Published with permission from the guide book:
Skinny Skis and Snowshoes – Guide to Winter Trails in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley by Nate Porter and Nathan Ward.
This guidebook gives detailed information on 25 of the best backcountry ski and snowshoe routes in the Upper Arkansas Valley, with trails for every ability level. If you count all the options presented for each trail, the actual number of routes is closer to 60 without even counting the individual trails at the Nordic centers – that is a lot of skiing. If you’re insatiable and need more, look at the sections titled: Other Areas to Explore. Be insatiable.
The Graham Gulch Trail accesses one of the most scenic alpine basins in the valley with a stunning steep headwall at the top of the route. The top of the headwall is the Continental Divide. The steep trail through the giant pines feels mysterious and the views stun the eyeballs when you climb above treeline. Pick a clear day, bring lunch, a bottle of wine and a nice date (not a bad date) to enjoy some of Colorado’s best alpine scenery.
Trailhead Access: Drive 20 miles north of Buena Vista or 15 miles south of Leadville on US 24. Turn west on CO 82, following signs to Twin Lakes and Aspen. Drive 16.8 miles to Graham Gulch, on the left side of the road. This is not well marked, but it’s the last left before the winter closure. The road from US 82 to the trailhead is only 0.1 mile, but may be snowy and slippery, so park on the left side of the highway if you don’t have 4WD.
Location: Independence Pass
Distance: 3.8 Miles – Out & Back
Travel Time: 1 – 2 Hours
Type of Trail: Road & Singletrack
Aerobic Level: Moderate
Technical Difficulty: Ski – Advanced; Shoe – Intermediate
Avalanche Danger: This route crosses an avalanche path at treeline and above. Use extreme caution during periods of high hazard
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 10,477 ft.; High Point 11,640; Climbs/Descends 1,163
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Trails Illustrated #127; USGS Independence Pass
Notes: This short and moderately steep trail ends just below the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area, so you can bring the dogs.
Advanced Option: Since this tour is short, add to it by snowshoeing the South Fork of Lake Creek or skiing up the Independence Pass road from the winter closure.
0.0 Start up the road to the right of the creek and hydro-tunnel (39º04.92N, 106º32.45W). Stay right 40 yards up the trail, past a “Closed to Vehicles” sign.
0.7 There may be a split in the trail; stay to the right.
1.2 Switchback right.
1.3 The trail crosses a big south facing avalanche path (39º04.87N, 106º33.54W). Stop here if the avalanche danger is high. If you continue, pay attention to clues for unstable conditions.
1.5 The trail crosses the creek and goes uphill left (39º04.89N, 106º33.69W).
1.6 About 40 yards uphill from the creek, look for a road that goes right, parallel to and above the creek on the south side through the trees (39º04.84N, 106º33.68W). It’s a slight bench feature leading into the basin above. You are exposed to avalanche terrain from here, so proceed only if conditions are good.
This is where this route leaves the Graham Gulch road. Graham Gulch continues straight ahead, but it’s not what you want.
1.9 Enter a high basin surrounded by peaks (39º04.98N, 106º33.95W) and head for a tree island at the end of a small rib coming down from the left. This is a good place to soak up the sun and views. Turn around and enjoy the trip down.
Backcountry travel is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or manmade, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time, under any situation. As a backcountry traveler we assume you know your personal abilities, limitations and have a comprehensive background in avalanche safety.
This book represents nothing more than a guide to routes and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or your ability to travel in the backcountry safely.
The mileages, routes and waypoints listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and changes, you may get lost. We recommend that everyone use a global positioning system and topographical map to navigate.
Most routes in this text are located on public land, but some trails pass through or adjacent to private land. Respect the landowner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use.
Neither the authors, nor the publisher, nor anyone else mentioned in this book are responsible or liable in any way for any accident, injury or any action brought against anyone traveling any route listed in this book. All backcountry travelers and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Explore at your own risk, and always tell somewhere where you are going and when you’ll be back.
If you require search and rescue services, it can be costly. Buy a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card to protect yourself. Funds from the CORSAR program go into the Colorado Search and Rescue (SAR) Fund. If a CORSAR card holder becomes lost or injured in the backcountry, the Colorado SAR Fund pays eligible search and rescue expenses.
Silver Creek is a mellow road that follows picturesque Silver Creek near Marshall Pass. The road winds through pine forests along the small waterway and offers excellent views of Mount Antora (13,269 ft.). This is a good trail for people of all ability levels and a good option…
Monarch Crest Trail to South Fooses Creek is one of the best in the west – the Monarch Crest Trail snakes above treeline for many miles along the spine of the Continental Divide. The views are spectacular in all directions and give you a true feel for the backbone of the…
Old Monarch Pass (not Old Old Monarch Pass) was finished in 1922 as part of the “Rainbow Route”, a section of US 50 that stretched from Pueblo to Montrose and marketed as a continuation of the Santa Fe Trail. Due to heavy snow and sharp corners, the highway masters…
Monarch Park offers mellow terrain on Monarch Pass for skiers and snowshoers. This route follows a road parallel to the South Arkansas River that then curves up to the current Monarch Pass Road. Even in low snow years, you’ll find good snow at Monarch Park.
The Waterdog Lakes trail is short and steep, but worth the effort. On a clear day, the views of the Continental Divide and the glacial cirque where the lakes sit, are stunning. The trail winds through dense forest, with occasional views of Bald Mountain (12,858 ft.) and Banana…
The Lost Wonder Hut to Chalk Pass route follows Continental Divide Tail (CDT) up the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River, from the Lost Wonder Hut to the top of Chalk Pass.
Middle Fork Creek to the Lost Wonder Hut starts in the small town of Garfield, this route follows a mining road along the path of Middle Fork Creek. The destination is the Lost Wonder Hut, the only mountain hut in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The road climbs steeply in places…
Fooses Creek provides the closest good skiing to Salida with easy to access, gentle terrain. The route leads from just below Fooses Lake to the junction of North and South Fooses Creeks. The trail holds good snow for most of the winter and passes through forests of pine and open…
Raspberry Gulch drops from the heights of Mt. Antero (14,269 ft.) and this tour follows the road up the lower section of the gulch. The route crosses the Colorado Trail and winds through open meadows and huge aspen groves, climbing steadily but very gradually.
halk Cliffs to Cascade Falls is an old railroad grade hugs the north side of Chalk Creek Canyon, directly across from the imposing bulk of the Chalk Cliffs. It’s a gentle route that climbs slowly through forests, along the base of cliffs with perfect views of the peaks on…
Hancock Pass follows the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad grade from the ghost town of Saint Elmo to the turnoff for the Mary Murphy Mine/Pomeroy Gulch. The old railroad grade provides a gradual incline good for all ability levels and will probably be groomed or packed…
Cottonwood Lake to the Poplar Gulch Trail starts from the scenic little log cabins around Cottonwood Lake, this trail follows South Cottonwood Creek up Green Timber Gulch and into the mountains
Cottonwood Pass to the Ptarmigan Creek Road is a groomed trail wide as the summer highway and sometimes as smooth. This route offers a surface groomed by snowcat – very unique in the southern end of the valley.
Denny Creek to Hartenstein Lake climbs straight from Denny Creek up and up into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area and a beautiful mountain basin. It’s one of the best tours in the valley. Hartenstein Lake sits a tad below treeline just east of the Continental Divide and…
South Fork Of Lake Creek starts at the La Plata Gulch Trailhead and goes up the broad basin of the South Fork of Lake Creek. Get ready for good views of La Plata Peak (14,361 ft.) and the famous jagged La Plata Ridge. The trail winds through the trees before entering an open…
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