overnight at lower montgomery pass yurt
Duration: 2 days/1 night
Distance: 5.6 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 853 feet
Trailhead: Montgomery Pass Yurts winter parking
Over the long New Year's Eve weekend, Alex and I headed to Colorado for an adventure in a winter wonderland! First, we hit up Rocky Mountain National Park and finally made it to Sky Pond, then we headed west to Colorado State Forest State Park for an overnight trip to the Lower Montgomery Pass Yurt. I've been wanting to stay in a backcountry yurt/hut for awhile and this winter trip seemed like the perfect opportunity. I researched a few hut/yurt systems in the Colorado area and eventually settled on the Never Summer Nordic yurts. The main reason I chose these yurts is because they are accessed relatively easy and I knew after hiking to Sky Pond we wouldn't be up for too long of a trek with a fully loaded backpack.
planning your trip to lower montgomery pass yurt
Are permits required? Reservations are required to access any of the Never Summer Nordic yurts. The Lower Montgomery Pass Yurt has a $110/night rate and you can make reservations HERE.
How to get to the trailhead: The trailhead is fairy easy to get to. It is located just inside Colorado State Forest State Park, which is about 3 hours from Denver. You will have to stop at the Moose Visitor Center first and pick up a park pass ($7/day). From the Visitor Center follow the signs to enter the park and turn right onto Jackson Country Road 41. The parking for Montgomery Pass Yurts is approximately 3 miles from the park gates, on the right side of the road. There is a sign for "Winter Montgomery Pass Yurts Parking".
When to go: Winter season (December-April).
Gear to pack:
- The 10 Essentials
- A reservation with Never Summer Nordic (reserve HERE)
- $7 parking fee for Colorado State Forest State Park
- Snowshoes/skis and poles
- Food and enough water to drink and cook with
- Plenty of warm winter layers (base layer, insulating layer, waterproof outer layer)
- Gloves, hats, gaiters, warm boots, wool socks
- Sleeping bag and/or linens for the cots (pillows are supplied but you will need to bring your own pillowcases)
- Map and compass
- Water bottles
- First aid kit
- Headlamps and lanterns
- Camera gear
personal trip report
dates visited: 1/1/17 to 1/2/17
We set out from Longmont at around 10am and began the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. The drive was long and windy, as it snaked through Roosevelt National Forest. We reached the trailhead at just past noon, loaded our packs, and headed out. The hike to the Lower Montgomery Pass yurt is a gradual 2.8 miles, which we were able to cover in just under 2 hours. The final stretch of the hike follows a steep 4WD road and it was tough, so I was incredibly relieved when we saw the sign that indicated we had made it to the Montgomery Pass yurts. We trudged through the forest and arrived at our cozy accommodations. We quickly set down our packs and unlocked the door so we could check out our digs. My first reaction was giddiness; the place was so much better than I imagined! It was clean! There were 4 cots, a wood burning stove, a kitchen stocked with cookware and utensils, a table, chairs, and a nice stockpile of wood inside and under the yurt. I immediately felt like I made the right choice! We brought our packs in and then headed back outside to explore the area surrounding the yurt.
The Upper and Lower Montgomery Pass yurts are set high in a lush forest and they both have sprawling views of the Medicine Bow mountains. The yurts are about fifty yards from each other and share an outhouse, so if people are staying in the Upper yurt you are likely to run into them.
We explored the area surrounding the yurt until sunset. We were treated to pastel skies, quite a sunset to start 2017! After sunset we headed back inside to start a fire and make dinner. Unfortunately, only one of those things happened. I made us some filling chili-mac, but we were running into difficulties starting a fire in the wood burning stove. We could get kindling to burn but none of the logs were catching. Additionally, the stove was not airtight so smoke was seeping into the yurt and since the yurt is so small it didn't take long until smoke filled it and we opened the door to let fresh (and bitterly cold) air in. This went on for over an hour until we finally decided to throw in the towel (not literally, we didn't need any more smoke in the yurt!) We finally accepted that being cold was better than dying of smoke inhalation and that was that. The thermometer in the yurt hovered at around 40F. It was by no means the coldest conditions we have ever slept in but when we were expecting to spend a toasty night next to a hot fire, it suddenly felt arctic.
The sun was gone and since there didn't seem to be much of a temperature difference between inside and outside the yurt we decided to head out and do some night photography. Snow storms were forecasted for the following day and the skies were already beginning to turn. As we took photos the clouds overtook the stars and made for some moody night shots. There were a few brief moments the stars shone through but for the most part we were subjected to overcast skies. Alex and I both attempted time-lapses and, unfortunately neither of them turned out. Alex was upset because no stars were visible in his and I was upset because I completely botched the settings (ISO 250 is not great for night photos) and ended up with over 200 almost completely black photos. Oops! Finally, we returned to the yurt for the night. There were a few games in one of the yurt's shelving units, not many of them were complete but we were able to find 5 dice and played a round of Yahtzee. Alex won by 2 points!
After a long and cold night the sun rose. The thermometer in the yurt read 22F. We opened the front door and were greeted with flurries; the storm was beginning. Since we didn't want to spend too much time hiking and driving in the storm we decided to pack up and head out sooner rather than later. We made some extra strong coffee, packed our things, tidied up and then left the yurt.
Since most of the trek back was downhill we were cruising towards the trailhead. As we reached the intersection of Bockman Road and the 4WD road Alex stopped dead in his tracks and said "there is a huge bull moose right off the trail". Sure enough, not more than a foot off the trail was a giant moose, and then we noticed the other moose. There were two bull moose in our direct path and they were both watching us. We stayed where we were, hoping that our mere presence would scare them off, but they didn't budge. We decided that the best way to get past them was to go way around them. So we traded our microspikes for snowshoes and began slogging through 3 foot powder in the forest next to the trail, giving the moose a wide berth. As we slowly made our way through the forest the moose kept their eyes on us, and we kept watch on them from the corner of our eyes. They seemed glued to their spots. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like 20 minutes, we were out of sight of the moose. We made our way back to the trail and took our snowshoes off. Adrenaline was coursing through me and all I wanted was to be back in the car, out of the woods, away from the wildlife. I willed myself to teleport to safety, but it didn't work. So we walked.
When we finally emerged from the forest a wave of relief washed over me. We continued our trek towards the car and made it back just as the snow was beginning to really come down. We loaded up as quickly as possible and hit the road, another successful adventure!