If you want to immerse yourself in the winter beauty of Salida and the surrounding area, get a pair of snowshoes and hit the trails. Snowshoeing is an amazing and invigorating hobby that doesn’t take much time to master. In fact, there’s a common saying: “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” While it’s similar to hiking, snowshoeing provides an intimate look at just how serene the backcountry can be under a dusting of new snow. The Arkansas Valley is home to dozens of great snowshoeing trails, with options for novices to experts alike. Here are some of our picks for the best snowshoe trails in Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado.
The Overall Snowshoeing Experience
As we mentioned, snowshoeing is not unlike hiking. But it will take some getting used to and you’ll definitely be a lot more bundled up than if you were hitting the hiking trails in July. That said, it’s still an amazing experience that offers a new look at Colorado’s stunning natural beauty. The Colorado Tourism Office has put together the video below to give you a quick look at what you can expect from snowshoeing, “one of the easiest, most affordable and peaceful winter activities in the area.”
Snowshoeing Trails In & Around Salida
Old Monarch Pass
Old Monarch Pass is a great choice for your first snowshoeing excursion. It’s relatively easy and short, plus it’s particularly beautiful after a fresh snow. “Branching off of U.S. 50/Monarch Pass, this trail offers easy to access and mellow terrain- perfect for beginners or experienced skiers alike. The road climbs gradually from the highway to the high Continental Divide with big views of all the surrounding mountain ranges… This winter adventure starts on the north side of U.S. 50 just above the Monarch Mountain ski area. Park at the trailhead and head up the trail for just over a mile. The trail is usually well-packed by snowmobiles. The trail climbs gradually through trees and you’ll know you’re at the top when the sky opens up with a panoramic view all the way from Pikes Peak to the San Juans. The way back is all downhill.” From The Mountain Mail
We love hiking the Waterdog Lakes trail in the summer and it’s equally wonderful in the winter. “The short, steep, and semi-strenuous trail to the three lakes that make up Waterdog Lakes is a favorite with local snowshoers and skiers in the Salida and Poncha Springs area. Named for the tiger salamanders (aka waterdogs) that are found in these lakes, this trail features a 1,059-foot elevation gain in just less than 2 miles. Because the trail is ungroomed and may be covered in a foot or more of snow, it’s a favorite for snowshoers and some skinny-ski aficionados looking to enjoy the hike up to catch stunning views of the Continental Divide.” From Trails.com
If you opt to snowshoe up to Boss Lake, you’ll be rewarded with some magnificent valley views as you make your way up the trail. Be forewarned, though, that there are some steep sections at the beginning of the trail. In addition, depending on conditions and your vehicle’s clearance, you may have to snowshoe up to the trailhead as opposed to driving to it. This trail is one of the more serene and peaceful ones you can find in the winter. “A couple fairly steep but short stretches on the initial stretch to Boss. Beautiful views of the valley from Boss Lake…” From AllTrails.com
Little Rainbow Trail
The Little Rainbow Trail is about 5 miles long from point-to-point, making it almost 10 miles round-trip. We usually choose to snowshoe the section of trail that goes from County Road 108 to County Road 110. While it is an uphill trip this way, it’s all downhill on the way back. This small section of the trail is about 6 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of approximately 250 feet. As the trail is relatively low in elevation (under 8,000 feet), the snow may not always stick around for long. But when it does “he view is beautiful and worth the hike.” From AllTrails.com
Snowshoeing Trails In & Around Buena Vista
Another great option for snowshoeing near Buena Vista is Cottonwood Lake, which is also just about 11 miles from the town. “Set at 9,552 feet, this lake is surrounded by 360-degree mountain views that’ll take your breath away… While the road next to the lake is not groomed, this route is enjoyable for both the novice wanting to try a new winter sport and the seasoned outdoor enthusiast looking for a laid-back day in the backcountry… Once you’re ready, head across the small bridge. The route will continue along the road next to Cottonwood Lake… You’ll get gorgeous views of the lake along the beginning of your journey… This route is awesome because you can continue as far as you want up the road past the lake.” From The Trailhead
Poplar Gulch Trailhead
You’ll find the Poplar Gulch trailhead close to St. Elmo, a well-known (and well-maintained) ghost town that’s southwest of Buena Vista. “The climb is steady, with several awesome mountain viewpoints to the south and east across the Chalk Creek drainage. Your objective, if all are on board, is to reach the head of a large subalpine meadow at 11,448 feet, situated just below treeline about two winding miles from the parking area. Take your time and enjoy the spectacular Rocky Mountain landscape that rises above the Poplar Gulch basin. Look for moose tracks as you start ascending the narrow, switchbacking trail, as these ungainly giants—largest of the deer family—are frequently observed here. Your descent, aided by the packed trail you broke on the way up, will be a whole lot easier and faster.” From Scouting Magazine
Chalk Creek Trailhead
Located in Chalk Creek Canyon, the Chalk Creek Trailhead is part of the Colorado Trail and it offers breathtaking views of the Chalk Cliffs and Mt. Princeton. At times difficult, but ultimately rewarding, one snowshoer noted “With Mt. Princeton as our guard, we were protected by the wind, aside from a slight breeze here and there, which proved to be refreshing on the steep ascent at the start of the trail. After huffing and puffing my way up the winding switchbacks, I topped out on a ridge with views to the west of Chalk Creek Canyon… As we continued on, the trail leveled off and we were engulfed by the silence of the forest, no sound but the steady crunching of snow under my feet.” From Just a Gal and Her Dog
Need Lodging for Your Snowshoe Adventure?
Creekside Chalets and Cabins is conveniently located close to both Salida and Buena Vista. We have one- to three-bedroom cabins available. You can browse and book online. If you’ll be heading up to Buena Vista for snowshoeing, take a look at our Best of Buena Vista article to learn more about local restaurants, shops, and more.