After a snowfall the silence is startling. Snow transforms the winter landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park into a black and white Ansel Adams print. Home of 78 peaks at more than 12,000ft in elevation, the Park is among the oldest in the country, and one of the most popular! However, in winter things slow down a bit. For those seeking solitude and breathtaking beauty, winter is the ideal time to visit.
Tracks appear in the snow signifying wildlife have been there before you. The mule deer and elk are most active at dawn and dusk, and if you’re lucky you will see them in the snow-covered meadows. Bighorn sheep often descend the steep inclines along Highway 34 and cross to Sheep Lakes in Horseshoe Park. If you stop for a snack, be prepared for a visit from Steller’s jays, with their striking blue bodies and crested heads, and Clark’s nutcrackers. Don’t let these and other “camp robbers” talk you out of your bag of trail mix.
Keep a sharp eye. Without the crowds of summer, there are more animals to see.
Better yet, get away from the roads and snowshoe on the Park’s hundreds of miles of snow-covered trails. The best thing: it’s really easy! Simply walk, careful to lift your feet so you don’t trip over your suddenly supersized feet. Bindings hold the front of the boot, permitting a natural stride while the metal cleats on the bottom of the snowshoe provide traction when walking up or down slopes. If lucky, snow is gently falling through the trees and the only sound is the squeak of your snowshoes on the trail and the gentle gurgle of a creek hidden under the snow. Use ski poles to protect cranky knees and to offer brakes when descending steep slopes.
Snowshoeing is a vigorous aerobic workout that can burn up to 600 calories an hour.
Remember that extra slice of pie you had at Thanksgiving?
A favorite trail for beginners is a two-mile loop above Sprague Lake, where the snow is deep and the thick forest of lodge pole pine protects you against the wind. At Sprague Lake there is a favorite bench to drink hot tea and munch on a muffin while you gaze at snow-covered Hallett Peak.
Rocky Mountain National Park offers ranger-led, ecology snowshoe walks for beginning snowshoers. Call 970-586-1206 for information.
If you want to learn more about snowshoeing, don’t miss Winter Trails Day on Saturday, January 14, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This free snowshoe festival at the Bear Lake Park and Ride offers hundreds of demo snowshoes for adults and children, advice from snowshoe experts, and outdoor gear displays.
If you’re more adventurous, strap on some cross-country skis and explore the hundreds of miles of snow-covered trails in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. Bindings let the heels lift off the ski, allowing a striding motion with fish scales on the bottom to provide traction. Most beginners start with a walking motion, but as they gain proficiency they achieve the “kick and glide” of the pros. The Park’s ungroomed trails are ideal for skiing.
Rocky Mountain National Park boasts dozens of ice-climbing routes, including Hidden Falls in Wild Basin and several ascents around the Loch. Womb with a View on Cathedral Wall challenges intermediate climbers with its mix of snow, ice and rock. Experienced ice climbers willing to tackle a four-hour approach can take on Alexander’s Chimney on the lower east face of Longs Peak.
Flying down a snow covered hillside on an inner tube is the definition of family fun. The site of the old Hidden Valley Ski Area is the only place where the Park allows sledding. Tubing here is accomplished the old-fashioned way: walk your sled, saucer or tube up the hill and slide down. It’s a pretty gentle hill, formerly the bottom of the bunny slope of the old ski area. Afterwards, warm your toes in the warming hut. The bathrooms here are also equipped with flush toilets.
Rent Outdoor Equipment
You can find rental snowshoes, cross-country skis and other outdoor equipment you may need at the following locations:
- Kirks Mountain Adventures, 970-577-0790
- Estes Park Mountain Shop, 970-586-6548,
- Dao House, 970-586-4094
Trail Ridge Road
Heavy snows in late October or early November close Trail Ridge Road at Many Parks Curve, but Bear Lake Road, Upper Beaver Meadows and Horseshoe Park are open and ready for exploring. Trail Ridge Road usually opens on the following Memorial Day weekend (weather depending), allowing access across the Continental Divide to the west side and Estes Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter is another world. Explore and reconnect with the natural world at its most beautiful.