The hike along the Ute trail from Milner Pass was the first winter hike of the season, and what a treat it was. There was not a cloud in the sky and I had the trail to myself. On the drive to the trailhead, I didn't see too much snow in the trees and was thinking I would should take the snowshoes off my pack, I won't need them. However, once I got to the Milner Pass trailhead, which is where the closure of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain Park was on the west side - it was obvious, I would need the snowshoes. This was a short trek, coming in at about 5.6 miles roundtrip, and for 5 miles I used the snowshoes.
When I got to the split in the trail where you can go to Mt. Ida or go along the Ute Trail to the Alpine Station, nobody had chosen to go along the Ute Trail. What a treat, my first snowshoe trek and I would get to break trail for most of the hike. In the summer I would suspect this is a moderate hike and a trail to take kids on; it's open and airy with plenty of "Wow!" views. Breaking trail was very interesting, the sun had just come up about an hour earlier so the snow was crispy and hard for a while; you could walk on top of the snow with the snowshoes and not break through. Then there was a stretch of powder which was about 20 inches deep. Then the trail opens to incredible views of the Never Summer Mountains, the Continental Divide and Mt. Ida in the distance. The snow depth was about 15 inches for this stretch of the trail.
Since it took so long to break trail, when I got to the Forest Canyon Pass marker, I opted for lunch and to turn back here. The views from Forest Canyon Pass looking back into Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide are breathtaking and the panoramic view of the Never Summer Mountains are spectacular, everything was covered in a layer of show - just enough snow to give the mountains dramatic texture. In the summer, the trek to the Forest Canyon Pass marker would great, there are several small ponds in this area and the views are amazing.
The only tracks I saw along the Ute Trail where Moose, Deer, Rabbit and one and only one track that was unmistakably that of a Black Bear. All of the animal tracks along and around the trail where that of hoofed animals, this was the only padded animal foot print and there's no mistaking a Black Bear track. I did not see any Moose, Deer, Elk or Bear, though I did see two Sage Grouse in a tree early on along the trail and a mouse scurrying along the top of the snow near Forest Canyon Pass.
Though I would have liked to push on along the Ute Trail to the Alpine Center, at this time of year daylight is an issue, shorter days and unpredictable weather at this altitude weighed against pushing on. So, it was a perfect day. Not a cloud in the sky, nobody on the trail, I got to break trail in snowshoes and nearly nothing of a breeze along with incredible snow-covered views of Continental Divide and the Never Summer Mountains. Could not have asked for more for the first snowshoeing trek of the season. Check out my GPS tracks here.