Vien R. Guenther
Hiking in Shrine Ridge Trail - White River National Forest, Colorado
White River National Forest, located in western Colorado, encompasses 2.3 million acres. It has eight wilderness areas - Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Eagles Nest Wilderness, Flat Tops Wilderness, Holy Cross Wilderness, Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness, Ragged Wilderness - as well as 10 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet, 11 ski resorts and 2,500 miles of trails. Needless to say, this is the most visited national forest in the nation. The White River, a tributary of the Green River passes through the forest's northern section, hence the name.
The road to the trail is called Shrine Pass, which was originally used by Ute Indians and then later by settlers and miners. Today, it is busy with hikers and equestrians during summertime and back country skiers, snowshoers and snow mobilers in wintertime. The name “Shrine” is due to the view of the Mount of the Holy Cross from the ridge.
TO GET HERE
From Denver to Shrine Pass Trailhead is 85 miles, a little over 2 hours drive via I-70. Take exit 190 to Shrine Pass Road and then go two miles to the trailhead. This trail is popular in summer, so you have to be early to get a spot in the parking lot, otherwise you have to park by the side of the road.
SHRINE RIDGE TRAIL - 5 to 7 miles round trip
When hiking the Shrine Ridge Trail, even at the beginning of the trail you will find great views. It is only a sample of what you will find at the summit.
This trail is family-friendly so you will find all types of hikers here, from kids to senior citizens. It is a short hike with a gentle ascent, but there are some areas that some people might find challenging - this is a high mountain trail after all, the elevation and thinner air might catch you unawares, especially visitors from out of state. It's wise to start early so you can take your time and not worry about afternoon thunderstorms which usually happen in the high mountains.
Shrine Ridge Trail offers wonderful wildflowers in summer which usually reach their peak in late July to the first week of August. You definitely have to bring your camera when hiking here. You will understand why, just look at the pictures we took here.
There are so many varieties of wildflowers here - Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, American Bistort, Arnica, Monkshood, to name a few.
It's always hard to leave the colorful meadows, but the view at the end of the trail is not to be missed. It has almost a 360 view of some of the most stunning Colorado landscapes. Here, you will find the Gore Range to the north and east, Uneva Peak to the east, Copper Mountain ski area and Tenmile Range in the south, the Sawatch Range and Mount of the Holy Cross to the Southwest and Flat Top Wilderness to the northwest.
TRAIL TO WINGLE RIDGE
There is another trail once you get past the steepest part of the trail. The trail to the right is the most popular, but if you want to get away from the crowd, then follow the trail to the left, to the Wingle Ridge. Not a lot of hikers come up here so you will get the solitude you seek after leap-frogging with the crowd most of the way. The length of this hike varies, depending on how far you want to go. This trail is mostly open and level, without any trees on top.
If you like some back country experience, there are cabins that you can rent located near the beginning of the trail. The cabins are open year round.