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Old 03-13-2010, 08:15 PM
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I live in Alabama and am considering a vacation in Colorado sometime this year. We would like to do as much hiking as possible while we are there (dayhikes). What towns should I look for accomodations in to be around the best hiking in Colorado? Also, what is the best times to hike in Colorado? How is the weather in early October?

Thank you!
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Old 03-13-2010, 10:02 PM
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Wink Rmnp

There are obviously many good options, depending on your criteria. If day hikes in beautiful wilderness, yet easily accessible to comfortable lodging and services, Rocky Mountain National Park would be a good choice. The town of Estes Park is entwined with this Park, literally adjacent, and from some locations one could literally walk out their front door and into the Park within minutes. Most locations in Estes Park will entail a short drive to the edge of the Park.

There are numerous great hiking options within this Park, with it possible to venture out for days and camp, or the more usual stroll of several hours here or there. Either way it can be a very enjoyable experience, with fantastic scenery. One good source of information and ideas is at the Park headquarters. Check here for maps of possible routes:
Rocky Mountain National Park - Maps (U.S. National Park Service)

Early October can be an excellent time to visit the Park. Estes Park experiences a heavy influx of tourists come summer, with their number dwindling dramatically after Labor Day. Yet some recognize that September into October can be the best months of the year, with many visitors still on October weekends for the elk rut. But still less than the height of summer, with less of your fellows in town, on the roads, and on the trails. Weather wise September is usually a superb month, the nights cooler than in July, but lovely clear days and less chance the thunderstorms of mid to late summer. This trend will carry through October, but by Halloween it has probably snowed in the high country, with autumn definitely advanced. Thus October not as sure as September, but likely still fine. Just recognize that there are many peaks in the Park above 14,000 feet, with lower elevations within the Park more like 8,000 feet. Estes Park is 7,522 feet.

Among so many other options could be the San Juan mountains, and a town such as Ouray for instance. But for a plethora of easily accessible, good hiking options, RMNP is surely one of the best choices.
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Old 03-14-2010, 02:01 PM
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Thank you for the information! I don't know anything really about the area so I don't even know what the obvious options are. I'm just starting out my research now to try and figure out the best area for us and then the search is on for the "perfect" place to stay (Cabin definately).

The elevation is an area of concern. I live in an area that is 500-600 feet. Probably the highest area we've hiked is the Smoky Mountains in TN up to around 6500 feet.

I'll check out all of your suggestions! Thank you very much!
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Old 03-15-2010, 10:32 AM
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
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The problem with hiking in Spring to early Summer is that the snow meltoff can make trails muddy. Some parts of Colorado are wetter than others so it depends on where you are. Also during this time creeks and rivers are full with the runoff. Again, if your trail has a lot of creek crossing, it could make it more difficult.

So the best times to hike in Colorado would be mid to late summer after the runoff. However, it's important to note there's a narrow window of opportunity before the weather gets cold and snow starts in the high country. The first snows usually occurs in September but nothing major. By October, most people are off the trails because nighttime temperatures are in the teens and twenties. It depends on elevation.

For your case, I would recommend June through mid-September.

Now for the locations. Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful, has some great trails and is one of the greenest parts of Colorado. It will give you the true mountain hiking and camping experience. There can be a lot of people in the campgrounds that time of year, but once you hit the trails the amount of people thins out.

Another wonderful hiking experience can be found in the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado. Home of the largest wildnerness in Colorado, the San Juans are a vast, rugged and beautiful range of mountains. Less people making it a more isolated experience. There are plenty of trails and campgrounds, although some of them require travelling for several miles on gravel/dirt roads or forest roads to reach them. The San Juans are home to the headwaters of the Rio Grande river. It's a spectacular range of mountains.

Another worthwhile experience can be had in the Holy Cross and Frying Pan wilderness areas in central colorado (near Vail and Aspen). These are also wetter/greener areas with lots of alpine forests and streams.

Take your pick and enjoy. Be aware that you should educate yourself first on the particulars of hiking in Colorado. For example, it's important to know that afternoon thunderstorms are common that time of year and may include lightning or hail. Things like this are important to read up on and prepare for. Any mountain hiking you do in Colorado will occur above 6500 feet. Most of the time you'll be in the 8000 foot range and depending on how much hiking you do, you could find yourself on a trail that climbs over 10,000 feet. The San Juans in particular are a high range: a lot of the trails actually begin at 10,000 feet and go up from there!
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Old 03-15-2010, 04:22 PM
Location: Wherabouts Unknown!
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It's all the best! For me, wherever I happen to be hiking in Colorado at the time IS the best hiking. Nothing beats being out on the trail. Chances are, you'll love it no matter which part of the state you decide to visit. If October is the only time available to you, go on over to Utah and hike in any one of the southern Utah national parks. Your chances of having hike-able weather will be greatly enhanced, and the Utah scenery is even more magnificent than Colorado IMO. I love the red rock canyon country.
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Old 03-15-2010, 08:35 PM
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September is do-able. Fall is when we usually like to vacation, especially October but that is because that's when the leaves are changing here. Good point about the muddy trails, I'll avoid Spring!

The San Juans sound really interesting. I like the idea that it is more isolated. One of the best draws to hiking is that it is AWAY from people, right??

I welcome the higher elevations - it's something I really want to experience. I'm not sure how quickly one acclimates? I guess we'd want to try some "lower" altitude hikes first (lower being higher than I've ever hiked before). I know this is a dumb thing to admit but when I was looking at some of the fourteeners (which I don't know if I can do but I'd certainly want to try) I was wondering where all the trees were at first, before I realized WHY there weren't trees. Duh.

The thing with Utah is that it's a further drive. I'm in Alabama and I am looking for an area I can get to in 2 days. I have an aunt and uncle in Colorado Springs and when my parents visit them they can drive there in two days. Unless I find a seriously good deal on flying...

Anyway, I know I'll love wherever we end up. It's my dream to live out west someday - based purely on photos and my love of nature. I was born in the wrong part of the country for sure! Not to sell Alabama short, because Alabama has a lot of great features....but my heart longs to be out west in the mountains!

I definately want to do a lot of research - luckily I love research! I will look at all of your suggestions. Thank you so much for the ideas. There is so much out there I just didn't know where to start!
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Old 03-16-2010, 11:06 AM
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
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Originally Posted by Alabama76 View Post
The San Juans sound really interesting. I like the idea that it is more isolated. One of the best draws to hiking is that it is AWAY from people, right??
If this interests you, I recommend you look into it as a solid option. There's many points of access into the San Juans:
  1. the highway between South Fork and Pagosa Springs is on the east side of the mountain range. This highway passes through spectacular country and there are several campgrounds with trailheads.
  2. Lake City, Colorado, is a small town nestled in a beautiful part of the northern San Juans.
  3. Ouray, colorado provides access on the Western side. The part of the mountain range has some particularly impressive, scraggly 14,000 foot peaks
  4. The highway between Durango and Pagosa springs provides access along the Piedra river on the southern part.
Once you decide which area you'll be in, purchase a current topo map. National Geographic provides some nice topos. I've got the one for the Weminuche wilderness (in the San Juans) and I recommend it.

I know this is a dumb thing to admit but when I was looking at some of the fourteeners (which I don't know if I can do but I'd certainly want to try) I was wondering where all the trees were at first, before I realized WHY there weren't trees. Duh.
Treeline in Colorado is at about 11,000 feet.

The thing with Utah is that it's a further drive.
For a wilderness experience in a vast and remote mountain range, you might want to consider the Uintah mountains in Utah. They stretch from the Flaming Gorge in the east to Salt Lake City in the west. 200 miles of mountains. Little in the way of human population. The mountains are home to something like 1000 natural lakes. Also interesting is the preponderence of lodgepole pines which give it a more "northern" feel (lodgepoles live from about middle Colorado northwards into Canada.)

you can get a very similar wildnerness experiene in the San Juans, so take your pick, I think you'll be happy with either option.
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Old 03-16-2010, 11:32 AM
Location: Denver, CO
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I went to RMNP during a free weekend and it was really packed. However it was still beautiful and snowpacked up top during the summer!
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Old 03-16-2010, 02:02 PM
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Wink Season & location

On elevation, if not used to it then best to take the time and acclimate. This defined not so much in how high you go, although a factor, but in how strenuously. Begin with short walks, giving yourself time to rest. Chances are you'll end up out of breath sooner than expected. No problem. Just don't tackle a 14'er on the first day, or even the second. Pay attention to how you feel.

Anywhere in Colorado will be defined by season and elevation. Thus September can be hot on the eastern plains and cooler, if quite pleasant, in the higher mountains. It can snow then, particularly at the highest elevations, but more usually only on the peaks. Weather-wise it could be the best month. But this is not your only consideration. The price of lodging, and the number of other tourists you may encounter, are also dictated by season. In this regard pushing into October can be more advantageous. Only the weather is just that less sure. Probably okay, particularly in early October, but do consider it.

Estes Park offers a lot of lodging options, cabins, too, if you like. Prices can be relatively high in summer, possibly more modest in September, decidedly less expensive beginning more usually sometime in October. If preferring to avoid crowds Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are not good options in summer. By late September, early October it will prove far more mellow, but expect relatively busy weekends until November. However this applies primarily to anything about 100 feet from a road. The majority of tourists never get far from their vehicles. Yet campsites and trails that are busy in summer are far more empty come autumn. And if truly venturing into the heart of the Park, and really camping, then peace more usually found any time of year.

But I would not discourage you in the least from choosing the San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado. They are gorgeous, with good hiking options, only not as easily discovered, or as many in one spot, as with RMNP. From Alabama either of these locations is more or less equidistant. If time is relatively short, it might be best to choose only one, as they are far apart.

Towns you might choose as a base camp in the San Juan's could be Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, Lake City, Creede, or South Fork. All are relatively small, each nice in its own way, and with the slight exception of South Fork all decidedly within the mountains, most particularly Silverton. Some research advised, as each has its own flavor. Since hiking is a consideration, some of these towns will offer better access to dedicated hiking trails than others. Without knowing the trails exactly, I'd recommend Ouray as a nice town in a lovely setting. More activity would be afforded in the upscale town of Telluride. Lake City would prove one of the quietest and most remote options. Really, best to check on what you like.

Otherwise the San Juan's are magnificent mountains that are often forgotten.
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Old 03-16-2010, 02:20 PM
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RMNP is one of the more dramatically scenic parts of the state, though there are many others as well. But I personally would not rank it as the best because even the lesser known trails there seem crowded to me, especially in summer. When it comes to hiking, BEST depends on ones own point of view and personal experience, but I've yet to have a really BAD hike anywhere in the state. Crowded, yes, bad, no.
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