Devil's Thumb Ranch
Photo courtesy of Devil's Thumb Ranch

700 miles of cross-country trails + 8,000 feet of elevation
 = a woodsy wonderland

Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

The action in Grand County is more horizontal than vertical. Seventy percent of the county is public land, and the pine and aspen forests are crisscrossed by an impressive network of well-groomed trails, making this one of the West’s top destinations for cross-country (aka Nordic) skiing. In between jaunts among the trees, you’ll find slow-paced, proudly Western towns. The old-timey wooden storefronts of Grand Lake are ridiculously charming after the first snowfall. Winter Park is more upscale, its shops stocked with organic groceries and high-tech outdoor gear. Some hamlets are even connected by ski trails.

Must Do

Does the mere idea of getting on a pair of cross-country skis make your knees shake? The beginner-friendly loop trails at the YMCA-run Snow Mountain Ranch (single-day 
pass $20; snowmountainranch.org) in Granby offer some of the most convenient, low-key gliding you’re likely to find. Take one of the group or private lessons at their Nordic Center. If you already know what you’re doing, head 10 miles east to Devil’s Thumb Ranch (single-day pass $22; devilsthumbranch.com) in Tabernash, an equally great portal to cross-country heaven. It’s the ritzier of the two, with an on-site spa and a lively après scene at Heck’s Tavern, plus some intense experts-only trails up in the surrounding hills.

Eat + Sleep

Jump-start a day of kick-and-gliding with espresso and just-baked cinnamon rolls at Blue Water Bakery (bluewaterbakery.com), a quaint coffee shop in Grand Lake. For dinner, locals love Tabernash Tavern (tabernashtavern.com) for its crackling fire and menu anchored by fortifying steaks and burgers. At the end of the day, lay your head at one of the log cabins at Devil’s Thumb Ranch (from $379; devilsthumbranch.com)—they’re almost too cozy to believe, outfitted
 with a fireplace and 
a kitchenette for mixing up whiskey-laced 
hot toddies.

Insider’s Tip

There’s more than one way to glide around—like, say, being whisked through snowy woods
 in a cherry-red sleigh pulled by a team of draft horses. The 40-minute rides with Dashing
 Thru The Snow Sleigh Rides ($35; winterparksleighrides.com) near Fraser wrap up with a campfire marshmallow roast.

Getting Here

Granby—the biggest town in Grand County—is about 2 hours from Denver International Airport via Interstate 70 and U.S. 40. Consider renting a 4WD vehicle for navigating Berthoud Pass.