After several weekends of hibernating with Netflix on my couch, I decided to be a real Coloradan and embrace winter. I have been cleared to walk as much as I want to, so I taped up my ankle and hit the trail!
I was actually really pleased by how well the basics I learned from REI served me, except for one giant thing I forgot. POLES. Please don’t try to snowshoe without them – your legs will thank you.
Thanks to Google, I found Bent Gate Rental in Golden, where my boyfriend and I rented out snowshoes and got powder tails put on them all for $24, which coincidentally is the price of one rental at REI. REI killed it with the basics of snowshoeing class, but their rentals are super pricey, so if you’re headed in the direction of Golden, Bent Gate is your best bet. Jax is near Fort Collins, and there’s an even cheaper place up in Estes Park if you want to hit RMNP.
Anyways, Bent Gate is right on the way to Golden Gate State Park, where we were headed, and also next door to the one of the best pizza places EVER. If you don’t stop at Woody’s after a long day on the trail, you are a fool.
Golden Gate is another wonderful state park within an hour from Denver. It took us a little longer since we went to the main entrance of the park for some trail recommendations, and then had to drive all the way around to the trailhead at Rifleman Phillips Campground. Apparently, you can just drive to the campground straight from Denver:
What we did instead was stop at the Visitor’s Center and then went west, north, and back east to get to the trailhead (yellow circle). Our drive is outlined in blue. Obviously much longer, but the drive was really pretty and stopping at the Visitor’s Center was great for us first-timers.
We followed the Buffalo Trail, outlined in purple on the map above, for a few miles into Forgotten Valley before turning around. This trail was absolutely gorgeous, but having it categorized as a moderate trail is a bit misleading, unless they were going for the average of “super easy” and “brutally difficult”. The trail is basically all downhill all the way out, meaning you’re going uphill the entire way back to the car.
You start out walking through the campground before hitting a green gate, which marks the beginning of the trail. Walk around the green gate and you’re on the way! At this point, you’ll have noticed you’ve been walking exclusively downhill. You pass a few snowshoers going the opposite direction and notice how winded they are. “Oh, they’re just olds. It can’t be that bad, RIGHT?”
Fast forward an hour to when we decided to turn around. I am sweating profusely, huffing and puffing (and silently cursing), and stopping every 20 or 30 yards to catch my breath and stuff my face with trail mix. The beautiful vista I was nearly brought to tears by? Not a scenic overlook, but the green gate marking the trailhead, and our car not far in the distance.
All complaining aside, it felt good to get sweaty (and by that I mean my base layers were completely saturated), and we had a blast snowshoeing. It’s a great workout, and snowshoes do really make it easy to navigate deep powder (I may have gone off the trail for a bathroom break). Also, it’s pretty hilarious to shove your significant other into a snowbank when you know the powder breaks their fall and the snowshoes will help them get back up.
The views of the valley were gorgeous, and the trail is so well marked that it’s basically impossible to get lost. There was a backcountry hut and some sort of historical cabin along the trail, which were really fun to explore. Plus, after burning all those calories, I could totally justify inhaling half a pizza at Woody’s when we got back to Golden.
It will cost you $7 to get into the state park, so if you’re smart you will have shelled out $70 for a state parks pass. This pass is such a good deal – that 70 bucks gets you unlimited visits to all 42 of our state parks. If you go to the Visitor’s Center, you can pay with a credit card for whichever option you choose.
If you want to get your snowshoe bearings on a flat area before heading out on the trail, I recommend stopping at the Alpine Meadow Campground, which is just before Rifleman Phillips. The view from the campground host’s site is gorgeous, and everything is flat so it’s a perfect place to get your bearings.
For snowshoeing basics, which I’ve updated with what’s actually important now that I’ve been out on the trail, read my previous blog. REI has a great free class, and I also found some good refresher videos on YouTube pretty easily. That blog should be the perfect jumping off point, though.