Cross Country Skiing in Colorado’s National Forests

Downhill skiing is exciting and exhilarating, but cross country skiing has a magic and tranquility all its own. There’s nothing to compare to the quite hush of falling snow and the small sounds of wildlife in the forest as you glide by. The constant “shush-shush-shush” noise of your skis is occasionally accompanied by the call of a raptor in flight, or the plop of snow falling to earth from the branch of a majestic evergreen.

Whether you want a perfectly groomed Nordic trail, or plan to forge your own path through some rugged back country, you can find the cross country skiing you’re looking for in Colorado’s national forests. You can’t beat the price – most forest trails are free and fees for the Nordic centers are less than $15 a day per person. With money as no object, you can go wherever your desire and skills can take you. Of course, do be aware that if you choose to go into the back country, avalanche is a danger, particularly in the spring.

When planning your cross country ski trip in Colorado, be sure to check out some of the following national forests:

Grand Mesa National Forest is the largest flat top mesa in the world, covering 700,000 acres, and is located about 40 miles east of Grand Junction, Colorado. Here, you’ll find groomed trails, marked but ungroomed trails, and plenty of untried back country for the skilled and adventurous cross country skier.

Next up, Pine National Forest is home to Saylor Park. The park is fairly remote, but wonderful for show-shoeing or cross country skiing – if you can get there. Rampart Range Road and Mount Herman Road are often blocked by snow, so the park is usually only accessible in the warmest of temperatures.

If you visit Rainbow Gulch, leave your car at the gate and strap on your skis. There’s a one mile stretch down the Rainbow Gulch Trail for beginning skier, and a 13-mile route around the reservoir that intermediate to advanced skiers will enjoy.

You should also check out Mueller State Park – with over 12,000 acres, it’s got something for everyone. And with over 80 miles of trails, there’s plenty of room for beginners and intermediate skiers to find a trail that’s just right for them.

More back country skiing can be found at The Centennial Trail when there’s sufficient snow, The Crags, and at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Again, conditions vary at these locations depending on the amount of snow that has fallen.

If skiing in the backcountry is a bit more than you want to tackle, there are many Nordic centers with groomed trails, onsite ski rentals and everything else you need to get started. Some of the best Nordic centers include Crested Butte, Beaver Meadows, Fairplay Nordic Center, Breckenridge Nordic Ski Center, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort, Copper Mountain, Frisco Nordic Ski Center, and Grand Lake Touring Center.

Other National Forests in Colorado where you can find back country skiing and Nordic Centers include Arapaho National Forest, Grand Mesa National Forest, Gunnison National Forest (Crested Butte), Rio Grande National Forest, Roosevelt National Forest, Routt National Forest, San Isabel National Forest, San Juan National Forest, Uncampaghre National Forest (Telluride), and White River National Forest (Aspen). Whatever your cross country skiing desires, you’ll find something that meets your needs and your skill level in Colorado.