Eldora’s location near the mountain town of Nederland means that Denver and Boulder skiers can access it without battling the traffic on I-70—a huge plus on powder days! As a smaller operation, Eldora is very family-friendly, with plenty of programs for kids and beginners but there’s also a nice mix of blue and black terrain for advanced skiers. Lift lines tend to be short as the mountain spreads out nicely from the base area. There are also excellent Nordic skiing and snowshoeing options on groomed trails.
What Makes It Great
Eldora is every bit a locals’ mountain, thankfully minus elitist snobbery. What Eldora lacks in size (680 acres) it makes up for in diversity. The base area lifts (Sundance, Challenge, and Cannonball) services easier terrain along with a modest terrain park and the surprisingly tight black diamond trees of Jolly Jug Glades. Indian Peaks lift is perfect for blue / easy black cruiser laps. And the Corona Lift access the Corona Bowl, where some brief but legit double black lines run down steep, forested terrain. Catch the Corona lift on a powder day and you may be surprised to see the hours pass in the blink of an eye.
The family friendly element is quickly apparent, especially on weekends. There are a host of programs for kids of all ages to get them dialed in to a lifelong love of skiing and snowboarding. Not to be overlooked are Eldora’s wonderful Nordic trails, groomed for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. These trails follow Jenny Creek through pine glades and open meadows. Exploring this network as afternoon winter shadows fall is a photographer’s dream, with deep orange sunbeams casting elegant shadows onto blankets of powdery snow.
Food is available at the base and at the lofty Lookout dining area at the top of Corona lift. Views west to the Indian Peaks are spectacular from the here.
Who is Going to Love It
Families love the easy access to kid-friendly terrain and skiers of all levels enjoy avoiding I-70 on busy winter weekends. Eldora actually has some challenging black diamond runs on the north side of the mountain, including steep trees and tough natural bumps. Runs aren't terribly long but the lack of lift lines mean you can get in many laps if you have the legs for it.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Boulder, take Canyon Blvd. West (Canyon Blvd. is Hwy 119). Follow 119 to Nederland. Turn left at the Roundabout. Continue South on 119 for one mile. Turn right on 130 and follow the signs to Eldora.
Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
Jackson Hole has Teton Pass. Salt Lake City has Little Cottonwood Canyon. Bozeman has Bridger Bowl, and Bend has Tumalo Mountain. Boulder, Colorado, has, well, nothing analogous that caters to ravenous dawn patrollers, those of us who like to fit in a backcountry ski before work.
Nevertheless it's not impossible for Boulderites to squeeze in a_ _ski at first light—and still be at the office by 10 am. It just takes a little extra work and planning, but the rewards (an invigorating workout, bragging rights at the water cooler) are well worth it.
There are still ruins from this former town’s mining days, but mostly you’ll find undulating hills, a well-established track, and a mellow 25-degree slope good for a few laps.
Getting there: Drive west up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, and at the first roundabout take Highway 72 north. Just past the fire station, turn left onto Caribou Road. Follow the road until it dead ends. The total drive is about 40 minutes from Boulder.
Plan to drive about 45 minutes from Boulder to the trailhead at Moffatt Tunnel , and then to skin for another 45 minutes to the low angle, forested slopes. If you’ve got more time—and conditions are safe—you can make more of an expedition by skiing to the top of Radio Beacon Peak.
Getting there: Head south out of Nederland about five miles to Rollinsville, and then turn west onto East Portal Road. The trailhead is about eight miles down the road.
3. Hidden Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park
Make sure to leave well before first light to make the hour-long drive up to this now-defunct ski area in Rocky Mountain National Park . The skiing is mellow and lower angle, but the views are absolutely epic. Who doesn’t want to start the day waving to 14,259-foot Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains?
Getting there: From RMNP's Beaver Meadow Visitor Center, follow Trail Ridge Road into the park to signs for Hidden Valley Picnic Area at 6.8 miles.
Find high alpine bowls, chutes and glades at this former ski area on the 11,307-foot pass that straddles the Continental Divide on Highway 40. A former ski area, this is now a popular backcountry spot with big crowds on any given weekend. Come the crack of dawn at midweek, however, you might enjoy a solo pre-descent sunrise.
Getting there: Plan on at least an hour and 15 minutes to drive 66 miles from Boulder to Berthoud Pass. Drive south on Highway 93 to Interstate 70. Take I-70 west for about 25 miles to exit 232, US-40W toward Granby, climb up the east side of the pass, and park at the summit.
5. Bear Peak, Boulder
When the stars collide and Boulder gets the occasional blizzard dump (generally in late March and early April), the town’s extensive trail network is transformed into ski trails. While you can’t actually ski from the summit of this 8,459-foot peak (too many cliffs), you can ski up Bear Canyon Trail to the Mesa Trail and get a solid workout—with some turns thrown in for fun on the descent.
Getting there: Head west onto Table Mesa Drive at the Broadway and Table Mesa intersection. After 0.7 miles, turn left onto Lehigh and take the immediate right onto Bear Mountain Drive. The trailhead is a half-mile ahead on your right.
Written by Rachel Walker for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
Winter in Vail is unforgettable, but a visit to the hills around this quintessential resort town in the heart of Colorado’s Gore Range during the warmer months is pure magic. Hiking options abound throughout the hills surrounding Vail, but it’s the high alpine lakes hidden in the upper reaches of the Gore that make for some of the most rewarding of adventures. Here's a sampling of some of Vail's best mountain lakes that offer different accessibility and experiences for anyone ready to take the plunge.
1. Piney Lake
A must while in town, Piney Lake has long been a favorite for visitors and locals looking to quietly relax by the high alpine lake, or experience a bit of adventure in the heart of the Gore Range.
The road to Piney Lake, in particular, is accessible via a dirt road throughout the summer months, and is a favorite among snowmobilers, snowshoers, and backcountry travelers in the winter. Camping sites are a frequent sight along the dirt road, with primitive pull offs offering easily accessible spots to pitch a tent for the night.
For those needing a bit of inspiration—or equipment—to enjoy all that Piney Lake has to offer, Piney River Ranch is open from mid-June to the beginning of October annually, and offers everything from canoe rentals to guided horseback rides throughout the area’s mountainous terrain.
Piney Lake is just as welcoming to visitors looking to independently take in the views and recreation around the area as well, and hiking trails abound, with the Upper Piney Trail being a popular option. The trail takes hikers 7 miles each way, and offers some pristine access into the surrounding wilderness area. Hikers looking for a more strenuous excursion can continue on Upper Piney Trail to Knee Knocker Pass, or push for a summit of Mt. Powell, a 13er that boasts the highest elevation of any of the peaks in the Gore Range.
Access : Travel 11 miles via the dirt road from Red Sandstone Road following signs to Piney Lake. Four-wheel drive is recommended, but not a must.
2. Booth Lake
Another Vail area classic, Booth Lake is accessible via a 4.1 mile one-way trek and over 3,000 feet of elevation gain on Booth Creek Trail. Worth the sweat, the lake is ringed by peaks of the Gore Range, and offers an icy reprieve for those brave enough to take a dip. The trail grants a bit of scenery for hikers not quite ready to conquer the trail in its entirety as well, as Booth Falls is a popular turnaround point on the trail, and offers visitors a popular vista to take in the 60 foot waterfall.
Access : From exit 180 off of I-70, head west on the North Frontage Road. After passing Vail Mountain School, turn right onto Booth Falls Road. The trailhead is located at the end of this road.
3. Gore Lake
Pressed up against the Gore Range deep in East Vail, Gore Lake is a wilderness experience that takes hikers on a 6-mile trek to the high alpine gem via 2,700 feet of climbing. Gore Creek Trail is the lake’s only access point, and offers exceptional views of Vail’s signature Gore Creek and the East Vail chutes as it winds through pine and aspen forest. The view from the lake is magnificent, and is a welcome spot to take in the scenery, or for late night star gazing.
Access : From exit 180 on I-70, head east on Bighorn Road for 2.5 miles, following the road under the overpass until the trailhead appears on the left. Once on the trail, hikers soon encounter a marked fork. Head right to Gore Creek Trail.
Written by Kirsten Dobroth for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
Get away from any trailhead in Colorado and the noise of everyday life disappears. Wind whispers through stands of pine trees and aspen leaves chatter like unruly children.
But in the fall, things get a little louder. Rocky Mountain elk, some of the largest land mammals in North America, are feeling frisky. Fall is the mating season for elk and their mating rituals make backcountry hikes a lot more entertaining.
Bull elk are on the prowl right now, looking for that special someone in small groups of cows and calves, called harems. To get the attention of the females, the bulls squeal, chirp and whistle, and often joust with other males in the hazy light of dusk.
Elk are found throughout Colorado, and hikers in the Pikes Peak region don’t have to go far to find them. Here are five places where this fall drama can be experienced.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument This park sprawls over nine square miles of rolling meadow and forested hillsides. It’s the perfect place to see large herds of elk staging their drama in the fall. Try the Boulder Creek Trail that begins and ends in ponderosa forest with a long stretch through meadows where beavers have diverted the creek water. For a different view of this national monument known for its fossils, choose the trail to the Hornbek Homestead that takes you over a meadow that was covered by Lake Florissant millions of years ago.
Mueller State Park This park’s rolling hills and hidden meadows attract elk year-round. In the spring, several trails are closed because of elk calving. In the fall, check out the Lost Pond Trail. It takes hikers to a small picturesque pond in a lush valley. For stunning views, check out the Outlook Ridge to Ravenwood Overlook.
Catamount Ranch Open Space This is a hiking-only open space west of Woodland Park. Its two main trails wind through dense stands of aspen and conifer forest with occasional views of Pikes Peak. The Elder-Fenn trail rolls along and tops out at 10,000 feet. The Vayhinger trail joins up with the Ring the Peak Trail (that loops around Pikes Peak) and the North Slope Recreation Area (closed from October to May).
Lost Creek Wilderness – Lost Park
The drive to this remote section of a remote wilderness area is just as magical as a hike through this trail that follows a winding creek through a fairyland mountain park. Lost Park is tucked between dark green hillsides and it offers solitude. Elk can be seen grazing in the open spaces here. (For the scenic route, head west on US 24 to Woodland Park. Turn right on Colorado 67; at Deckers, take CR 126 to Pine Junction. Turn left on U.S. Highway285 and drive over Kenosha Pass. Watch for FS Road 127 on your left – that takes you 20 miles to Lost Park Campground, where you will start your hike.)
Cheyenne Mountain State Park Hikers often share the 20 miles of trails in this park with its wild residents – black bears, mountain lions, mule deer and elk. For best wildlife viewing, choose trails that are furthest from the entrance – favorites include the 3.24-mile Sundance Loop and a 5-mile loop connecting Talon, North Talon and South Talon trails.
If you hike in Colorado in the fall, you’ll probably encounter an elk. Round a switchback and there he is – eyes ablaze and head high. The bull can weigh 700 pounds and he has one thing on his mind – assembling his harem and protecting his chosen cows.
Size isn’t everything in a mountain. Neither is topographic prominence, or isolation, or vertical rise, or geologic age, or symmetry, or wildness.
The best mountains, of course, are those that get lodged in your heart so that you feel them even when you’re far away, and lodged in your subconscious so that you dream about them. Maybe it’s the Grand Teton or Denali; maybe it’s that anonymous desert butte or that glorified hillock you keep coming back to—a personal sacred summit, “stats” be damned.
That said, stats serve a useful (and sometimes entertaining) purpose. Whether you’re seeking applicable knowledge about specific peaks, or just hoping to be a human repository of ‘did you know’ facts among your climbing and hiking buddies, this hodgepodge of mountain trivia should help.
From the fundamentals, like highest and most prominent, to the obscure little tidbits and other random stuff in between, here’s a brief breakdown of some of America’s best mountains (for one reason or another).
The Highest: Elevation Revelations
Drawing from this Summitpost ranking of the highest summits in North America with at least 2,000 feet of clean prominence (a cutoff that excludes the sub-peaks of a massif), here’s our U.S. top 10:
Denali (Alaska Range, AK): 20,320’
Mount St. Elias (St. Elias Mountains, AK, shared with Yukon): 18,008’
Mount Foraker (Alaska Range, AK): 17,400’
Mount Bona (St. Elias Mountains, AK): 16,500’
Mount Blackburn (Wrangell Mountains, AK): 16,390’
Mount Sanford (Wrangell Mountains, AK): 16,237’
Mount Fairweather (St. Elias Mountains, AK, shared with B.C.): 15,325’
Mount Bear (St. Elias Mountains, AK): 14,831’
Mount Hunter (Alaska Range, AK): 14,573’
Mount Whitney (Sierra Nevada, CA): 14,495’
Alaska obviously takes the cake when it comes to the country’s loftiest peaks, but when we consider sheer number of mountains 14,000 feet or higher, it’s the Colorado Rockies ahead of the pack with a whopping 55 Fourteeners.
Tallest in the Lower 48
What if we exclude those Far North monsters from consideration? Here are the tallest peaks (again, with 2,000 feet or more of clean prominence) in the Lower 48 States:
Mount Whitney (Sierra Nevada, CA): 14,495’
Mount Elbert (Sawatch Range, CO): 14,433’
Mount Massive (Sawatch Range, CO): 14,421’
Mount Harvard (Sawatch Range, CO): 14,420’
Mount Rainier (Cascade Range, WA): 14,411’
Mount Williamson (Sierra Nevada, CA): 14,375’
Blanca Peak (Sangre de Cristo, CO): 14,345’
Uncompahgre Peak (San Juan Mountains, CO): 14,314’
Crestone Peak (Sangre de Cristo, CO): 14,294’
Mount Lincoln (Mosquito Range, CO): 14,286’
The Southern Rocky Mountains, the elevational climax of the entire Rocky Mountain chain, dominate this list nearly as thoroughly as Alaskan peaks dominated the first one.
That’d actually be Mount Whitney: Both it and the other Sierra Nevada Fourteener, Mount Williamson, are a bit more equatorward than the Southern Rockies’ southernmost, 14,047-foot Culebra Peak in the Sangres.
Edit: The Southernmost 14er is actually 14,032-foot Mount Langley in the Sierra Nevada.
Of course, elevation isn’t everything: The amount by which a mountain stands above its immediate surroundings—aka prominence—is often the more important measure when it comes to visual grandeur. Here are the United States’ top peaks ranked by prominence:
Denali: 20,146’ of prominence
Mauna Kea (HI): 13,803’ (its elevation above sea level—because it rises out of the ocean, of course)
Mount Rainier: 13,210’
Mount Fairweather: 12,995’
Mount Blackburn: 11,640’
As Peaklist shows, Denali only loses out on the global scale prominence-wise to Everest (with 29,028 feet) and Aconcagua (with 22,841 feet), crowns of Asia and South America, respectively.
According to this Peaklist tally, the Lower 48 has 57 mountains boasting 5,000 feet or more of prominence (so-called “ultras”), all but two in the West. The Appalachians, of course, supply those eastern ultras: Mount Washington in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, with 6,158 feet of prominence, and Mount Mitchell in the Black Mountains of North Carolina, with 6,092 feet.
Crowning Peaks of the East
Speaking of the East, it obviously gets the shaft when the country’s mountains are ranked by elevation, but those timeworn Appalachians and Adirondacks include plenty of imposing highlands in their own right.
The eastern counterpart to the Southern Rockies would be the Southern Appalachians, where the 1,600-mile-long Appalachian Mountains reach their pinnacle in the Blue Ridge of the Tennessee-North Carolina borderlands. The 10 highest summits are:
Mount Mitchell (Black Mountains, NC): 6,684’
Mount Craig (Black Mountains, NC): 6,647’
Clingmans Dome (Great Smoky Mountains, TN/NC): 6,643’
Mount Guyot (Great Smoky Mountains, TN/NC): 6,621’
Balsam Cone (Black Mountains, NC): 6,611’
Mount Le Conte (Great Smoky Mountains, TN): 6,593’
Mount Gibbes (Black Mountains, NC): 6,571’
Potato Hill (Black Mountains, NC): 6,475’
Mount Chapman (Great Smoky Mountains, TN/NC): 6,417’
Richland Balsam (Great Balsam Mountains, NC): 6,410’
The Southern Appalachians contain a little more than 50 peaks beyond 6,000 feet: the so-called “Southern Sixers.” These account for all the 6,000-plus-foot peaks in the Appalachians, save for one: 6,288-foot Mount Washington, some 1,500 miles north of the nearest Southern Sixer (Roan Mountain in North Carolina’s Roan Highlands).
The Presidential Range is the crowning crest of the White Mountains, which more broadly compose the highest country in New England. The Whites include all 20 of the tallest mountains in the Northeast with one majestic exception: 5,268-foot Katahdin in Maine.
Steepest, Most Relief
The Wellsville Mountains of northeastern Utah, basically a northerly spur of the Wasatch Range, are often called the steepest mountains in the country. A mere five miles wide or so, the Wellsville crest makes an impressively narrow and high blade. Without so much as a friendly foothill or two, the terrain lurches up nearly 5,000-feet from valley lowlands on either side to the razor-edge divide, which reaches 9,372-feet at Box Elder Peak.
Faulting has formed plenty of other impressive mountain fronts in the Lower 48, though few ranges have the double-sided sharpness of the Wellsvilles. The eastern scarp of the Sierra Nevada towers as much as 10,800-feet above the Owens Valley. The Tetons form their celebrity rampart above Jackson Hole via some 7,000-feet of vertical rise, while the sweep is better than 8,000 feet between the High Plains and the Colorado Front Range.
With gulfs of 4,000 to 6,000 feet common between valley floors and peaks, the North Cascades definitely make the short list of the steepest overall ranges in the Lower 48. Their standout relief is largely due to being an uplifted maritime mountain block that’s been absolutely chewed up by ice.
Northernmost and Southernmost
Alaska’s remote, ravishing Brooks Range is the northernmost mountain range in the continental USA. The southernmost? The remote, ravishing Chisos Mountains in Texas’s Big Bend National Park.
What’s the real rooftop of the Lower 48? Well, you could argue more than a few spots, but certainly three burly alpine battlements in the Rocky Mountains should be part of the conversation:
In the Middle Rockies, the Beartooth Plateau forms an awesome 10,000-foot-plus shelf of Precambrian gneiss and granite, rolling tundra, and several hundred lakes.
On the southerly side of the Middle Rockies, meanwhile, Utah’s Uinta Mountains—said to be the Western Hemisphere’s biggest west-east-oriented mountain range—swell to another mighty above-timberline kingdom. The Uinta crest supports a continuous swath of barrens above 11,000 feet that’s more than 300 square miles across: perhaps the biggest single expanse of tundra-land in the conterminous U.S.
The San Juan Mountains in the Southern Rockies, meanwhile, hold court over more than 10,000 square miles—they’re the largest component range of the American Rockies—and it’s said they contain more land above 10,000 feet than any other part of the U.S.
Other corners of the Colorado Rockies as well as Wyoming’s hallowed Wind Rivers deserve mention in terms of sheer extent of high-elevation country. And we definitely can’t overlook the High Sierra on this count: As Stephen Whitney observes in his excellent Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide to the Sierra Nevada, a 90-mile reach of the Sierra crest between Duck Pass in the north and Trail Pass in the south lies at or above 11,000 feet.
Mountain Superlatives: Volcano Department
Let’s talk fire mountains. (And let’s emphasize mountains, leaving badass supersized calderas such as Yellowstone and California’s Long Valley out.)
The volcano with the greatest summit elevation in the USA is also the fourth tallest mountain in the country: 16,500-foot Mount Bona, a stratovolcano in Alaska’s St. Elias Mountains. (In North America, only three Mexican volcanoes are taller than Bona.)
In terms of the distance between mountain top and base, though, the Big Island of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea is the undisputed champion—and also, by that measure, the planet’s king mountain. Though just 13,803 feet above sea level, this great shield volcano’s feet lie nearly 20,000 feet below sea level, giving it a total rise of more than 33,000 feet.
Though Mount Shasta’s the second-highest stratovolcano in the Cascades, a few hundred feet shy of Mount Rainier, it’s the most massive at some 85 or 90 cubic miles. But it’s out-bulked by two huge (if topographically subtle) Cascade shield volcanoes: the 120-cubic-mile Newberry Volcano in central Oregon and the 140-cubic-mile Medicine Lake Volcano in north-central California.
Alaska, as usual, makes ‘em bigger: Mount Wrangell, an andesitic shield volcano in the Wrangells, encompasses some 216 cubic miles.
In this case, though, Hawaii makes ‘em even bigger: At some 18,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa on the Big Island is the heftiest volcano in the world that juts above sea level. (The recently discovered Tamu Massif, a submarine shield volcano some 1,000 miles east of Japan, is likely the biggest volcano on the planet.)
Mountain Superlatives: Big-Wall Department
Debating the greatest big walls of the world is real bar room fodder for climbers and geologists alike: You can really get down into the weeds (er, gravel?) distinguishing between walls and cliffs, purely vertical and nearly vertical drops, and so on.
Instead of rappelling too far down into technicalities, let’s just spotlight some of the superlative mountain walls of the U.S. (We’re excluding the sidewalls of gorges here, such as the 2,250-foot-tall Painted Wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, as well as monumental cliff escarpments of the kind you’ll find on the Colorado Plateau.)
It may be outdone (numbers-wise) by such epic mountain prongs as the Trango Towers in Pakistan’s Karakoram or Baffin Island’s Mount Thor, but Yosemite’s El Capitan is surely the most famous big wall on the planet. Its 3,000-foot granite face above Yosemite Valley marks ground zero for big-wall climbing. And El Cap’s only “the Chief” of numerous Sierra walls in Yosemite country, including Half Dome (2,000 feet) and Washington Column (1,800 feet).
The Rockies harbor their own share of wow-worthy walls. Take the North Face of Mount Hooker in the Wind River Range, a fiercely remote 1,800-foot bulkhead. And then there’s the most celebrated big wall in the Southern Rockies: the Diamond, the 900-some-foot east face of Longs Peak in the Front Range. Greater yet—and maybe second only to El Capitan in the Lower 48—is the fault-scarp west face of Notch Peak in Utah’s House Range: This limestone and dolomite cliff boasts a nearly vertical drop of 2,200 feet.
Not many walls in the Lower 48 are so ferocious as the north face of Mount Rainier: the infamous Willis Wall. This 3,600-foot headwall of the Carbon Glacier—the biggest cirque in the Cascades—sports a 300-foot overhang of ice cliffs that have the nasty habit of shedding frozen shrapnel. That, coupled with regular issues of rockfall and avalanches, makes the Willis Wall Rainier’s riskiest climbing approach.
The Last Frontier’s home to some of the all-around gnarliest walls and rock faces in North America, not least the mythic Devils Thumb stabbing out of the far flung fortress of the Stikine Icecap on the B.C. line. The still-unclimbed northwest face of this granite tooth (err, thumb) has a staggeringly steep 6,700-foot pitch—a wall just about unrivaled on the continent.
Other superlative walls rear from that most rugged division of the Alaska Range, the isolated and dangerously storm-swept Kichatna Spires.
Highest Mountain Lake
That’d be Pacific Tarn at 13,420-feet in Colorado’s Tenmile Range. As this interesting roundup by the guy who christened Pacific Tarn points out, there are several other lakes in the Southern Rockies above 13,000 feet. Better known is Lake Waiau, pooled at 13,020 feet on Mauna Kea; a sacred Native Hawaiian landmark, this cinder pond actually freezes over most winters—quite the novelty, by Hawaii standards.
*Have any fun mountain trivia of your own? We’d love for you to share in the comments below! *
Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]