clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Best Day Hikes in Ski Country

In the Rockies, the ski town slogan is, "Come for the winter, stay for the summer." The same may be said for mountain hamlets across North America. Snow is great and all, but who doesn't love sunny skies, wildflowers, alpine lakes and rivers, and forest? Curbed Ski has compiled a list of the most iconic day hikes in or around ski towns nationwide. Whether you're a novice or serious peakbagger, there's sure to be a hike that, ahem, piques your interest.

Tahoe Rim Trail: Diversity is a glorious thing, and you'll find it on this 165-mile trek. Eight trailheads mean you can hike in 12 to 33 mile segments, although there are also a handful of unofficial access points. Whether you're day hiking or backpacking, be aware that the trail is also open to equestrians and mountain bikers. The latter are only allowed on even days in the Tahoe Meadow section. Expect varied terrain including lava flows and tundra, and glorious views of the lake.

Mosquito Flat Trail, Mammoth: Yes, it's 20 miles outside of town, but this is Sierra scenery at some of its finest. This is part of Mono Pass, at 10,255 feet, the highest trailhead in the mountain range accessible by car. Although there are plenty of hikes and campgrounds in the region, the best day trip is this nearly nine-mile hike which takes you up to 12,000 feet, through rocky granite moonscape, meadow, creeks, and pine forest to a small, tranquil lake surrounded by jutting peaks.

Albion Basin, Alta: The Cottonwood Canyons are well-known by hikers, and it's tough to pick a favorite, given the diversity of the trails. This short (1.5 mile, round-trip) hike may challenge those not used to the altitude- the trailhead starts at 9,500 feet, but power down the water and and persevere. You'll be rewarded with over 100 species of wildflowers- the Wasatch-Cache National Forest is one of the best places in the region for viewing. Albion is at the summit of Little Cottonwood Canyon; the glacial formations and flora make for a fascinating hike. Do be aware that you'll be accompanied by many fellow wildflower enthusiasts at peak season (July).

Cascade Canyon Trail, Jackson Hole region: It's tough to beat the Grand Tetons when it comes to scenery, no matter how well-seasoned a world traveler you might be. This popular hike necessitates a boat shuttle across Jenny Lake. For a moderate hike, head up to 200-foot Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, which provides views of the east side of the national park. Hardcores can continue onward to Hurricane Pass and Lake Solitude, which overlooks the Cathedral Group. Five to 15 miles; either way, end you day with a cold one at one of Jackson's hopping brewpubs.

West Maroon Pass, Aspen/Crested Butte: Perhaps Colorado's most well-known hike, the 12 miles over the Elk Range is achievable in six hours if you're in good shape. From July to August, wildflowers are at their peak (consider hiking over during Crested Butte's famous Wildflower Festival). You can depart from either trailhead, but bear in mind that logistically, some preparation is required, and the Crested Butte side is 45 minutes outside of town. It's also a steeper route from Aspen to Crested Butte. Plan on stopping for lunch at the 12,500-foot summit of West Maroon Pass for a view that will knock your (sweaty) socks off. Aspen's Limelight Hotel offers a customizable West Maroon Hiking package that can include accommodations at The Nordic Inn in Crested Butte, transportation to/from the trailheads, GPS, lunch; even a return helicopter or Cessna flight.

Bear Creek Falls or Jud Wiebe Trail, Telluride: It's a tie- there's no shortage of trails in the region, but for sheer convenience as well as scenery, it's tough to beat these hikes. Both trailheads are right in town, and are insanely popular with locals. Bear Creek is a 5-mile round-trip hike that can be tackled by beginners (please wear appropriate footwear; not only do sandals and heels scream "tourist;" they make hiking so not fun); locals prefer to use it as a running trail. You'll enter a side canyon, passing through meadows and forest, finally arriving at the dramatic, 100-foot falls. The Wiebe is a steep, butt-burning, three-mile hike with a 1,300-foot elevation, but you'll be rewarded with great views of the valley, and Zen sections of shady aspen grove and pine forest.

Mt. Crested Butte: It involves buying a lift ticket for the Silver Queen chair, but this alpine hike and final ascent (note that this involves scrambling over some sizeable boulders, so proper footwear and fitness are a must, although novices can tackle it) is worth the price. From the 12, 162-foot summit, you get a killer view of the Elk Range, town, and South CB, far below. Mid-to-late summer brings a plethora of wildflowers. Please refrain from feeding the chipmunks and ground squirrels, no matter how adorably they beg.

Italianos Canyon Trail, Taos: A favorite of locals, this is one of the most visually rewarding hikes in the region, near Taos Ski Valley. A 3.6 mile descent will take you up to 11,387 feet, through meadows, a massive quaking aspen grove, spruce forest, and rocky draws. Despite the high desert location, there are over 200 plant species in this area, many of which are dependent on spring runoff, which can be considerable. Bring waterproof foot gear and hiking poles.

Sunset Ridge Trail, Stowe region: Located 25 miles from Stowe, this 5.7-mile loop on Mt. Mansfield is mostly above treeline, and provides stellar views of the Champlain Valley. Be prepared for lots of water crossings in mossy woods, and a bit of scrambling; for the biggest payoff, you might want to consider hiking in the fall for an acid trip's worth of colors.
· Food Tours and Something Called Leave the Boys Behind Comes to Aspen [Curbed Ski Archives]
· The Best Budget Hotels in Ski Country [Curbed Ski Archives]