When I think of summer in Colorado, I think of hiking.
I think of jagged peaks, icy blue alpine lakes, and cascading waterfalls. I think of the smell of pine and fir, elk with velvety antlers, and blue and yellow wildflowers ablaze on a hillside.
I’ve always preferred trails with fewer people and more solitude, but never more so than this summer.
With Coronavirus on the mind, hiking on trails with crowds of people brings an added level of anxiety.
Someone is coming towards me. They aren’t wearing a mask. What should I do?
Fortunately for me, Colorado is a big state. And though certain places are perhaps too well loved, others fly under the radar.
We’re doing just a little more research, thinking about little known wilderness areas as well as familiar places. As my husband and I discussed opportunities for summer backpacking, we started thinking about ways to hike without rubbing elbows with too many people.
Though I love Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s gotten a bit too crowded the past few summer. So much so, that I have avoided it altogether.
If you were ever looking for a time to visit, this might be now. During the months of June and July, the park is restricting access to 60% of visitors from last year.
You have to put in a bit of extra planning though.
To gain entry, you must book a timed entry slot in advance through recreation.gov. You must choose a 2-hour window to enter the park on a specific date.
We found out that rangers are actually stopping vehicles at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to check your reservation. You must show them either a print out paper or your smart phone with the reservation info.
The reward for this? The line to enter the park was far shorter. There was actually parking at most of the turnouts and trail heads. The drive through the park was leisurely, but not crowded with cars. Trails had far fewer people on them. It was actually enjoyable.
We’re also looking at wilderness areas away from the Front Range. You know, some of those lesser known places on the west side of the Continental Divide. Maybe try some place you’ve never been before. There are some incredible hikes with stellar views if you’re willing to spend a little time on your computer and with a map.
Today, we walked a piece of the Continental Divide Trail in one of these lesser known areas. On a Sunday filled with sunshine, we encountered a sum total of four people. And a bear. The views were no less breathtaking than the trails in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. But we didn’t have to fight for parking or wait for parking, and we had a whole lot of forest all to ourselves.
So if you want to get outside, but keep yourself safe from Coronavirus, consider some places off the beaten path. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.