Very rarely do we complain about too
much snow. We’ve long claimed there was no such thing as too
However, here is one of those rare
occasions where one of our rides was snuffed out by copious amounts
of the white stuff.
The first time we tried to ride
Colorado’s famous Rabbit Ears area, it was a major disappointment.
Of course, there was a raging blizzard at the time which forced us to
abandon our ride that day. We couldn’t even see across the road so
we pointed our truck towards home and vowed we’d try another day.
We’ve heard how good the riding is
and wanted to know for ourselves why it’s such a popular
snowmobiling destination, especially in a state that is rife with
excellent sledding spots.
So we tried again—a year later—and
that next time was somewhat better. We still had to contend with
snowfall and low-hanging clouds, but it was worth the wait.
Fortunately we had two days to play with on this trip and the weather
broke the second day.
Looking back at the Rabbit Ears riding
experience, we’ve decided there are two things you need to know
before you ever hit the trail—or backcountry.
First, there is more than plenty of
Wilderness and other non-motorized closures in this area and it’s
your responsibility to know where the boundaries are, regardless of
if you’re riding in a fog or not. Having said that, while there are
a lot of Wilderness and other closures, there is still plenty of
groomed trails and wide open country to play. Stick to the legal side
and you’ll be fine.
Second, this is a very popular
snowmobiling area. Parking areas fill up fast. However, as is the
case in many snowmobiling areas, the farther away you get from the
parking areas, the fewer people you see. We rode Rabbit Ears on
weekdays and the parking areas got pretty full. You can imagine how
fast the parking areas fill on the weekends. There are five
snowmobile parking areas along U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass
(9426 feet), but it’s the same story for each of them. All five
parking areas are close to the pass, providing easy access to the
Kind Of Whiney
Here’s one more observation, but it
doesn’t necessarily have to do with just riding the Rabbit Ears
area. There’s an interesting thing about us snowmobilers. There was
only 6.5 feet in the Rabbit Ears area during our February 2010 ride.
Only 6.5 feet instead of the usual 10 feet Rabbit Ears has at
this time of year. We may pine for more snow, but 6.5 feet is a
pretty good amount.
But the snow conditions were good,
especially considering what other areas in the West were experiencing
and that was less than 6.5 feet. The snow was the deepest and the
best in the trees, which was a good place to be on our first day of
riding Rabbit Ears.
One reason we all like deep snow is it
tends to help disperse the crowds more. That means not everyone is
forced to ride a handful of areas where the only deep snow might be.
Frequent storms also help to cover old tracks, a nice thing for a
place like Rabbit Ears which sees a lot of traffic. Yes, the trails
were beat up and the snow off trail tracked up close to the parking
areas, but we’ve never been ones to stay close to the truck anyway
so off we went.
On day one of our ride on Rabbit Ears,
we rode north of U.S. Highway 40 while heading south of the highway
on day two. It snowed much of the first day, albeit lightly, but the
bigger issue was flat light because the clouds just hung on the
mountain. So we stuck to the trees. We did go up to Rabbit Ears Peak
(10,654 feet) but since we were in the clouds the view wasn’t what
we were hoping. This day would end up being more a day to discover
and explore rather than to sightsee.
We rode the groomed trail (1A) out of
the Muddy Creek parking area for a short way before peeling off and
heading cross country toward Rabbit Ears. 1A, also known as the
Wyoming Trail, follows the Continental Divide all the way to Buffalo
Pass and Summit Lake. The groomed trail splits here, going west to
Dry Lake and east down to Grizzly Creek. The entire length from Dry
Lake trailhead to the parking area near Grizzly Creek is on Buffalo
Pass Road. The Dry Lake trailhead is accessed from Steamboat Springs
and the Grizzly Creek parking area from Walden via Highway 124 and
Highway 14 West. Not far from where you park on the Grizzly Creek
side, the groomed trail along Buffalo Pass Road connects with another
groomed trail (1F) that leads back south to Rabbit Ears Pass.
If you are interested on getting
grooming updates for the trails here—or anywhere in Colorado for
that matter—check out the Colorado Snowmobile Association’s
website http://www.snowmobilecolo.com/. The trail grooming section is
updated regularly during the winter season so you can always be up to
date on which trails were groomed.
We never ventured farther north than
Long Lake our first day out. Farther south, on the way to Rabbit Ears
Peak we passed an old miner’s cabin sitting at the edge of the
trees near the Bowls at the Ears. We tried to climb the Bowls but
flat light prevented us from gaining much elevation. When you climb
you want to be able to see much more clearly than what we could that
Our next destination was Elmo Point
(10,692 feet), which in sunnier times allows you to have some
incredible views but this day it was a bit eerie with the clouds
hanging around. You definitely don’t want to come barreling out of
the trees around here or the earth just might drop out from under
you. We stopped on the edge of a rather abrupt dropoff and peered
into the fog and while not being able to see much, we could see the
several hundred foot drop down to the valley floor below.
Back to more tree riding and exploring.
We crossed several parks (remember, that’s what they call big wide
open play areas in Colorado) or rode along the edges near the trees
if we were worried there would be too many open creeks that were
barely visible in the flat light.
We found a couple of challenging
drainages that we battled with the snow to climb up and out of. We
won one and lost one. But it was fun trying and because there were
enough trees towering overhead, we had some definition which allowed
us to at least try.
Day two was more of the same kind of
riding, except on this day the clouds lifted and we had sun for at
least part of the day. The first order of business was to retrace our
tracks (which were actually covered by a few inches of snow that had
fallen the previous day) up to the Bowls at the Ears and Rabbit Ears
Peak. This time we were able to see the Mount Zirkel Wilderness to
the north, as well as the Bowls at the Ears to the west, Baker
Mountain to the south and Highway 14 (our route from Walden to Rabbit
Ears Pass) below, as well as the Rabbit Ears Range to the east.
The Ears themselves are somewhat
interesting. Close up they are two huge rock formations, somewhat
rounded off on top. To get the visual effect of the Rabbit Ears and
what the name implies, it’s better to view them from a distance. We
still think it’s worth the effort to get up to the Ears as the
views are incredible from up there.
Once the sight seeing was over, we
headed down from Rabbit Ears, went across Dumont Lake and crossed
U.S. Highway 40. From there it was up to South Walton Peak (10,298
feet) for a bird’s-eye view of the Gore Range and the Flattops,
located down near Rifle.
It was starting to cloud up by this
time so we dropped off the mountain and played in the trees and in
the seemingly endless drainages that dotted the terrain. In places,
the snow was deeper than what we found on the north side of the
highway but generally speaking, it was all about the same depth.
When we got back from riding on both
days we were a little surprised at how full the parking area was.
Even though the parking lot was pretty full and we saw other sledders
out on the trails and on the hills, once we got farther out into the
backcountry we never saw anyone else and very few tracks, which
confirms the fact that there is plenty of backcountry to ride. Most
of the traffic was closer in towards the trailheads. We do admit
though, that part of that could be due to the weather conditions and
Even after our two days of riding we
felt we didn’t even scratch the surface of what’s available. We
left a lot of snow untouched.
So if the third time is the charm then
the next time we ride Rabbit Ears we expect bluebird skies, a fresh
blanket of new powder and very few tracks.
We can’t wait.
Elevation 8,000-10,000 feet
Snowfall 300 inches
Miles of Groomed Trails 250
Full Service Town Steamboat
Springs, Walden, Kremmling
Nearest Airport Steamboat
Getting Started North Park
Visitors Bureau www.northparkvisitorsbureau.com; Steamboat Springs
Chamber Resort Association 877-754-2269 or
www.steamboat-chamber.com/; Kremmling Chamber of Commerce
877-573-6654 or www.kremmlingchamber.com/
Getting There Rabbit Ears Pass
is about 30 miles south of Walden, 22 miles east of Steamboat Springs
and 30 miles north of Kremmling. Rabbit Ears Pass is on U.S. Highway
40 between the Steamboat Springs (west side) and the junction of U.S.
Highway 40 and Highway 14 (east side).
Getting Around Bring your own
sled or check out Chris Burandt’s Backcountry Adventures
Bedding Down There are
accommodations in all three full-service towns listed. We stayed in
Walden where the prices are a little less than what you find in the
ski town of Steamboat Springs.
Eating Out There are also plenty
of dining options in all three towns. You’ll find the largest
variety and number of restaurants in Steamboat Springs and no chain
restaurants in Walden and only one chain in Kremmling.