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7 Best Winter Trail Runs in Colorado

The Mesa Trail is a Boulder classic

With a little preparation you can keep logging winter miles on CO trails, even when the mercury drops...

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Known for its trails and dramatic elevation change, Colorado doesn't spare trail runners in the winter months. A little winter running know-how, and sticking to trails that see plenty of sun can make all of the difference.

To be prepared for snowy, sloppy and downright cold running, arm yourself with a pair of waterproof trail runners, like the Crossover 2.0 GTX or the Tempesta GTX, and pick up a set of hobnails if the snow is packed, or conditions are particularly slick. These metal studs screw into the rubber soles of your shoes, and are easy to remove when you don’t need them anymore.

Choose your layers carefully when it’s cold—there's a balance to staying warm while managing moisture from sweating that could make you colder. Breathable vests are often a great choice, as are lightweight beanies or balaclavas.  

Another crucial component of cold-weather trail running in Colorado, with its higher elevations and dry air, is hydration. It’s tougher to remember when it’s not as warm outside, but bringing along water (or keeping warm water that won’t freeze in the car) is key, especially in the winter months. (Pro Tip: Start with warm water in your hydration pack or handheld if you’re setting out for a long run.)

Finally, with darker mornings and evenings, it can be tricky to stay psyched. Combat the urge to stay in bed by signing up for a springtime race to train for or, that tried-and-true motivator, agreeing to meet a friend at the trailhead for an early dawn patrol run (don't forget a headlamp!). Here are a few of the best trails in Colorado to get you stoked for a run, no matter what the weather throws at you.

MESA TRAIL, BOULDER

This Front Range fitness mecca is chock-full of phenomenal trail runs, and much of the snow becomes packed down with heavy foot traffic throughout the winter (though some trails can be a sloggy mess at times). The Mesa Trail is a Boulder classic for a reason: along the way, you’ll get catch sweeping views all the way from the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park to the mouth of historic climbing destination Eldorado Canyon. Despite being in the foothills, this run is no slouch: the out-and-back totals 13.4 miles and 3,250 feet of elevation gain. Parking cars at both trailheads to shuttle cuts this distance in half.

HEIL VALLEY RANCH, BOULDER

Heil Valley Ranch Open Space is a popular spot for Boulder and Lyons locals looking to get in a few miles. The 9.8-mile lollipop route combines the Wapiti Trail and the Ponderosa Loop Trail for a moderate workout. After an initial climb, it levels out and you’ll have some great views. The trail is a bit rocky and is multi-use, so keep an eye out for mountain bikers and horseback riders along the way.

NORTH TABLE MOUNTAIN, GOLDEN

The North Table Mountain area gets so much sun that it rarely holds snow or ice for long

Golden is billed as the gateway to the Rockies, and this little town in the Colorado foothills lives up to the hype. North Table Mountain is a great cold-weather run, since it gets ample sun that it rarely holds snow or ice for long. A full circuit around the North Table Loop trail is around 7.5 miles— add distance and vert by hitting any number of the park’s other well-maintained trails.

Looking for a linkup? Add on nearby South Table Mountain (a summit run up the iconic Castle Rock) or Mounts Galbraith or Zion, each of which is within spitting distance of the North Table parking lot.

BEAR CREEK LAKE PARK, LAKEWOOD

Nestled against the foothills (and adjacent to Morrison’s famous Red Rocks Amphitheater), Bear Creek Lake Park is a great destination for year-round running. Runners can get around most of the park on the singletrack, mostly-flat Mount Carbon Loop, named for 5,779-foot Mount Carbon. The 6.8-mile loop also intersects with the Break Creek Lake Trail, which circumnavigates much of the park’s perimeter.

This is the ideal all-weather training spot for the numerous trail races that take place at the park throughout the summer and fall.

WATERTON CANYON, LITTLETON

The Waterton Canyon Trail runs alongside the South Platte River

Waterton Canyon is best known for its status as the Denver (east) terminus of the 486-mile Colorado Trail, which runs all the way to Durango. It’s also a great wintertime run—sitting at a relatively low elevation keeps it fairly snow (and ice) free for much of the cold season. The wide trail runs alongside the South Platte River, and runners are likely to see wildlife, which makes for an interesting training run.

Keep in mind that dogs aren’t allowed in Waterton Canyon, even on a leash, in order to maintain the wildlife habitat.

SOUTH SHORE TRAIL NETWORK, PUEBLO

This southern Colorado city has undergone a mountain biking revolution in the last few years and has become known as the "Fruita of the Front Range," which means the trails also accomodate trail runners who like to train on singletrack. The South Shore Trail Network, named for its location on the shores of Lake Pueblo (in its namesake state park) is popular in the winter since it tends to stay dry even when other areas are snowy or wet. Trails are well-marked and well-maintained, so it’s possible to get a run of up to about 25 miles here, just pay attention to the mountain bikers who also frequent the area.

18 ROAD TRAILS, FRUITA

 Keep an eye out for bikers on The 18 Road Trails,some of Fruita’s finest mountain biking trails.

A little over four hours from Denver, Fruita feels like a completely different planet. Even when it’s cold and snowy in the Front Range or in the High Country, you could be soaking up the sun on the Western Slope. The 18 Road Trails are some of Fruita’s finest mountain biking trails, and if you’re a trail runner looking to get in some vert (and run some engaging, flowy trails), you’ll have a blast here. The area has more than 50 miles of trails (pay attention; some are one-way), but you can mix and match loops for a short or medium-length run.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with La Sportiva.

Photos provided by RootsRated.

3/8/2018 7:33 AM
Posted in Running Hiking By Team Sportiva

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