What is there to do when 40 inches of snow blanket the ground and the famous Colorado sun is shining bright? Say "yes" to nature's peaceful invitation and come play in Rocky Mountain National Park during your Spring Break! The Rocky Mountain Conservancy shares their favorite snowy spring adventures:
1. Walk on a frozen lake. Bring your own snowshoes or Microspikes or rent a pair from one of several outdoor stores in Estes Park, CO and hit the trail! Glacial tarns, or small lakes scraped out by glacial recession at the foot of high mountain peaks, make great winter destinations. From the Bear Lake corridor, hard-packed trails lead the way to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes for round-trip mileage of 1.0 miles, 2.2 miles, or 3.6 miles if you go all the way to Emerald. For folks equipped to and interested in channeling your inner-snowshoe hare and playing around off the beaten path, Lake Haiyaha (4.2 miles round-trip) and Lake Helene (6.5 miles). Be sure to bring your map and compass in case you need to take a bearing. If weather is pleasant and energy levels are high, the tarns above Lake Helene are secluded enough to feel remote but accessible enough to reach in a morning's time. Once you have reached your destination, walking on ice anywhere from two to three feet thick against a backdrop of sculpturally-blown snow and rugged peaks will surely take your breath away.
2. Find out where the wild things are. Animals that call Rocky Mountain National Park home must choose between hibernating, tolerating, or migrating in order to deal with the harsh realities of winter. The brave species that stick around during winter and their tactics for survival may surprise and delight you. The black-capped chickadee changes its diet to include carrion-nibbling protein-rich meat from animal carcasses while leaving ¼' branched tracks in the snow -and creates its own down jacket by trapping air within its feathers, giving it a fluffy effect. Meanwhile, the snowshoe hare's large feet and white coat make it a common visitor to the Montane and Subalpine ecosystems. Look for this hopper's distinctive inverted-V tracks in the snow. With some basic knowledge about tracks of animals commonly seen the RMNP-squirrels, bids, elk, lynx, and coyote-you have everything you need to solve the mysteries of who went where in the park. Scat, scratches, food caches, and visible tunnel entrances will also provide some helpful clues.
3. Hear the crunch of dirt under your feet. With over 15 distinctive trailheads on the east side of the park alone, RMNP offers visitors a variety of landscapes and experiences. Accessibly nestled within the city of Estes Park, the Lumpy Ridge trailhead hovers around 8,000 feet in elevation. A left at the trailhead leads to the Black Canyon trail, where ample sun exposure quickly melts snow, allowing visitors to hear the elusive crunch of dirt under their feet as they weave through a moraine in the shadow of awe-inspiring metamorphic rock formations. If energy and conditions allow, follow the drainage to MacGregor Falls or take a climbers' access trail to the base of any of the rock features-The Book, The Pear, Bowels of the Owls, and Sundance Buttress.
4. Snowshoe to a frozen waterfall and climb it-in the company of an expert or two and with appropriate gear. A trip up Highway 7 to the Wild Basin trailhead in Allenspark will deposit you at one of the most remote trailheads in RMNP that boasts several less-frequented gems. After parking at the winter lot, snowshoe on or alongside the main road for about a mile before turning left towards Copeland Falls. Journey half a mile past these low, cascading waterfalls to Hidden Falls, a spring-fed natural rock seep that ice-climbers often frequent. Watch ice climbers in action or contact a local vendor for your own guide-led ice climbing excursion up the falls.
Due to the large snowpack, winter trails in RMNP are often different than summer trails. While many trails are already tracked out, preparation determines the outcome of any excursion. Rocky Mountain Conservancy offers unique field institute classes that support and enhance the preservation of Rocky Mountain National Park. Upcoming classes include Winter Ecology: A Snowshoe Trek for Kids and Families (March 7, 21), Beginning Watercolor for the Nature Enthusiast (March 7), and Coyotes: Song Doges of the West (March 28). Please call 970-586-3262 or visit RMConservancy.org for more information or to register.
Written by: Kara Wadenstierna, Olson Fellow at Rocky Mountain Conservancy