Want to bike or hike in Summit County for Memorial Day weekend? Here are some spots that have thawed out in time for the holiday.
Slush. Mud. Rain. Snow. Low water levels. Memorial Day may mark the unofficial start of summer for much of America, but Summit County is still transitioning from a snow-lover’s paradise to a world-class destination for hiking, biking, fishing, flower hunting, backpacking and camping — and more.
Though the streets aren’t lined with chest-high snow as the holiday nears, many folks will find themselves up against knee-high snow, slush fields and puddles of mud on a majority of trails across Summit County. Things may still be thawing out, but outdoor enthusiasts are still finding ways to enjoy the local peaks, forests, lakes and fields.
No matter where you go in Summit County, experts say caution is still needed to avoid life-threatening hazards.
As the snowfields heat up in high-Alpine terrain, avalanches persist across the region, especially after noon when the sun and higher temperatures bake the snowpack. Wet slides and avalanches can trap, bury or kill unsuspecting recreationists, and softening snow can steal shoes or cause hikers to find themselves miles away from safety and waist deep in slush. Knowing where avalanche paths are is important since slides that are out of view can start in areas above trails and recpaths.
Trails can also be damaged, causing harm to the local environment and forest land, which in turn can lead to restrictions, closures and punishments. With rain in the forecast throughout the holiday weekend, it’s best to turn around if you encounter mud puddles or if bikes and shoes are leaving prints along the path you’re traveling. Anyone who doesn’t turn around should walk through puddles and mud and avoid leaving the footprint of the path since avoiding puddles by trampling vegetation or using unauthorized trails around the obstacle causes more damage and environmental issues.
“In order to eliminate a lot of the erosion and trail damage, you stick to the middle of the trail,” Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi said in a recent Summit Daily article, adding that veering even slightly off the edge of a trail can create “braiding” that hikers and cyclists should seek to avoid.
• Navigation: map of the area, compass, GPS, extra batteries or charger
• Signaling: whistle, mirror, cellphone, surveyor tape
• Light source: headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries
• Nourishment: water, high-energy food for 24-48 hours
• Shelter: waterproof tarp, bivvy sack, parachute cord
• Fire building: waterproof matches or lighter, heat tabs, knife
• Personal aid: first-aid kit with medications, sunscreen, dark glasses, bug repellent
• Weather protection: extra socks, warm gloves, rain gear, hat, bug net
• Winter extras: avalanche beacon, probe, shovel with metal blade
• Rules to follow: never hike alone, always leave a schedule and trip plan with someone at home, stay on the trail, wait for search and rescue if you become lost
Generally, low-elevation areas and trails on the north end of the county tend to thaw out quicker than those that climb into higher elevations. Trails that face east, west and south often dry out quicker as well. North-facing slopes and shaded, wooded areas often hold snow and slush into July.
Snow becomes soft as early as 9 a.m., so hikers are encouraged to avoid snowy trails and get an early start in order to get out of any snowy sections by early morning. Even snowshoers can find themselves sinking into slushy traps since temperatures have been above freezing overnight.
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Rainbow Lake is a 1.5 mile hike with 150 feet of elevation gain near Frisco. On average, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. Dogs are allowed, but make sure to pick up after them and keep them on leash since wildlife is common in the area. Free parking is available near Second Avenue and South Cabin Green. The trail is currently free of snow but is muddy and could remain muddy as storms are expected heading into June.
Sapphire Point is another short hike near Frisco that offers a nearly half-mile loop that offers views of the Gore Range and Tenmile Range, along with sweeping vista points overlooking the Dillon Reservoir. The trail is clear of snow currently and drains well so mud should be less prevalent. There are tables for enjoying a meal while looking north over the water, and folks hoping to check out more of the area can hop on the recpath system to enjoy more of the wilderness along Swan Mountain Road.
Dillon Reservoir Lakeshore Perimeter Trail is totally dry right now and offers a 6.3-mile loop. It’s dog friendly, but furry friends must stay on a leash. The trail offers breathtaking views of the lake along with wildflowers, rocky shores and cliffs that look over the reservoir.
Tenderfoot Trail offers 11.5 miles of hiking and is considered a challenging route that takes around six hours to complete, out and back. However, hikers will find themselves waist deep in snow if they want to make it to the summit. The lower portion of the trail is relatively dry, and hikers are encouraged to turn around once they encounter snow to stay on dry portions of the trail.
Boreas Pass Road, though closed to motorized vehicles, is slowly thawing out near Breckenridge, offering vast views of Quandary Peak, Goose Pasture Tarn, the slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort and the Tenmile Range.
Recpaths across the county are clear of snow and connect the unique mountain towns for anyone hoping to get their pedals turning. The most popular route is to ride from Breckenridge to Frisco, and there are multiple trailheads and access points along the way. Another beautiful stretch of pavement travels around the Dillon Reservoir and allows folks to get from the Frisco Bay Marina to the towns of Silverthorne and Dillon.
For anyone hoping to get off the pavement and onto some dirt, the Frisco Peninsula Recreation Area is mostly dry and offers a series of trails for all levels of mountain biking. Bikers can pick up maps of the area from the Frisco Adventure Park, 621 Recreation Way.
The adventure park also offers a dirt pump track. Crews are still working to open the full bike park, but a few small jump lines are also available.
For more information about recreating in Summit County, visitors and locals can stop by the Dillon Ranger District office located at 680 Blue River Parkway, Suite F, in Silverthorne to speak to a ranger, get brochures and maps and learn about the risks associated with having fun in the High Country.
For information about U.S. Forest Service land, including current closures, warnings, regulations and other information, visit FS.USDA.gov/whiteriver.
More information on trail conditions can be found online at TinyURL.com/SummitCountyTrails.
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