends to stick there for a while, and the park has plenty of trails for you to choose from, including many with outstanding views. On my latest trip there about a week ago, the trails had several inches of packed snow, so while traction aids were useful, snowshoes weren’t necessary. The air was still and a gentle snowfall made for a beautiful experience. I’ve written about Staunton a number of times, and visited it many more, and it never ceases to please, regardless of the season. And it is especially nice in the winter. Entry fees do apply. Leashed dogs are allowed. Bikes and horses are also allowed, with some restrictions. See the park’s website, or stop in the visitor’s center, for details.
If you don’t want to drive the two-hours or so to visit Barr Lake or Staunton State Park, then 11 Mile Canyon Recreation Area might be to your liking. Not to be confused with 11 Mile State Park, 11 Mile Canyon is in the Pike National Forest, just south of Lake George. A narrow canyon following the South Platte River, the drive along the road features roaring water and ice formations that are not only scenic, but they also draw wildlife, including bald eagles. There are a few hiking trails along the way, including the Overlook Trail at the west end of the canyon, just before the dam that created 11 Mile Reservoir. A short hike, it offers up expansive views of the dam and reservoir. Entry fees do apply. Colorado State Parks passes are not valid in 11 Mile Canyon.
Closer yet to Colorado Springs, Mueller State Park has sledding hills, snowshoeing, and they even groom some of their trails for cross-country skiing. It’s a busy park, so the snow gets packed down on the trails pretty quickly. If you want to go snowshoeing, get there soon after a snowfall. And if you’re hiking or snowshoeing and encounter a trail that has been groomed for skiers, do the right thing and stay off the groomed portion. Entry fees do apply. Dogs are not allowed on any trails. Bikes and horses are also allowed, with some restrictions. See the parks website, or stop in the visitor’s center, for details.
There you have it. Give these a try and while you’re out there, explore a bit and find your own favorite places.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.