hikers with muddy hiking boots tips for hiking muddy trails

10 Tips for Hiking Muddy Trails

During the Spring and Winter months the trails near Denver get pretty muddy. How do you hike when the trails are muddy? We've put together a list of ten tips to help you take care of both the trails and your boots during this messy season.

1. Prioritize Damage Control:

Hiking muddy trails requires the mental shift from "I don't want to get muddy" to "I want to to preserve this trail." Most of the damage to trails and the surrounding environment happens when the trails are wet and muddy. This mental shift is our most important tip. For example, Matthew-Winters Park near Red Rocks experiences seasonal closurs because of the trail damage caused during these muddy days. So, if it's a high traffic trail with a lot of mud, consider choosing a different trail where you won't contribute to the damage. More on finding those trails below.

2. Stay the Trail:

This means choosing to get muddy. Hike right through the middle of those muddy segments. We all want to take those inviting sidetrails, but in doing that we create some serious erosion, that can lead to severe damage. You know those trails that cut across switchbacks? Those are the worst because they go through steep areas and can contribute to some serious trail damage.

3. Hit the Trail Early:

Because temperatures are colder in the morning, hiking trails are more firm and less muddy. It's a great way to reduce both damage to the trail and mud on your boots and pants.

woman hiker hiking on snow tips for hiking muddy trails

4. Hike on Snow:

During muddy seasons, go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing up in the mountains. I love hiking the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter and spring when the snow covers the trail. A few recommended hikes: Emerald Lake - Fern Falls (for the more adventurous) - Calyspo Cascades in the Wild Basin - Alberta Falls - 4 Lakes and Waterfall Loop (for the more adventurous).

5. Hike on Paved Trails:

There are not a ton of these, but there are some. The main trail of Garden of the God's is paved, and many of our local Denver Bike paths. Clear Creek Trail in Downtown Golden is a family favorite, as well as the boardwalk along Evergreen Lake (short, but beautiful). The initial segment of the Fountain Valley Trail in Roxborough State Park is breathtaking.

6. Hike South-Facing Trails:

The sun shines on these segments and dries the trail faster. It takes some thinking and reviewing the trail maps. We provide links to trail maps on almost all of the hikes on Dayhikes Near Denver.


7. Trekking Poles:

Trekking Poles are probably my favorite piece of gear because they take so much impact and weight off of my knees. They also will help you to hike over the muddy puddles along the trail and you can use them to probe the depth of water-logged segements.
colorado hiker hiking on durable surface with mountainside and aspen trees tips for hiking on muddy trails

8. Wear Gaiters:

Gaiters are a great way to preserve your hiking pants and to keep mud away from the upper laces of your boots. I usually only wear gaiters if I'm on a multi-day backpacking trip. Check out REI's options for Gaiters.

9. Bring Grocery Bags for Your Muddy Boots:

When you get back to the car, you don't want to get the mud all over the upholstery. Pop your boots into those plastic bags, cinch them up, and you'll be able to clean them when you get home without also having to clean your car

10. Cleaning Your Boots:

Here's a simple step-by-step process for cleaning muddy hiking boots
- Rinse with water (don't scrub yet) to get the most of the mud you can. Don't immerse.
- Lightly scrub with a nylon brush or old toothbrush. Take out the laces and clean them seperately. This will allow you to get to the rest of the boot under the laces.
- If the boots are wet inside, then stuff them with an old t-shirt, paper towels, or newspaper.
- Let them dry. Don't accelerate this by putting them by a heat source. For instance, I dried out a pair of boots by the fire on an early backpacking trip and they shrunk by 1/2 and inch. Leather gets damaged near heat, too, so let them slow dry.
- Waterfproof. If your boots are Gore-Tex, don't waterproof them or you'll clog the breathable aspect of the boots. If they are old and the membrane is worn out, then you can waterproof them like any other boot. Check out REI's boot care options for waterproofing products.

Thanks goes out to Kevin Doncaster for the awesome muddy boot photo.