Ironton Park Nordic Trails
With the change of seasons comes a change of recreational venue in the San Juan National Forest of southwestern Colorado. After the first heavy snowstorm, the challenging Alpine Loop Jeep trails in the San Juan Mountains are closed due to avalanche danger. When the snow piles up, the 4×4 ATV trails are turned into snowmobile trails. The summertime mountain biking and hiking trails all become a haven for snowshoe hikers and cross country skiers. Most of the National Forest summer season camping areas are closed, while a few remain open as winter season recreation areas.
Even the base camp to adventure towns in the San Juan Mountains shift gears when winter arrives. Most of the local tourism businesses stock up on winter sports gear and the service businesses shift from renting Jeeps to renting snowmobiles and ski equipment. The signage changes too as many businesses go to great lengths to display Christmas decorations in an effort to let people know that winter has officially arrived a little bit further uphill.
The only drawback associated with the arrival of the winter season is that one can expect big crowds of people at the major ski resorts and dramatically higher seasonal prices for lodging. For those who prefer to not get caught up in the pricey winter sports rat race, there are plenty of options in the wilderness areas of the San Juan Mountains. Along the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to just south of Silverton there is an extensive network of cross country ski trails, snowmobile trails and snowshoe hiking trails. There are even a few ice skating rinks, ice climbing areas and winter recreation areas that allow winter season camping. Throw in the hot mineral springs resorts in towns like Ouray and Ridgway, then you really have some options for escaping from the crowds. Since the National Forest winter trails activities are basically free admission, the winter vacation costs will be reduced as well.
For cross country skiers that are interested in what the San Juan Mountains have to offer, the Ironton Park Nordic Trails is a great place to start! Ironton Park is located about 16 miles north of Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway and the signage is easy to spot. Ironton Park has a large parking area, yet this destination is rarely overcrowded, except for on days when a big winter sports event is taking place. For those who wish to escape from the chaotic ski resort scene to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the San Juan Mountains during the winter season, the lesser known destinations like Ironton Park have great appeal.
Ironton Park Nordic Trails are unique, because the trails lead to far more that panoramic mountain views. These Nordic Trails actually run through the old historic area of Ironton, which includes a ghost town, abandoned mines, flumes and old tramways. Winter season photos of an old mining camp ghost town are highly desirable, so be sure to pack a good camera when taking on the Ironton Park Nordic Trails!
I decided to photograph the Ironton Park Nordic Trails access point while recently traveling back from a destination in the neighboring Rio Grande National Forest. Personally, I cannot ski or skate because of severe knee injuries, so photographing the cross country ski trail attractions will have to wait till summertime when I can set out on foot.
I photographed Ironton Park about 10 days ago and there was plenty of snow on the trails. In fact, when driving up one of the narrow dirt roads in Ironton Park I had to put it in reverse to back up my Jeep a few hundred yards, just so a big bulldozer snow plow could pass through. Apparently the bulldozer was clearing part of the Corkscrew Gulch Road, which is part of the world famous Alpine Loop 4×4 vehicle trail system. Corkscrew Gulch Road is closed during the winter season, but during the summer season it is well known as one of the worlds most challenging Jeep trails, so 4×4 enthusiasts should be sure to make note of the Ironton Park access point.
There have been five more big snow storms that have passed through since the day I stopped by Ironton Park, so it is safe to say that the snow has now blanketed the Nordic Trails in the entire region. Ironton Park is located at about 10,000 feet above sea level, so the daytime high temperatures are in the 25ºF to 40ºF range, which is cold enough to keep the snow on the ground.
The vast wilderness of the San Juan Mountains is a great choice for winter sports adventurists! The Ironton Park Nordic Trails offer a chance to enjoy the peace and quiet of Mother Nature while trekking through the alpine forests. A lot of old historic sites can be experienced while taking on these trails too. There are Ironton Park ski organization websites on the internet that offer information and detailed maps, so getting the preliminary research done will be easy to do. By summer, Ironton Park may be a Corkscrew Gulch Road 4×4 vehicle adventurist’s destination, but by winter Ironton Park is a cross country skier’s dream come true. This is reason enough to check out the Ironton Park Nordic Trails in the San Juan Mountains this winter season!