This guest blog was written by Rachel Balduzzi, Education Director for the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.
As winter descends upon the mountains, the urge to get out and explore the snow covered Colorado landscape takes hold. Some like to ski, some like to snowmobile, some like to ice skate, but for me a snowshoe trek through snow laden evergreens is not only peaceful but provides exercise, not to mention a brief respite from my ever hectic schedule. Snowshoeing itself has long been a pastime of man, born of necessity and modernized for adventure. Invented in 4,000 B.C. in Central Asia, the “Shoeski” –a solid piece of wood with crude binding—was the choice of transportation for the first people who migrated over the Bering Land Bridge into North America. While the design of the snowshoe has evolved over the years based on snow density and material availability, the functionality has remained high. These days, snowshoes are generally made from a blend of reinforced plastic and aluminum or titanium alloy and can easily buckle over waterproof boots.
Whatever your style of shoe, trekking through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) affords breathtaking views and plenty of opportunity to catch glimpses of the wildlife who also seek solace in the quiet, snow covered mountains near Estes Park. And while Bear Lake has long been a favorite spot for both summer and winter recreators, it often becomes crowded on busy weekends. So to avoid the crowds and still find amazing pockets of nature to explore within the park, here are my top 5 picks for snowshoe hikes in RMNP, that aren’t Bear Lake-enjoy!
- Wild Basin(to Hidden Falls)- Located in the southern part of RMNP off HWY 7, this part of the Park often sees the most easily accessible snowfall on the east side of the divide. Snowshoers can drive through the entrance station to RMNP past Copeland Lake to the Winter Wild Basin Parking Lot. From this gated lot there is a nice rolling snowshoe trail that begins on the road and cuts into the trees just after the summer horse trailer parking lot over the river. Guests to the park will note the spruce/fir forest and the wildlife tracks of squirrel, rabbit and occasionally bobcat. At the end of this moderate, out-and-back trail lies Hidden Falls. A rock seep in the summer, in the winter this slab turns into an ice climbers paradise with a beautiful cascade of ice tumbling near 50 feet. Snowshoers can watch climbers from a safe distance, but take care not to approach too closely without the proper equipment as falling ice and rock are a hazard in this area. This snowshoe route is approximately 4 miles out and back.
This hike is one of the classes offered by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy as a way to explore hidden gems in RMNP. Offered most Saturdays throughout the winter, an experienced naturalist guide will explain the phenomenon of winter in the mountains while searching for wildlife clues left in the form of tracks, scat and chewed twigs. For more information on this or other winter classes offered by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy please visit www.rmconservancy.org, or call the office directly at 970-586-3262.
- Old Fall River Road (to Cascade Falls)- Closed to vehicles in the winter, this road becomes a great snowshoeing path for beginners once the snow begins to fall. Park in the West Alluvial Fan parking lot to access the road behind the Road Closed gate. The road winds mainly level for about a mile past willow bushes and the opportunity to spot moose or elk. Snowshoers will begin a steady uphill on the old part of the road (dirt). To the left of the road about ¼ mile up the dirt portion will be signs for Cascade Falls. Beautiful in the summer, this falls is even more lovely in the winter. This snowshoe route is approximately 2.5 miles out and back.
- Upper Beaver Meadows Road (to the end of the road)- Also closed to vehicles in the winter, the parking for this route is along HWY 36 (Trail Ridge Road) across from the closed gate. This trail winds through Montane meadows with beautiful views of the continental divide all around. Snowshoers may see deer, elk or other meadow animals such as coyote searching for food. This relatively flat road/trail is perfect for beginner snowshoers as it is 3 miles out and back.
- Hidden Valley (up to Trail Ridge Road)- This area has long been a favorite snow-play area. Once a thriving ski resort, now it boasts excellent sledding and still provides downhill skiing opportunities to those who dare to skin/snowshoe up to Trail Ridge Road from the parking lot. More of a moderate to hard snowshoe hike, snowshoers can begin at the parking lot and pick a route through the trees to climb steadily to meet back up with Trail Ridge Road just before Rainbow Curve. Stellers Jays, snowshoe hare, pine marten and other animals can be found hiding in the trees, but be aware there could be skiers coming down the same trail you are trudging up! This snow shoe route is great exercise and is well worth the panoramic views from the top. This snowshoe route is approximately 2.5 miles out and back with over 1,000 ft. of elevation gain.
- Sprague Lake (around the lake)- This beautiful lake has a short but picturesque trail around its shores that makes for a lovely snowshoe hike after a recent snowfall. A myriad of trails branch off from the lake near the picnic area which also prove to be great for exploring and trying out snowshoes. While more trafficked than some of the other areas mentioned, snowshoers may still see signs of moose, beaver, porcupine and other subalpine inhabitants along their journey and the backside of the lake allows for a sweeping view of the divide. This snowshoe route is approximately one easy mile around the lake but can be much longer if side trails are utilized.