This winter I'll bring you some of the best winter trails in the Upper Arkansas Valley, from Salida to Buena Vista to Leadville. It's finally snowing and time to explore the backcountry winter trails on skinny skis and snowshoes.
Old Monarch Pass Road
After last week's massive storm dumped 70 inches of snow on the peaks, Old Monarch Pass Road is the perfect first cross-country ski or snowshoe trail to start your winter of snowy adventures. Branching off of U.S. 50/Monarch Pass, this trail offers easy to access and mellow terrain- perfect for beginners or experienced skiers alike. The road climbs gradually from the highway to the high Continental Divide with big views of all the surrounding mountain ranges.
Road builders started Old Monarch Pass Road in 1919 and opened the pass to traffic in 1921 to shorten the original wagon trail over the pass built in 1880. Luckily for snowshoers, the 1921 route filled with snow every winter and caused long delays. In 1936 another version of Monarch Pass opened and that is the current route today.
This winter trail follows the top section of 1921's Monarch Pass. It's still filled with snow.
About the trail
This winter adventure starts on the north side of U.S. 50 just above the Monarch Mountain ski area. Park at the trailhead and head up the trail for just over a mile. The trail is usually well-packed by snowmobiles.
The trail climbs gradually through trees and you'll know you're at the top when the sky opens up with a panoramic view all the way from Pikes Peak to the San Juans. The way back is all downhill.
A longer adventure
For skiers who want a longer adventure, simply continue down the Old Monarch Pass Road to the bottom. If you do, shuttle a vehicle to the bottom of the old pass on the Gunnison side of the mountains.
There are really no dangers on this trail. Just watch for fast moving snowmobiles and remember they also have a right to use this trail. If you ski all the way to the bottom of the west side of the pass, be aware of snow conditions and possible avalanche danger. If you choose this long route, know what you're doing first. In either case, be prepared for high-altitude winter conditions.
Where to get skis or snowshoes
It doesn't take much equipment to enjoy our winter trails - just a pair of snowshoes and ski poles or cross-country skis, boots and poles. If you live here, you already have all the warm clothes you need.
Used snowshoes are hard to find so it's best to buy an inexpensive pair at a local outdoor shop. Check the selections at Salida Mountain Sports, Headwaters or The Trailhead in Buena Vista. These shops also carry cross-country ski equipment.
If you're just starting out and want to see if you like it before investing your money, start visiting local thrift stores. Try Caring and Sharing on west Fourth street in Salida or New Bees Thrift Store on east Main street in Buena Vista.
Detailed trail instructions
For detailed trail descriptions, gps waypoints and maps of this trail and 24 additional nearby winter trails, pick up a copy of Skinny Skis and Snowshoes, the local guidebook to backcountry ski and snowshoe trails. Available at Salida Mountain Sports, Headwaters, The Book Haven, The Trailhead and other fine local shops.