5 hikes for you to do in Summit County this winter | SummitDaily.com

5 hikes for you to do in Summit County this winter

Don your snowshoes or cleats to conquer these scenic trails. But also be prepared for unpredictable terrain and weather

A hiker walks down a ridgeline west of the parking lot at Loveland Pass around dusk on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2023.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Hiking in Summit County can be just as beautiful — and thrilling — in the winter as it is in the summer. With the addition of snow shoes or traction cleats such as MICROspikes, alpine trails can transform into snow-covered adventures across frosted, mountainous terrain. 

But hikers should also be aware of weather conditions before venturing outside — especially as winter storms and loose snowpack can make the environment unreliable, said Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi.

“The biggest thing is being prepared before you go and that’s looking at the weather forecast and having a plan,” Bianchi said. “It’s a busy time of year with a lot of people wanting to get out and enjoy the snow, so be prepared about where you’re going.”

Unsettled snowpack and heavy backcountry use have been triggering several avalanches across the region, Bianchi said. Even if hikers stay on a well-packed trail, avalanche danger still persists.

Bianchi advises hikers go to Avalanche.State.co.us for daily information on avalanche conditions. Other resources for safety tips and hiking etiquette include the White River National Forest’s website on backcountry safety which can be found at tinyurl.com/whiteriversafety.

Bianchi said hikers should be aware that “a popular hiking trail you may do in the summer could look completely different in the winter.” Because of this, hikers should be equipped with a reliable navigation tool, such as the GPS-based app AllTrails. Appropriate layers of clothing, food and water are also essential, Bianchi said.

With those resources and safety tips in mind, here are five winter trails to hike in Summit County:

A gnarled bristlecone pine tree standing strong atop Mount Royal’s summit.
Caroline Lewis/Summit Daily Archive

Mount Royal Trail

Length: 3.9 miles

Time: About 2 hours and 30 minutes

Elevation gain: 1,374 feet.

With a trailhead situated right off Exit 201 from Interstate 70 for Main Street Frisco, this popular hike is easy to find and considered “fun no matter what time of year you’re planning to visit,”  according to AllTrails.

A steep incline to the top offers views of the towns of Dillon and Frisco as well as the Interstate 70 corridor. 

The trailhead is located at 504 W Main St. in Frisco.

Ptarmigan Trail

Length: 4.6 miles

Time: About 2 hours and 30 minutes

Elevation gain: 1,141 feet.

Located just west of Silverthorne, this out-and-back trail is “generally considered a moderately challenging route,” according to AllTrails. The trail — which begins near I-70 — ends with a bench overlook at the top that offers views of the Dillon Reservoir and the town below. 

According to the website Hiking Project, the hike begins with a steep climb before entering a meadow and later, a thick forest. About halfway through the hike, there is a bench that overlooks the Gore Range that can serve as a “nice turning around point if you want a shorter hike,” according to Hiking Project. 

This trailhead is located at 0808 Ptarmigan Trail in Silverthorne.

Spruce Creek Trail to Mohawk Lake and Continental Falls

Length: 6 miles

Time: About 3 hours and 30 minutes

Elevation gain: 1,712 feet

Beginning near the Blue River south of Breckenridge, this hike is considered a “challenging route” on AllTrails. The trail takes hikers through pine forests, past Continental Falls (the largest waterfall near Breckenridge) before arriving at Lower Mohawk Lake. Hikers can extend their hike by continuing on to Upper Mohawk Lake, which comes with a much steeper incline, according to AllTrails. Along the trail, hikers can also view historic mining structures dotted throughout the route.

Parts of this trail are currently closed for construction but detours are available to allow hikers to complete the route. 

This trailhead is located at the end of Spruce Creek Road, just outside of Blue River.

Willow Creek Falls via Gore Range and Mesa Cortina Trail 

Length: About 7.8 miles

Time: About 3 hours and 45 minutes

Elevation gain: 1,450 feet

This loop trail northwest of Silverthorne is considered moderate, according to AllTrails. The path takes hikers through meadows and “skirting the edge of the forest,” according to a description on Hiking Project. Hikers will need to cross a few small creeks, which are likely to be frozen, before reaching the Gore Range. 

From there, hikers will turn left on the Gore Range Trail. This will lead to the steep face of Buffalo Mountain where a few more miles past that, hikers will come across a small waterfall at South Willow Falls Crossover.

This trailhead is located at Willowbrook Trailhead, 717 Willowbrook Road in Silverthorne.

The small signpost that signifies the start of the Tenderfoot Trail, which branches off from Oro Grande Trail in Dillon.
Caroline Lewis/Summit Daily News archive

Tenderfoot Mountain 

Length: 11.5 miles

Time: About 5 hours and 50 minutes 

Elevation gain: 2,427 feet

This out-and-back trail, located just east of Dillon on the south side of I-70, Tenderfoot Mountain is a harder route, according to AllTrails. “This work is a genuine workout to the top of Tenderfoot Mountain from the trailhead at the end of County Road 51,” according to AllTrails. 

This trail is a popular snowshoeing hike, according to AllTrails, and much of route receives sunny southern exposure. The trail begins with roughly half a mile on the Oro Grande Trail before becoming steeper as it weaves its way steeper toward the top of Tenderfoot Mountain. The vantage point from the top of the trail gives sweeping views of the entire Gore Range and Tenmile Range, as well as Keystone, Breckenridge and Dillon. 

This trail is not very well marked, so hikers should keep to the well-packed snow to guide them.

This trailhead is located on Tenderfoot Trail Road near the water treatment plant in Dillon.

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