More than 900 miles of trails are available for use in the Routt National Forest, an expansive area of beautiful foliage, mountain streams and diverse wildlife that blankets Northwest Colorado.
Whether visiting Grand, Jackson, Routt, Rio Blanco, Garfield or Moffat counties, a prospective hiker will have access to at least a small portion of the 922 miles of trails established in the forest.
"The trails never close," said John Anarella, Wilderness and Trails Coordinator based in Yampa. "It's all about when you can get to them."
The hiking options in Northwest Colorado range from the very easy and accessible to the more strenuous hikes in the backcountry, but the one thing that hikers are sure to find no matter the length or difficulty of the selected hike is a view unmatched in many areas of the country.
"There are a variety of trails managed for different use types, so people can find a trail that matches their intended use," Anarella said.
For those visitors interested in staying on well-marked, well-traveled trails, they needn't venture far from Steamboat Springs with popular hikes on Emerald Mountain, Spring Creek and nearby Fish Creek Falls.
Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain overlook downtown Steamboat Springs, becoming summer hot spots for hikers once the snow melts and the trails dry. Trailheads are well marked and accessible from various spots near downtown.
Spring Creek Trail begins near the intersection of East Maple and Amethyst close to Steamboat Springs High School. The first 1.5 miles are a relatively easy climb before the road narrows to a single-track path that climbs 1,200 feet to Buffalo Pass.
Trails to and above Fish Creek Falls provide hikers with everything from a short hike to the waterfall to an extended 12-mile roundtrip day hike to Long Lake.
Anarella and the U.S. Forest Service ask that hikers observe signs, heed warnings and enter the wilderness prepared. Anarella said the principles adopted by the Leave No Trace program are the same ones recommended by federal land agencies.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on Durable
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
In addition to those seven principles, there are other tips to keep in mind when entering the backcountry and key essentials to bring, particularly on extended or multi-day hikes.
- Map and compass
- Water and food
- Lightweight rain gear
- First-aid kit
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- Insect repellent
- Weather-proof fire starter
Afternoon thunderstorms are common in Northwest Colorado, so start hikes in the early morning to prevent getting trapped at high elevations. Make sure others know your intended hike in case of an emergency.
"Respect the wildlife, other hikers and the land," Anarella said.
Hikers are encouraged to call the U.S. Forest Service offices located throughout the region to check restrictions on open fires, trail status or for other questions. n