Enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park in the Offseason
Most guests visit during the summer months, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
When you think of Colorado’s national parks, you may think of hiking, picnicking, fishing, camping or backpacking through the wilderness. None of these are activities well-suited for snowy, 15-degree weather, but at Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado, there are plenty of things to do in the chilly winter months.
For those who enjoy hiking the park’s many trails, snowshoeing offers a similar experience with a minimal need for special gear. Strap snowshoes onto a pair of waterproof boots, and you’re good to go. Some may find poles helpful for keeping balance, especially if it’s your first time, and waterproof pants or gaiters can help keep you warm and dry in deep snow.
Popular ranger-guided snowshoe hikes embark across both the east side, through Estes Park, and west via Grand Lake. Rangers will show participants the basics of snowshoeing and lead the expedition through hilly, uneven, snow-covered meadows or mixed conifer forests within Rocky Mountain National Park.
Tours run from January through March and fill up quickly. Participants are encouraged to RSVP or pick up a free ticket at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center to secure their spot.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, participants are required to wear a face mask while putting on and taking off snowshoes, but do not have to wear one while social distancing during the actual hike.
Don’t have your own equipment? Don’t worry; the communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake have you covered. There are multiple shops where winter recreation equipment — including snowshoes, cross-country skis, poles, boots, sleds, tubes, saucers, gaiters and stabilizers — can be rented or purchased, according to the park website.
Cross-country skiing is one way to get a workout while seeing the sights. In general, terrain and deeper snows on the west side of the park make for a better cross-country skiing experience, but skiing is allowed throughout the whole park.
For a more leisurely activity, look no further than Hidden Valley, located 7 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance and the Fall River Entrance on the east side of the park. It’s the one place in the park where sledding is allowed.
Wildlife watching is a common, low-stress way to experience Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter. The colder months are prime time to catch a glimpse of a snowshoe hare, ptarmigan, coyote, elk or mule deer. Elk and mule deer are most active at dusk and dawn in meadow areas.
Moose can sometimes be spotted around the Colorado River on the west side of the park, and bighorn sheep sometimes graze along the Highway 34/Fall River corridor on the park’s east side. Birdwatchers can keep an eye out for Steller’s jays, gray jays, Clark’s nutcrackers and the long-tailed black-billed magpies commonly seen in the park.
Winter in Colorado can be unpredictable, and conditions can change quickly. Before you visit, take a look at the weather forecast and check the park’s website or social media for updates on road status; park roads may close at any time due to poor conditions. Currently, there are some closures in effect, including some resulting from the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires of 2020.
The Green Mountain Trail and most of the Sun Valley Trail remain closed on the west side, and on the east side, the Spruce Lake Trail remains closed. The Flattop Trail is open to the summit of Flattop Mountain but is closed past this point to the west of the Continental Divide.