Go Play: Spring onto the trails in Colorado’s high country
This winter hasn’t exactly been grueling. The sun’s been out in full force, turning the snow into mashed potatoes. On the first day of spring this year, birds were chirping and tiny, brave flowers were already budding.
Some skis have even been banished to garages, and people have started dusting off their hiking boots and mountain bikes.
When I first moved to the Roaring Fork Valley two years ago, I was overwhelmed by all the options. So I gathered up a bunch of maps and started running.
Here are three of the best local trails I’ve been on yet:
Red Hill Special Recreation
Distance: up to 14 miles
Elevation range: 6,200
to 7,200 feet
Best mode of transportation: hiking, running, biking
If you spend any time in Carbondale, it can seem like everyone and their dog hikes on Red Hill. Literally.
After all, the quintessential Carbondale photo is taken from the Mushroom Rock overlook, the town nestled in the sparkling valley below. (You may have seen this image on the cover of Men’s Journal not too long ago.) The view from that point is gorgeous, but there’s a lot more to the Red Hill trail system than one overlook.
In the summertime, you can put together a 14 to 17-mile singletrack loop on the buff, winding outer trails (closed in the winter for elk migration). If you go early enough in the morning, it’s likely that you won’t see another person until you meet back up with the frontside trails.
A few words of trail etiquette: stay on the trails to protect the soil, respect the private property surrounding the recreation area, don’t go too fast downhill and clean up after your dog.
Forest Hollow and Boy Scout Loop
Location: Glenwood Springs
Distance: about 20 miles
Elevation range: 5,894 to 7,930 feet
Best mode of transportation: biking
This route is a Glenwood Springs classic. The route begins with a slightly steep, six-mile climb up Red Canyon Road. But your lung-busting has a reward: the smooth, flowing Forest Hollow trail that meanders through the lush forest on the south rim of Glenwood Canyon. At about mile 12 of the ride, you begin to descend into the Glenwood on the steep and sandy Boy Scout Trail. There are tight switchbacks, rocky sections and ledges that will get your adrenaline pumping, if that’s what you’re into. Finally, the trail will dump you down into the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs, where you can grab a much-needed snack.
In the spring, there will likely be snow on Forest Hollow until May at the earliest. Make sure you bring water, food and a map, because the trail splits in several places.
Mount Sopris Summit
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Distance: 12 miles roundtrip
Elevation range: 8,712 – 12,965 feet
Best mode of transportation: hiking, running
Climbing up Mount Sopris is one of the coolest things you can do in the valley. There’s really something amazing about climbing on top of the mountain we look up at every day of our lives. Even though people climb and ski off the top every winter, the best time to hike up to the top (for non-ski mountaineers) is in the late spring. In May, most of the snow is melted off the bottom of the trail, but there’s still enough up on top to cover a lot of the loose rock that makes footing difficult.
The first three miles from the trailhead to Thomas Lakes is easy and gorgeous. You can even camp out at the lakes and then summit the mountain the next morning. That way should give you some excellent sunrise photos to show off to your friends. From the upper lake, follow the trail to the east ridge of the mountain. There are some rather steep, loose rock sections, but they shouldn’t be a problem if you’re careful. A couple miles later, you’ll be on top of Mount Sopris. If you hang out up there long enough, everyone in the valley will look at you at least once.
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