For the latest on RMNP access during the shutdown, visit our shutdown page for up-to-the-minute information.

The government shutdown has been hard on communities like Estes Park that depend on National Parks for visitors and business. It has been even harder on the parks themselves with many well-publicized stories of vandalism, trash, and a general disrespect for our public lands.

So, a few friends and I set out to explore the car-free roads of Rocky Mountain National Park to see how Rocky was being treated, and if all went well, get some turns in Hidden Valley, my favorite place to ski--and one of the main reasons my wife and I moved here five years ago. Hidden Valley is the best.

The ride from Beaver Meadows entrance (which was as far as we could get by car as of 1/13/19) to Hidden Valley is roughly eight miles long with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain. The promise of six inches of fresh powder made the pedal feel fairly mellow, though our bikes were weighed down with ski equipment plus contingencies for weather and self-rescue (that much more vital to consider with National Park services non-existent). I expect this is the only time in my life I'll ride my fatbike five riders wide across both lanes on Trail Ridge Road. If you’ve been here, you know what traffic can be like on this road.

The joy of the peaceful, empty roads was only beat by the untouched powder we found at Hidden Valley. Snow fell 48 hours prior to our journey, which on a normal winter weekend would mean all powder is gone by 10am the following morning, but we were rewarded with a total milk run. Another nice surprise was with the lack of humans: The critters came out to play. We saw a well-fed coyote who was nice enough to pose for some photos as well as a mountain lion hunting along Hidden Valley Creek. It was the best powder day of my year so far and one of the most unique mini-adventures I’ve had in the park. Ever.


Another bonus: We didn’t see a piece of litter anywhere. We each packed bags to haul out any trash we found, given what we’d read about Joshua Tree and Yosemite, and I am proud to announce that during the roughly 20 miles we covered over our six-hour car-to-car trip, revealed a pretty pristine Rocky. It seems the guests venturing into the park have treated it far better than the national average. If you decide to recreate in the park during the shutdown, I hope you do the same. If you're not sure how, check out our How to: Leave No Trace blog.


Depending on conditions, the Park may choose to open the gates again (as of 1/14, the main entrance roads are now open--keep visiting our shutdown page for the latest access news) , so access may improve, but who knows how long this shutdown will last. Personally, I hope it’s the only time I’ll experience Hidden Valley this way.

Please note: Backcountry skiing is a sport requiring appropriate gear, experience, and training and has a heightened risk during the shutdown due to limited rescue resources. To learn about more about all the ways you can enjoy Estes Park during this government shutdown, head here.

Kevin is a staff member at Visit Estes Park who lives for the backcountry and is suffering from a chronic case of “Shutdown Withdrawal”.