Nestled between the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, the massive 265,461-acre Rocky Mountain National Park is a playground for outdoor exploration, wildlife viewing and appreciating stunning natural beauty. And you don’t have to wait until summer to experience all that this park has to offer!
In fact, winter is an ideal time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, as the visitor count drops significantly, which means you’ll have less foot traffic to maneuver during your adventures. Not to mention, snow and ice turn this already beautiful park into something of a winter wonderland.
Exchange your hiking boots and tank tops for snowshoes and winter coats as we take on Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter!
First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure conditions are safe before making the trek to Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter. Check out the avalanche forecast and weather conditions in advance, and pack plenty of layers, waterproof clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen and water.
Next, decide if you are headed to the east or west side of the park. The east side is the most popular, attracting about 54,000 visitors in December. The roads are typically clearer for accessing the wintery activities listed below. However, the west side gets much more snow and significantly less visitors, making it more magical and serene. And you’ll have a higher chance of seeing moose on the west side!
Need some winter supplies before you go? No worries. Estes Park Mountain Shop offers a variety of winter rentals, including snowshoes, poles, sleds, cross-country skis and equipment, and even coats and boots for both kids and adults.
Put a snowy twist on a hiking adventure with a snowshoeing adventure through Rocky Mountain National Park. Strap on your snowshoes and hit the trail for a serene (and sometimes challenging!) walk through a wintery wonderland. Some of the best snowshoe trails in the park include Gem Lake, Cub Lake and The Pool Loop, and Deer Mountain Hike.
Cross-country skiing is a particularly enjoyable activity at the park, as it combines physical exercise with breathtaking winter scenery. One of the best trails for cross-country skiing is the 3.3-mile Glacier Basin Campground Loop that leads to Sprague Lake, offering a relatively flat and easy route. Or try Trail Ridge Road, which is closed to vehicles during the winter, providing a wide open path with no obstacles or traffic.
Sometimes a good old-fashioned sledding adventure is in store! And thankfully, there’s one place in the park where sledding is allowed: Hidden Valley. Here, you’ll find a relatively gentle hill at the bottom of the bunny slope of the former Hidden Valley Ski Area. Keep in mind that there are no tows provided so you’ll need to walk your sled, saucer or tube up the hill after you slide down. There are no rentals available here, but there is a restroom and a warming room available on most weekends when there is an attendant present.
Sure, you may have hiked through Rocky Mountain National Park during the warmth of summer or during the fall, when the golden aspens are in full force. But hiking through the park during the winter provides an entirely different experience adorned with snowy mountaintops, icy lakes and the ever-present Colorado sunshine to illuminate it all. Some of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include Sprague Lake, Calypso Cascades, Chasm Falls, Gem Lake, Deer Mountain and Odessa Lake.
If you didn’t encounter any wildlife during your winter adventures thus far, if you set aside a little time and practice some patience, you might be able to see some! While you won’t see any bears at this time, winter is a good time to see elk, mule deer, moose and other mammals. The west side is the best area to see moose, and elk and mule deer are most active at dawn and dusk. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep along the Highway 34/Fall River corridor on the east side!
You might think we’re kidding, but we’re not! However, winter camping at Rocky Mountain National Park is not for the faint of heart — or the inexperienced. It is only recommended for those who have attempted these extreme conditions before and are equipped with the proper gear, which includes four-season tents, four-season sleeping bags, snowshoes and traction devices. Moraine Park Campground is open all year long, including the winter, when it operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
What winter activities would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!