Five Unusual Ways to Enjoy Colorado State Parks in the Winter
Time to Take Advantage of the High-Country Snow
By Steve Graham
Many Colorado state parks remain open in winter, but they offer a very different experience. You don’t need to reserve campsites six months in advance, and there is still plenty to do. Of course, sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular options in many parks, but you can also find some more unusual activities in our state parks.
If you’re tired of fighting the crowds at ski areas and you don’t mind carrying your own board uphill, Mueller State Park has three hills with good snowboarding and skiing runs.
The park offers plenty of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing options for all skill levels, and is popular for sledding and tubing, but also has some slopes big enough for skis and boards.
Mueller has three heated cabins and 17 winter campsites with electric hookups but no potable water or showers.
Given the relatively low elevation, the snowpack in the park is not dependable. Check the website or call 719-687-2366 for snow conditions.
Further west toward Buena Vista is Eleven Mile State Park, where 10 electric campsites and 200 non-electric campsites are open all year. From your campsite, head out onto the long namesake lake for ice fishing, miles of secluded ice skating, and some of the state’s best ice boating.
Ice boats look like simple sailboats but have skis or runners in place of a hull. The prime ice boating season runs through early February on solid ice but before many pressure ridges have been created.
Call 719-748-3401 for more information.
The eastern plains of Colorado may not be your first cold-weather destination, but if you are into bird viewing and wildlife watching, you’re likely to see more animals than people at Jackson Lake State Park, east of Greeley.
Two year-round campgrounds have electric hookups, and one year-round campground has no electricity. Any campground is a good jumping-off point for seeing bald eagles and other raptors, as well as rare long-eared owls that spend time around shrubs in the west end of the park.
There are also plenty of deer, rabbits, squirrels, foxes and coyotes in the park in the winter.
Camping, ice fishing, ice skating and limited hunting are also available in the park.
Click here for directions and more information.
So you can’t actually soak in a hot spring in a Colorado state park, as far as we know. But you can use the yurts or campsites at Ridgway State Park as an inexpensive and secluded base camp for exploring several relaxing warm pools in the Ouray area.
A short drive from the park is the clothing-optional Orvis Hot Springs, with a variety of indoor and outdoor pools full of naturally heated, untreated lithium water at temperatures ranging from 65 to 112 degrees.
Several other hot springs options are available in and around Ouray, which also boasts some of the world’s best ice climbing.
For more information, call 970-626-5822 or click here.
Snowmobiles and Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) are banned or heavily restricted in most parks. Vega State Park is an exception. The hidden gem between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction allows OHV use in two campgrounds and the OHV and snowmobile staging area. From there, riders can access hundreds of miles of trails in Grand Mesa National Forest.
Vega also recently opened a new two-mile cross-country skiing trail, and has a large reservoir for ice fishing and skating.
For updated conditions and more details, click here.
Remember that safety is always your first priority, particularly in the backcountry in the winter. Click here for more information about ice safety in Colorado state parks.