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November 17, 2010
Riding Colorado’s Rabbit Ears
All white and fluffy
Very rarely do we complain about too much snow. We’ve long claimed there was no such thing as too much snow.
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 three trailheads.
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 day.
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 flat light.
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 miles
Full Service Town Steamboat Springs, Walden, Kremmling
Nearest Airport Steamboat Springs
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 http://www.burandtsbackcountryadventure.com.
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.
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