What’s on Your Feet?
By Ninah Hunter
It’s all about being outdoors— from hiking boots to snowshoes, to crampons, to spurs…
[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]
Now that the seasons are changing (fall morphing into winter), it’s time to swap out your favorite flip-flops or Teva sandals (aka Colorado Rocky Mountain hiking boots) for a different kind of footwear. With so many outdoor activities to enjoy during these seasons, there is no reason to hibernate.
You can keep your hiking boots or trail running shoes on throughout most of the fall. Hitting the trails is a great way to enjoy the fall colors. Drive up Owl Creek Pass, where you can choose among several trails, such as Middle Fork, Courthouse Peak, or Wetterhorn Basin. The many aspen groves in their golden glory and the paint-by-number hillsides, ablaze in autumnal hues, provide endless photo opportunities.
Another great fall hiking area is up County Road 5. Stop at the parking lot just before entering the National Forest. The fall foliage against the impressive backdrop of the Mt. Sneffels Range makes this a favorite spot for photographers. From the parking lot, carry on down the road (which turns into Forest Service Road 852) till you hit the trailhead to the Dallas Trail. You may need a 4-wheel drive or have to park before the trailhead. Then, take the Dallas Trail to Moonshine Park. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular sweeping views of the Ouray Valley below and the Cimarron Mountain peaks to the east.
Snowshoeing and Cross-country Skiing
Once the leaves stop falling, and Jeep roads and hiking trails are blanketed in snow, it’s time to trade in the hiking boots for snowshoes or cross-country skis. Some of the best Nordic trails can be found at Ironton Park in the Red Mountain Mining District, about 6 miles south of the City of Ouray. Maintained by the Ouray Nordic Council, these trails are groomed for all types of use; i.e., classic cross-country or skate skiing and snowshoeing. Nearby Priest Lake, maintained by the Telluride Nordic Association (TNA), is another great alternative, providing several dog-friendly trails.
Other favorite Nordic ski areas include the beautiful Top of the Pines, about 6 miles south of Ridgway; Trout Lake, which follows the historic Rio Grande Southern Railroad line from Lizard Head Pass to Trout lake; and Black Canyon of the Gunnison just east of Montrose, which also has wonderful snowshoe trails separate from the Nordic ski trail. Some of the finest, groomed cross-country ski trails in the state can be found on the Grand Mesa.
Grab your crampons and ice pick and head to Ouray County for one of the most unique and world-renowned winter activities—ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Park. If you’re a novice, you can participate in a clinic, like those offered by San Juan Mountain Guides. Or just enjoy the spectacle at next year’s annual Ouray Ice Festival, January 23-26, 2020.
Although there are unlimited places to sled in and around the San Juan Mountains, a popular spot right in the City of Ouray is Vinegar Hill. For over 100 years, the City of Ouray has blocked off vehicular traffic from this hilly, one block of 5th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. It is open to sleds, toboggans, and tubes from mid-December to early March for the youth and young-at-heart. And it’s free! This sledding hill got its name one winter after the early settlers had gathered for a Christmas feast. The men decided to carry on their revelry sledding down this hill. Because there was no wine or beer or other spirits in town at that time, someone decided to open a bottle of vinegar and pour everyone a celebratory drink. Fortunately, today there is much more to drink in town than vinegar after a fun day of sledding on Vinegar Hill.
If you want something a bit more thrilling, then head on over to Telluride Ski Resort for some world-class downhill skiing or snowboarding. A bit further afield, but all within about 3 hours or less from Ridgway, are the ski resorts of Silverton Mountain, Purgatory Resort in Durango, Powderhorn Mountain Resort on the Grand Mesa near Cedaredge or Grand Junction, and Monarch Mountain east of Gunnison.
The San Juans are—first and foremost—a winter sports paradise. Snow-pack and frozen water make for some incredible, winter, on-your-feet adventures. But you can sit, stand, and ride, too. Think snowmobiling, and skijoring (on horseback), and fat biking. If you like water sports, ice-skating, windsurfing, or paddleboarding (in a wetsuit)—just get outside and enjoy!
After an active day of winter fun, there’s no better way to end the day than soaking and relaxing outside in a hot spring, no footwear required. You can go barefoot, and just bare-naked, at Orvis Hot Springs. Ouray Hot Springs is a great option for the modest and families, or treat yourself to some pampering at the historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa.