Off season in the Rockies, Colorado
Colorado is fast becoming one of my favorite places in the States. The beautiful scenery, fresh air and amount of activities to do all contribute to why Colorado is so wonderful. You can go to relax. hike mountains or act like John Wayne and horse back ride, sample all of the local brewhouses or wonder at the stunning surroundings. It’s a year round state and I think is best visited in the off season, here’s why.
There are hundreds of hikes in the area to pick from with varying difficulties. We did four different trails whilst we were there and I can’t believe the diversity each provided. Forests, waterfalls, glaciers lakes, silver birch, rocky inclines and open meadows. They were all amazing despite the leaves having already fallen.
Wheeler Lakes Trail
My favorite by far was the Wheeler Lakes Trail, a moderate to difficult hike that leads you through forests, opening out into an alpine meadow and then ending at two perfectly clear glacier lakes it’s an absolutely stunning walk. There were some great wildlife spots and fantastic bird sightings. Take a book and a picnic with you to spend the afternoon by the secluded lakes.
6 miles roundtrip
3 hours hiking time
1,320 feet gained elevation
Directions: Traveling West on the I-70, pull off into the Scenic lookout just before the 195 exit at Copper mountain, park up and walk ten minutes along the freeway to the trail head. (The trailhead is not correctly signposted in the parking area).
Traveling East on the I-70, take the 195 exit, turn right and then left at the first traffic lights. Park in the trailhead lot (different trailhead name) and then walk across the highway via the bridge to join the Wheeler Lakes trailhead.
Booth Creek Trail
The hardest hike we did was the Booth Creek Trail, it follows a rather rocky path up through conifer and silver birch forests which are absolutely stunning. About half way up the trail you come to an impressive waterfall, despite the time of year it was full and flowing. A small scramble down and you can explore the waters path a way back from the forest floor. Obviously be careful on the rocks here and don’t push yourself further than your abilities, you can get a great view from the path. Due to the time of day this is the point where we turned around but you can carry on up to the Booth Creek Lake and views of the Gore Range which are supposed to be spectacular.
8 miles roundtrip
6 hours hiking time
3,036 feet gained elevation
Directions; Traveling on the I-70 take exit 180 for East Vail, turn left, pass under the interstate and turn left onto the North Frontage road. Proceed about 1 mile to Booth Creek Road, turn right and continue up this road to the parking area at the end of the road
The Berry Picker
Although not a strenuous hike The Berry Picker is unusual for the fact that it takes you up onto the ski slopes, through the sections of trees and along the tracks which is pretty unique. It’s a scenic trail that gives you great views of Vail and Lionshead villages and allows you to experience the slopes in a very different way. There was a good variety of scenery throughout the walk and the trail changes from grass to forest floor. It leads in to several other hikes which you can do to extend your walk if the feeling takes you. We followed the trail from village to village which was perfect. There aren’t any signs so take a map or follow your nose if you have a good sense of direction. This is a great starter hike to adjust to the altitude or for a group or family stroll.
3.2 miles one way (you can walk from Vail village and end in Lionshead village or vice versa)
2 hours hiking time
Directions: Park in the Vail garage and walk to the gondola, from there head up he mountain to start the trail. If coming from Lionshead, start at the gondola and walk across the bridge to start up the mountain.
The Cross Creek Trail
Our final hike was the Cross Creek Trail near Minturn. This is a 14 mile long trail in total but has so much going on you don’t have to complete the whole walk to enjoy the scenery. We did around 4 miles return trip that took us around 2.5 hours due to the fact we kept getting distracted and exploring by the meadows, rivers and waterfalls. You start by heading down a rocky path which leads into a pine forest, with trees towering above you on either side of the valley and water rushing by it’s a stunning setting.
Although the trail follows the river for a while there are a few points where you can get down to the water and see the icicles forming up close or perch on a rock and listen to the bubbling falls. It eventually leads into an alpine meadow, stunning even in the Autumn. Carefully cross a bridge and wind up the trail keeping your eye out for woodpeckers and squirrels as you go. We ended in a open meadow with plenty of large rocks to sit on and absolutely stunning views of the forest, enjoy a book in the sunshine and watch out for elk and deer.
14 miles one way- you can start from Minturn if you want or the trailhead and turn around whenever you wish
Hiking time dependent
Directions: Come off the I-70 at mile 171 and take highway 24 towards Minturn. Drive through the town for 5 miles, then take a right onto Tigiwon Road #707. Beware this is an incredibly rocky dirt road. Follow it for several miles, the trail head will be on your right. Parking is available.
The Rockies are overflowing with idyllic towns brimming with quaint shops to spend an afternoon bimbling (British for wander) around. Despite being off season the majority of stores were open and fully stocked, the only trouble we had was with restaurants and places to stop for food. However this did not deter the mission of finding the best towns to enjoy.
This is my favorite place to bimble!!! A super cute town with wooden cabins, loads of personality and a great range of shops to stop in you can easily spend half a day here. There are lots of locally owned stores with unique products and gifts I hadn’t seen before. Art galleries, book stores, high end gifts and souvenirs, antiques, boutiques and farmhouse funk and junk. I was in absolute heaven here. Add the bubbling river that runs adjacent to the high street (snow covered with a mountain backdrop) and Breckenridge is a must stop.
With a slightly smaller high street than Breckenridge it’s just ten minutes up the road and equally as pretty. It has a rustic, mountain town feel and is a great spot to stop for coffee or lunch. There weren’t as many stores open here but the goods on show were great. They have a superb book store with a cafe inside, a shop full to the brim of unique socks (perfect stocking fillers!) and a fantasy land of home decor to die for.
One of the most popular places to stop by in this area, this town will make you feel like you are in the swiss alps or a french mountain village. All of the buildings are fit this style with wooden chalets, flower baskets overflowing, timber frames and jutting balconies bordering the pretty store fronts. Wind through the streets and along the river and enjoy the scenery whilst stopping in at the multiple stores. There are a lot of clothing and sportswear shops here but they also have a selection of gift stores, bakeries, plenty of bars and restaurants, a year round Christmas grotto filled with decorations, wine and whiskey providers and art galleries.
This was by far one of the highlights of the week for us! Not only were the staff here amazing but the experience was unforgettable. Having never ridden before we were all a little nervous but this trail and the horses were superb. Having mounted our stallions we followed a path alongside the river, which was lined with autumnal leaves and yellow trees, we wound our way up into the hills and as we were taking in the breathtaking scenery our horses nimbly navigated the rocky paths. I have to be honest and say by the end I felt like a real pro cowgirl, dressed in plaid and riding one handed!!
To make this experience even better the stables are located on a complex with a western theme. They have old carts, saloons, wooden fronted stores, horseshoe games and alpacas!
There also happens to be a winery and tasting room on site, use the voucher from the horse riding to get a free tasting and then sit back and relax with your favorite glass looking at the scenery and reflecting on how amazing your horse riding experience just was. I would highly recommend these stables and they are a great off season option.
There are a lot of breweries around the Rockies and in Colorado with a superb selection of tasty beers. Many have tasting rooms and brewing sites nearby and offer a great setting to enjoy a glass of locally made beer.
This is one of the coolest breweries I’ve ever been to. Tucked away they have a great outdoor seating area with huge vats, wooden boxes and kegs of freshly made beer as decor. They offer a flight of the ten beers on tap for only $8!! Great atmosphere, considerable variety and tasty beer, stop here after a hike and while away the afternoon.
Think wooden barrels, fire pit, flower filled mason jars and a piano in the corner. This brewery tasting room is so quaint and to top it off looks directly onto the ski slopes, so depending on the season you can enjoy your pint whilst watching the skiers and snowboarder traverse the mountain. The handwritten chalkboard tells you whats on offer today and the goblet shaped glasses are the perfect chalice to sample your options. Not drinking, no worries they offer an interesting non-alcoholic menu including lavender and honey.
Just read the Vail slogans of ‘got oxygen?’ or see the stands of o2 filled canisters and you realize just how high up you actually are in the Rockies. Altitude affects people in different ways and you can suffer regardless of age, fitness level or gender. Here are a few things to note to try and ease the effects of being 8,000 feet up! Altitude sickness can be experienced in different ways and hits some people harder than others. Breathlessness, dizziness, excess gas build up and light headedness are all signs.
- Take it easy for the first few days and let your body acclimatize.
- Pick your hike difficulty carefully, your first trails should be on your lower level. Altitude sickness can slow you down so you may find trails take you longer than usual and be aware of the elevation you will gain.
- Avoid alcohol for the first day and reduce your quantities, it will go to your head a lot quicker than usual.
- Don’t get frustrated if it limits your usual pace or abilities, take things slower and enjoy yourself.
Visiting the Rockies in off season is a must see. There is so much to do, all without the crowds, and you can make it a really affordable vacation. The hikes here are definitely a highlight but it’s the perfect place to really relax, let go and get back to nature.