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We hear it every year, from the conclusion of one hiking season to the beginning of the next. What is the snowpack like on the Colorado Trail? We hear this from people planning a thru hike for the next season, and from section hikers looking to tick off sections in the wintertime. Snow levels are notoriously difficult to predict, but there are many tools available to help answer the question.

Starting a thru hike on or after July 1 has, in most years, worked well for travelers starting in Denver. Because it will take several days to reach the high elevation passes, particularly those in Segments 6, 7 and 8, this start date allows additional days for the remaining snowpack to melt. The Collegiate West segments are, historically, the last to melt out. They also take some time to get to, if you begin at Waterton Canyon.

If you are a user of OnX, Gaia, CalTopo, or most other GPS applications (available on your phone or desktop) you likely have access to several excellent current conditions map layers, including snow depth. These advanced layers are usually only available to “premium” subscriptions, meaning you may have to pay a small monthly fee to access them. Much of the data these applications use is accessible for free to the public with the main advantage of using the app is that you can upload the CT centerline and view it against whatever data layer you desire.

Fortunately, there are also many useful and free resources to help determine current snow conditions on or along the CT. First, is SNOTEL or Snow Telemetry. The SNOTEL network is composed of over 900 automated data collection sites located in remote, high-elevation mountain watersheds in the western U.S. They are used to monitor snowpack, precipitation, temperature, and other climatic conditions. This interactive map form the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides a wealth of information from SNOTEL sites with a user friendly interface. You can view things like the Snow Water Equivalent at each SNOTEL site, and on a basin wide map. There is a ton of information here, so spend some time exploring the different options to find the data you find most useful. You’ll probably want to review this glossary of climate terms as you explore this interface, best viewed on a desktop.

Another useful and user-friendly site is hosted by the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network or CoCoRaHS. Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Their interactive map has some useful climate data and is also best viewed on a desktop. The data is controlled with the GUIs on the top right of the screen and can be made very specific to what you are looking for.

One more worth noting is the Snow Forecast that claims to be “predicting sick days since 1998.” If nothing else, we appreciate the humor. But, there is much more to this site. Note the map layers are controlled on the left hand side of this site. The most frustrating lack of features here, is the lack of a legend to tell you what the map is showing.

Map overlays are great, but still don’t provide the site-specific details we often crave. Thankfully, the proliferation of web cams can help us in this effort. We’ve compiled a list of webcams along the CT for some hyper local condition observations. As of December 2023, these links are viable. If you know of any other reliable web cams in the vicinity of the CT, let us know and we will add them to the list here.

  • Camera closest to Waterton Canyon, southbound starting point.
  • Camera closest to Segment 6 TH on Highway 285.
  • Camera closest to Segment 7 TH, Gold Hill, Breckenridge.
  • Camera closest to Segment 8 TH, Wheeler Flats, Copper Mountain.
  • Camera closest Segment 9 TH, Tennessee Pass, Ski Cooper.
  • Camera closest to Twin Lakes, Granite.
  • Cameras closest to Segment 14, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.
  • Cameras in Buena Vista, eastern slope of the Sawatch mountains.
  • Camera near the southern junction of Collegiate East and West, Monarch Crest.
  • Cameras at Monarch Mountain ski resort, CW05.
  • Camera closest to Segment 18, Cochetopa Hills.
  • Camera closest to Segment 22, Spring Creek Pass.
  • Camera closest to Segment 25, Molas Lake, Silverton.
  • Camera closest to Junction Creek, CT southbound terminus.

Predictions for average melt off dates are as follows and highly dependent on winter snow accumulation, elevation (between 5,522 and 13,271), and aspect. If we have a mild winter, take a week or two off these estimates. Conversely, if we have a wet winter add some time on.

  • Segment 1, 2, and 3, early May
  • Segment 4, mid-June
  • Segment 5, late May
  • Segments 6, 7, and 8, early July
  • Segment 9, late June
  • Segment 10, mid-June
  • Segment 11 late May
  • Segments 12, and 13 mid-June
  • Segment 14 early June
  • Segment 15 early July
  • Segments 16, 17 late June
  • Segment 18 late May
  • Segment 19 late May (creek ford possibly fast & deep until, say, mid-June)
  • Segments 20, 21 late June
  • Segments 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28 early July
  • Segment CW01 early July
  • Segment CW02 mid-July
  • Segments CW03, CW04, CW05 early July

Preparation in all aspects of your trip is important to your enjoyment and success on the CT. We hope this blog, as well as the many others we have compiled, helps in this effort. Good luck, and happy trails!