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Winter in Estes Park

Winter in Estes Park

Winter Wonderland

Estes Park and the surrounding mountains are transformed when winter snow begins to fall. After the busy summer and fall seasons, winter offers a slower pace and less crowds.

But don’t be fooled, fewer people doesn’t mean there’s less to do. Winter recreational opportunities abound and Estes Park is a magical place to enjoy the holiday season, and the perfect place to buy unique mountain gifts.

Local shops and restaurants remain open and you can often dine without waiting in a line. A spa treatment is perfect on a cold winter’s day.

Winter Playground

The natural beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park shifts with the seasons, and the park is simply breathtaking in winter. Even though some animals hibernate and the deep layer of snow gives the impression of stillness, underneath it all Rocky is still very much alive. Snow makes it easier to spot the tracks of wildlife and remind you that you’re not alone.

Snow accumulation varies greatly across Rocky Mountain National Park. This side (the east side) receives less snow than the west side, making snow cover inconsistent, especially in early winter.

Strong winds, variable temperatures, and steep slopes contribute to increased avalanche danger. Since snow conditions are always changing, it is best to check with park rangers before every outing.

You can also see avalanche, snow, and trail conditions online at NPS.gov/ROMO/PlanYourVisit/Winter_Activities.htm.

Snowshoeing

Hiking and snowshoeing are easy ways to see and explore Estes Park and the surrounding area. If you can hike, you can snowshoe! The best months to snowshoe are January through March.

This activity involves minimal equipment and no prior experience. Warm waterproof boots are highly recommended, and snowshoes and poles can be rented at the Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Go With The Pros

RMNP also offers free ranger-led snowshoe hikes January through March, as conditions allow. Reservations are required. NPS.gov/ROMO/PlanYourVisit/
Ranger-Led-Snowshoe-Walks.htm.

Winter Walking Or Hiking

If you want to get out on the trails without snowshoes, having snow cleats or “spikes” is a great idea. There are several different types available, but all function like studded snow tires for your feet and fit right over your shoes or boots.

These are great to have simply for walking around a snow-packed area.

The investment of about $25 a pair is well worth it. Estes Park Mountain Shop sells them.

Backcountry Skiing

For those wanting a little more adventure, Rocky offers thousands of acres of fresh powder to ski.

Because there are no lifts, skiers must “skin up” to the tops of their runs. Locals refer to this as “earning your turns.”

In addition to the Hidden Valley area, the peaks and open areas around Bear Lake are also popular.

Because of its inherent dangers, only very experienced skiers should attempt backcountry skiing.

This activity also requires a great amount of physical endurance and should not be undertaken lightly.

Cross Country Skiing

A less intense option for adventurers is cross country skiing. It’s a great workout and a fun way to see the park in winter. Cross country skiing is allowed on most park trails. Look for trails with more snow for a better experience.

Sledding

Hidden Valley, the site of an old ski area, has a designated sledding area. This is the only place in Rocky that sledding is allowed. No tows are provided; you walk your sled, saucer, or tube up the hill and slide down.

There is no fee to go sledding; only a park entrance pass is needed. There are no timed-entry permits needed in the winter months.

Winter Gear

To purchase maps or rent skis, snowshoes, and sleds, visit Estes Park Mountain Shop. They have winter clothing and gear, hiking boots, and snow cleats. They can also give you current conditions. 970-586-6548, EstesParkMountainShop.com.

True Value Hardware has gloves, hats, earmuffs, sweats, long johns, hand and foot warmers, electric blankets, portable propane heaters, shovels, and sleds. 970-586-3496, EstesTrueValue.com.

Road-Trip Ready

Driving in the mountains always needs your full attention. This is especially true in winter. Conditions can change rapidly, so being prepared is very important.
Always keep your gas tank at least half full and carry an emergency kit in the car. Snacks, blankets, and extra clothing can be lifesavers if a beautiful snowfall turns into an insane blizzard.

Allow plenty of time to get to your destination. An old-fashioned paper map is great to have as cell service can be spotty. Knowing where you are, as well as alternative routes, is important. Roads can be closed unexpectedly due to winter conditions, rock fall, or construction.

In addition to the items mentioned above, your emergency kit should include a small shovel in case you get stuck. A scrap of carpet tucked in your trunk can be handy for traction under a tire.

Road flares, flashlights, batteries, a basic tool kit, and jumper cables are also worth keeping in the car for winter drives. Don’t forget a good pair of gloves.
Always carry enough water for everyone, including pets. Drinkable water might not be available. Be prepared in case you are stuck on a closed road due to weather.

Traction laws are in effect on highways during winter storms in Colorado.

Winter Driving

Colorado has what is called a “Traction Law.” This law is implemented by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and is in place on any state highway during a winter storm. This is the final safety measure before a highway is closed.

When the law is in effect, all motorists are required to have one of the following on their car with at least 3/16 tire tread:

Not having the proper rating on your tires, or an approved alternative, could result in fines if you are involved in an accident when the law is in affect.

NOTE: Rocky Mountain National Park can enforce the Traction Law when conditions allow. If you don’t have the proper tires, you will be turned around at the gate.

Holidays in Estes Park

There’s nothing like spending the holidays in a small mountain town. From late November to the end of February, downtown Estes Park is beautifully decorated with holiday lights, and a stroll along the downtown riverwalk is magical. The light season kicks off at the Tree Lighting Ceremony on November 24.

Holiday Kick-Off

Thanksgiving can be especially fun for a gathering in Estes Park. There are many lodging properties with cabins or detached homes where you can cook your own holiday meal.

Or, if you’d rather let someone else do the cooking, several restaurants in town offer special Thanksgiving dinners and can accommodate large groups. See our Restaurant Guide at the back of the book for a list of restaurants in town.

The Friday after Thanksgiving brings the annual Catch the Glow Parade in downtown Estes Park. This is a popular event and thousands of people attend each year. The atmosphere is festive  and fun. Come for the parade and stay for the weekend! 

Shop Small, Shop Local

Staying in town for the weekend also means you can get your holiday shopping done on Small Business Saturday, a tradition alive and well in downtown Estes Park. Not only can you purchase one-of-a-kind gifts for those on your list, but you’re helping to support a year-round economy and the livelihood of families in our community.

Holiday Dining

Christmas and New Year’s can be celebrated at many of the local restaurants in town. Holiday specials are put together to show off special menus and pairings. See VisitEstesPark.com for special celebrations.

Winter Events

Planning a weekend stay for February’s Wine & Chocolate Festival is worth the trip. What’s better than wine and chocolate? Sample sweets from the region’s finest chocolatiers, taste pours from a variety of wineries, and enjoy live music and a romantic weekend in beautiful Estes Park.

March brings two popular events. Sip and sample the finest selections of Colorado whiskeys at the Whiskey Warm Up. Live music, area vendors, and delight in whiskey-paired treats. Frozen Dead Guy Days brings three days of frigidly fun happenings.

April boasts the most unique event of the year: Bigfoot Days, celebrating all things Squatchy. The festival features appearances and talks from television Bigfoot celebrities and experts, live music, activities for the entire family, craft and food vendors, a Bigfoot calling contest, area Bigfoot tours, and much more.

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