Top 3 Winter Tips from Leadville RangersFebruary 11, 2022
The backcountry near Leadville and Twin Lakes, Colorado, is amazing in winter. But it’s best if you’re prepared.
Because 74% of the land in Lake County is U.S. Forest Service land, here is some insight from the people who know it best—friendly rangers with the Leadville Ranger District. Their tips will help you make the most of your trip and be safe.
1) Plan Ahead
Even in winter, and especially on weekends and holidays, trailheads get crowded. Be sure to plan ahead. Arrive with a Plan B, and go to that location if you see a lot of people at your Plan A trailhead. Check out the Leadville Ranger District Motor Vehicle Use Map, or download local maps on Avenza.
These trailheads are especially likely to be busy:
- Chalk Creek, on Highway 91 between Fremont Pass and Leadville (popular with snowmobilers and backcountry skiers).
- Tennessee Pass, on Highway 24 across from the entrance to Ski Cooper (popular with Nordic skiers and snowshoers).
- Upper Arkansas, on Highway 91 just south of Fremont Pass (popular with backcountry skiers).
These areas may have fewer visitors:
- Half Moon Road, accessed by following Hwy. 24 a few miles south of Leadville, with a right on County Road 300 just past Saturday’s Market/Gas Station. The next road on the left is County Road 10. After about a mile, County Road 10 turns right, then dead-ends at a parking area. (Used for snowmobiling, backcountry and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.)
- Hayden Meadows, approximately 10 miles south of Leadville, the Hayden Reservoir recreation area is on the left immediately after crossing a bridge over the Arkansas River. (Non-motorized use only, for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Please stay on the trail that leads from the parking area directly south, to avoid elk wintering grounds; do not cross the pedestrian bridge.)
- Turquoise Lake, off County Road 4 just west of Leadville. (Groomed trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.)
2) Be Respectful
Trails near Leadville and Twin Lakes are popular, with good reason! You might meet people on snowshoes, snowmobiles, skis, and bikes. Please be respectful. Here are some tips to help everyone enjoy the trails:
- Leash Dogs. Please keep dogs on a leash at all times, for their safety and to respect other users. Doing so also protects wildlife trying to survive the cold winter.
- Share the Trail. If you’re on a snowmobile or snow bike, slow down when you approach people on skis or snowshoes or bikes. Please give them plenty of room. If you’re on skis or snowshoes or bikes, please move to the side when snowmobiles or snow bikes approach.
- Stay Sober. Stay sober while driving a snowmobile; it’s the law.
- Avoid Ski Tracks. If you see ski tracks on the side of the trail, please do not snowshoe or walk or bike on them. That will make the trip easier and more fun for your skier friends.
3) Be Avalanche Aware
Every year, avalanches hurt and kill backcountry users in Colorado, which is consistently the state with the most avalanche fatalities and injuries. Please only go into the backcountry if you are sure you know how to avoid avalanche terrain, or if you have avalanche training and gear. If you are not experienced, please only go with friend or guide who is.
The free Know Before You Go guide can give you the very basics of backcountry winter travel. If you plan to recreate in avalanche terrain, it is best to take a formal avalanche course from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) or a similar organization and to practice avalanche rescue regularly with your partners.
Read and heed the daily Sawatch avalanche forecast (which includes mountains near Leadville/Twin Lakes). If you’re driving to another part of Colorado, check the statewide avalanche forecast. Please know that the forecasts are a general prediction of conditions in the zone; they do not guarantee that a particular slope will be safe.
More Winter Backcountry Safety Tips
See more winter backcountry safety tips from Leadville rangers! And check the Colorado Backcountry Winter Safety Toolkit from the Colorado Tourism Office.
Find Local Guides & Outfitters
New to the backcountry or need an experienced guide? Find outfitters in Leadville/Twin Lakes for fat biking, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, skiing, and snowmobiling and outfitters throughout Colorado.
For another way to promote backcountry safety, donate to Lake County Search & Rescue! Did you know that search and rescue calls near Leadville and Twin Lakes increased nearly 300% the first year of the pandemic? Please help these dedicated local volunteers, who willingly brave dangerous conditions to save lives.
Thank you for your time, and have a fun and safe trip!