Rocky is open—and has been during the government shutdown. Here’s how to enjoy the National Park and Estes Park right now—and throughout the winter.
The current federal government shutdown altered access to all of our national parks, and Rocky Mountain National Park was no different. The main entrance roads were previously closed to vehicles at earlier points in the shutdown, because there was no available funding or to plow them or staff the gates. But the Park has always been open—three cheers to the many folks we saw hiking and biking the roads—and now the roads are back open to vehicles, too.
Having allocated funding from previous gate collections, RMNP is now plowing roads, though not all services will be restored until the government reopens. Winter access is more or less back to normal, and the Fall River Visitor Center is open as well thanks to assistance from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. As mentioned, the park has never been fully closed, if the gates do close again for any reason, you can still hike, bike, or ski in on the roads (a fun adventure in its own right). Get full info on the shutdown here and read on for ways to enjoy the Estes Park area this season, even if the gates do close to cars again.
See RMNP in a New Way
RMNP is currently open with all normal winter access. Here’s some local advice on things to do. We love heading to Hidden Valley for sledding and backcountry skiing, and if you keep driving up Trail Ridge Road, you’ll get breathtaking views of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide, as well as the Mummy Range and the Estes Valley from Many Parks Curve. Just past the gate (the upper reaches of Trail Ridge are not plowed through winter) is a wonderful place for a high-altitude snowshoe too.
Access to Bear Lake Trailhead gets you to one of the most popular trails in RMNP (no matter the season). Starting at Bear Lake (Lake #1) you can view four alpine lakes total on this 3.6-mile roundtrip hike. Nymph, Emerald and Dream Lakes (#2-4) will all be frozen over, and covered in snow, so much so that you may not even realize the location is home to a lake in the summer.
Alternate hike-in park entrances at Longs Peak and Lumpy Ridge trailheads are also open and accessible. So you can hike to Gem Lake or Chasm Lake if you're looking for a traditional RMNP hike or snowshoe.
Whatever you choose to do, please remember that winter weather is unpredictable and that services (everything from bathrooms to rescue) are still limited. Following the principles of Leave No Trace is always important when enjoying our natural resources, but become even more poignant now. Pack it in, pack it out. Be mindful of all waste, and remember the rules of pets still apply.
Check out the National Forest
The National Park always gets top billing (for good reason--it’s rad), but it’s also great to explore Rocky’s literal nextdoor neighbor, the National Forest. From fatbiking to offroading, and of course hiking or snowshoeing, there’s plenty of options in the National Forest that you can’t necessarily do in the National Park. Buchanan Pass offers great fatbiking and of course beautiful views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Get offroad! If you’ve got your own rig, you can show up and any of the local spots and get going. Bunce Road offers a variety of terrain, and trails to keep you busy all day. If not, our cadre of local offroad outfitters will rent to you--and some even deliver right to the trailhead. Some outfitters will do the driving for you, so you can soak in the views, and learn all about your surroundings from the knowledgeable guides.
If you’re itching to bag a peak, Crosier Mountain, leaving from Glen Haven is the perfect hike. This trail gets less snow accumulation due to a lower elevation (throw in your microspikes just in case), and breathtaking views over the Estes Valley and into the national park. This trail is also dog friendly, so you don’t have to leave the furry friends at home!
Horseback rides are an amazing way to harken back to the history of Estes and how the area was first explored. If these animals can brave the cold, so can you.
If you’re looking for a ride on a mechanical beast, Estes Park Outfitters offer custom, private snowcat tours. From half days to overnight stays, explore the other side of Twin Sisters Mountain.
Learn the history of the area with a custom tour from Tour Estes Park. From walking tours of downtown to scenic drives around the valley -- bring your notebook, a wealth of knowledge will be divulged.
The amenities of town are often the reward for your big day of adventure, but instead of the cherry on top, go ahead and make downtown the main dish. Catch a flick at the oldest operating single house movie theater in the United States, the Historic Park Theater. Grab dinner and a drink, from whiskey to wings and everything in between. Stroll around town, taking in the mountain views, and hitting some of the great local shops, and art galleries. Get a taste of rock climbing at the Estes Park Mountain Shop’s indoor climbing gym so you can send your outdoor route once it warms up.
Looking for deals on lodging and winter action? Check out the Estes Park Pass! And the best part, it’s the cheapest ski pass in existence – free! But it’s an excuse to explore Estes in an entirely new way, and find more reasons why it’s one of Expedia’s Top 50 Destinations.