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Home > Trip Planning > Snow and Weather

Snow and Weather

Snowpack on The Colorado Trail

Snowpack on the CT is, every spring, a subject of great interest to CT users planning their trips. The common question is "When is The Colorado Trail likely to be snow free?" The general rule is that most of the CT is usually snow free by July 1 and the CT "season" can be viewed as primarily July and August, plus September for those that don't mind a fleeting snowstorm. This July-September, CT season can (some years) be extended by a couple of weeks on the front end to include the last 2 weeks in June. However, late June is often "iffy" with remaining deep snowpack, especially at the higher CT elevations and on the north facing hillsides and where the Trail is shaded in the trees.

Remaining snowpack is really troublesome. When a lot of snow remains, travelers can't locate the trail and follow it. Walking on top of the snow may work for a few steps, but then one sinks in deep, "post-holing." It's exhausting and very slow going. Each time one sinks through the rotten and unsupportive spring snow, your foot lands on whatever is hidden below, often rocks or buried logs, often at jarring angles. Ankle sprains sometimes result. Few people who experience a lot of post-holing are game for more.

July 1 is the earliest start date we recommend for thru-hikers; it gives them even a few more days of hiking before they reach the high passes that retain snowpack even into July. CT distance travelers often want snow data helpful in determining whether they can start earlier than the suggested July 1 earliest start date. Predicting June snowpack is an inexact science, though, in part because it is hard to know how warm May and June will be and how fast it will melt. One can't tell much until June, sometimes mid June. Still, SNOTEL weather stations offer some pertinent data.

An active CT hiker (and CTF volunteer) who has monitored SNOTEL weather stations for years, has offered this advice: While SNOTEL weather station data is potentially helpful, the big problem is that virtually all of the SNOTEL sites show 0 inches of snowpack by the first week of June when there is still a lot of snow on The Colorado Trail at treeline and higher. (This is likely due to the elevation and aspect of most of the weather stations.) There are two particularly helpful SNOTEL sites, Fremont and Red Mountain, that have proven to hold snow longer and be more representative of the higher elevation areas on the CT. Fremont is centrally located for the CT north of I-50. Red Mountain is centrally located for the CT south of I-50.

NORTH HALF CT:  About one week after the Fremont Pass SNOTEL finally melts to 0 inches of snowpack, the high points along the north half of the CT (including in Segments 6, 7 and 8) become passable. Around 3 weeks after the Freemont Pass Snowtel melts to 0 inches of snowpack, the high points along the Collegiate West (including CW02-CW05) become passable.

SOUTH HALF CT: About two weeks after the Red Mountain Pass SNOTEL finally melts to 0 inches of snowpack, the south half CT high points (including Segments 21-27) become passable.

Consider whether your schedule is flexible enough to accommodate a last minute (June) change in your start date. If highly flexible, maybe you can make good use of the above data in June and still adjust your launch date. If not that flexible, we think the best strategy is to begin no earlier than July 1st.

The following Snotel links can also be of help. They show current snow depth at 11 mountain locations (including Freemont and Red Mountain) that are relatively near the CT and at similar elevations.

 

Nearest CT Location Snotel Site Site Elevation Approx. miles from CT Snow Depth Last 7 Days
Segment 6
Georgia Pass
Michigan Creek 10,600 1.5 Snow Depth Michigan Creek
Segment 8
Copper Mountain
Copper Mountain 10,300 0.3 Snow Depth Copper Mountain
Segment 8
Kokomo Pass
Fremont Pass 11,400 3.7 Snow Depth Fremont Pass
Segment 15
Fooses Crk/ Marshall
Porphyry Creek 10,760 3.3 Snow Depth Porphyry Creek
Segment 17
Sargents Mesa
Sargents Mesa 11,530 0.3 Snow Depth Sargents Mesa
Segment 18
Cochetopa Pass
Cochetopa Pass 10,020 0.8 Snow Depth Cochetopa Pass
Segment 22
Jarosa Mesa
Slumgullion 11,440 3.5 Snow Depth Slumgullion
Continental Divide atop Elk Creek Beartown 11,600 0.6 Snow Depth Beartown
Segment 24/25
Molas Pass
Molas Lake 10,500 0.3 Snow Depth Molas Lake
Segment 25
Rolling Pass
Red Mountain Pass 11,200 9.3 Snow Depth Red Mountain Pass
Segment 27/28
Kennebec Pass
Columbus Basin 10,785 0.9 Snow Depth Columbus Basin

 


Weather conditions in Colorado change quickly. You can encounter any kind of weather any time of the year, so please plan ahead and pack appropriate clothing for all weather conditions. Because much of The Colorado Trail is at high elevations, the sun is intense (so wear sunscreen) but it is possible to also encounter snow or fierce thunderstorms. Be prepared, check on loved ones, or just see what mother nature has in store by checking the up to the minute weather forecasts from NOAA

You can also use the following weather links to provide forecast information for towns located near The Colorado Trail. 

Segment # Trail Section Descriptions Weather Info.
1 Waterton Canyon Trailhead to South Platte River Littleton
2 - 5 South Platte River to Kenosha Pass Bailey
6 - 8 Kenosha Pass to Tennessee Pass Breckenridge
9 - 11 Tennessee Pass to Clear Creek Road Leadville
12 - 14 Clear Creek Road to U.S. Highway 50 Buena Vista
15 - 19 U. S. Highway 50 to Eddiesville Trialhead Saguache
20 - 22 Eddiesville Trailhead to Carson Saddle Lake City
23 - 27 Carson Saddle to Cumberland Basin Silverton
28 Cumberland Basin to Junction Creek Trailhead (Durango) Durango