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Colorado: West Elk Range

Spring comes earlier to this mountain paradise.

The marmots littering this craggy range know a secret that’s too precious to keep: Spring is coming earlier to Colorado’s high country. As much as a month earlier, says researcher David Inouye of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, CO. His study of Elk Range marmots found them emerging from hibernation an average of 38 days earlier than they did 23 years ago. This coincides with an increase in average May temperatures of 1.8 degrees F.

That’s bad news for ski bums, but a bonus to backpackers who love longer hiking seasons, less competition for campsites, and more wildlife. Now you can hike in as early as late April, when everyone else thinks winter is still hanging on up high. For excellent marmot watching, camp at the Copper Lakes above Gothic. To get there, try the 6-mile, 2,600-foot climb to Upper Copper Lake via the Copper Lakes Trail.

Contact: Gunnison National Forest, (970) 874-6600; www.fs.fed.us/r2/gmug/; Aspen Ranger District, White River National Forest, (970) 925-3445, (970) 925-5277; www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/

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