Article and Photos by URGGuide Field Editor Ryan Michelle Scavo
So you’re new parents and you want to keep outdoor activity high on the list all year long, right? Or, maybe you’re well-seasoned caretakers looking for a new outdoor experience for the little ones? Whatever your title or outdoor goals, winter is as great a season as any when it comes to getting outside and keeping kids active!
From hitting the local sledding hill or catching some downhill and cross country skiing/snowboarding turns, the area holds so many opportunities for exploring the winter landscape! And while “Fun” might be your top priority, being prepared should be tied for first place – so check out the URGG “Winter Gear Guide” page for a suggested gear list.
Additionally, when playing outside with kids, always consider how to counter chilly days with warm surprises like hot cocoa! Kids get tired and a warm, chocolaty beverage can be a total game-changer when things seem to be going downhill to meltdown city.
Here is a quick list of easy-access locations that can be suitable for kids. To learn more about many of these sites, look through the URGG and visit websites prior to departure.
Wolf Creek Ski Area
Located twenty miles west of South Fork on highway 160, just below the Continental Divide, Wolf Creek Ski Area boasts some of the highest total snowfall in Colorado. Featuring a variety of terrain, multiple lodges, and kid’s ski school, the ski area has something for all ages. Especially exciting for kids, this year, a magic carpet lift has been added featuring a moving conveyor belt for the Wolf Pup Program (a ski program for children ages 5-8). To learn more about trails, lift ticket and ski school prices, and other information, visit their website (wolfcreekski.com)
Wolf Creek Nordic Track, Wolf Creek Ski Area
Located within the Wolf Creek Ski Area boundary on the Rio Grande National Forest, this 10km, groomed cross-country ski track is free to the public and accessible via the ski road at the end of the lower parking lot. Terrain is varied as the track passes through meadows, near Alberta Reservoir and forested sections. The track is also utilized by snowshoers and is dog-friendly (please clean up after you pet).
Rock Creek Trail, Rio Grande National Forest
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the San Juan Nordic Club, the groomed cross-country ski trails at Rock Creek are available to families seeking an off-the-beaten path cross-country skiing location. Located at the foothills of the San Juan Mountains, Rock Creek provides 9km of groomed trail free of charge. To access, drive south on CO15 from Monte Vista and turn right on CR 2-S (Rock Creek Road–see US Forest Service sign). Follow this road for 12 miles to a trailhead (marked by some signage and a plowed road-side parking area). Trail Map.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Snowshoe hare, elk, deer, and birds of prey are just some of the possible wildlife you may observe at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Open to the public year-round, the national park features the tallest dune in North America and offers a unique experience in the winter months. Located outside Mosca, to access the Dunefield and Visitor Center, follow Highway 150 from the south or CR6 from the west. To learn more about park access, pass prices, and Ranger-led programming, visit their website (nps.gov/grsa).
Lobo Overlook Parking Area
The Lobo Overlook winter parking area is located on the north side of Wolf Creek Pass on highway 160. During the snowy winter months, kids and families can be seen hiking up and sledding down the hill below the Lobo Overlook. Bring along a sled, snacks, and water, as there few accommodations nearby (Wolf Creek Ski Area is less than 1 mile east on highway 160).
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Want to “sled” the highest dune in North America? It’s possible by visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park, but you better be ready for a 5 hour hike! Of course, if you (and your kids) would prefer a shorter walk, the park features countless dunes that are sandboarding (different from a snow sled)-friendly. In fact, according to the park’s website, “Sandboarding, sledding, and skiing are permitted anywhere on the dunefield away from vegetated areas”. After parking at the Dune Parking Area, sledders’ looking for a new experience can access small to medium-sized slopes within 1km.
For more information about winter activities with kids, visit the links and resources mentioned above, and always remember to bring along water, extra snacks and layers, and sunblock!