For a quick backpacking trip or fun day hike while the snow still is deep in the high country, head toward Vail.
Several trails begin near the Interstate 70 ski town, making them an easy jaunt from Steamboat Springs and a good weekend of early season camping.
Snow is still on the ground above 10,000 feet in the Vail area, but because most of the trails start at 8,500 feet, there still is a good amount of bare ground to hike.
With a lazy start and a pack on your back, the low-mileage trip can be a great way to get a taste of early season camping.
The Pitkin Lake Trail starts in a residential area of Vail -- hardly the wilderness feel that most backpackers pursue. Right away, the trail crosses Pitkin Creek, which is fast and high this time of year and climbs quickly into the Eagles Nest Wilderness.
The 133,000 acres of wilderness are part of the White River and Arapaho National forests and home to the jagged peaks of the Gore Range, the highest peak of which is 13,534-foot Mount Powell.
The wilderness area is surrounded by numerous towns, including Dillon, Frisco, Vail, Kremmling and Bond. Driving from Steamboat Springs to Denver along Colorado Highway 9, looking west provides a great view of the Gore Range from the opposite side of the Pitkin Lake Trail.
Many trails in this wilderness dead-end at the base of the tall peaks, often near pristine lakes. This time of year, such lakes are difficult to reach unless you're prepared to hike through snow.
On the Pitkin Lake Trail, be prepared for a steep, strenuous first mile, the kind that makes you re-count and question the cans of tuna and extra socks in your pack.
But don't miss the views while huffing and puffing. Initially, you'll see I-70 and hear its continuous stream of traffic. But with every step, the sounds of the busy highway and resort town fade.
Don't be surprised if you see numerous dead trees on the slopes on the opposite side of I-70, the result of a recent beetle epidemic.
Because the trail is popular, backpackers should not be surprised to run into several groups of hikers. This time of year, however, few people opt to camp, so when bad weather comes through and day turns into night, backpackers likely will find themselves alone.
The trail winds through stands of mature aspen and evergreens. The roar of Pitkin Creek often can be heard in the background, and there are several crossings of streams that feed into the creek.
The landscape eventually opens to expansive views of the Gore Range. After about 2 1/2 miles of hiking, there is a series of steep switchbacks that lead to views of the first waterfall visible from the trail.
And that's about where the snow starts this time of year. Those who can continue on will spot another waterfall and eventually reach Pitkin Lake.
The trail is 4.5 miles one way and gains 2,900 feet in elevation, ending at 11,400 feet.
Search carefully for a campsite -- you might want to head back down the trail after seeing the first falls, if the snow is deep. The Holy Cross Ranger District recommends camping 200 feet from streams, lakes and trails; a minimum of 100 feet is required. Fires are prohibited at and above timberline. Dogs are required to be on leashes.
This time of year, campers and hikers should be prepared for rain and possibly snow. Temperatures dip into the 30s at night.
Another trail similar to the Pitkin Lake Trail is the Booth Lake Trail, which is heavily used and also ends at an alpine lake. The Bighorn, Deluge Lake and Gore Creek trails also are close to Vail and I-70.