by Kyle Patterson, Rocky Mountain National Park
For many, winter is their favorite time of year to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is less crowded, yet alive with the beauty of the season. Weekends are busier than weekdays. For those who are prepared, winter is an enchanting time to explore RMNP.
Snowshoeing is a fun, easy-to-learn activity and offers a new way to see nature in winter. RMNP offers ranger-led snowshoe walks on both the east side (Estes Park) and west side (Grand Lake) of the park. Snowshoe walks are offered through mid-March, depending on snow conditions. Participants must provide their own snowshoes. Don’t own your own gear? Rental opportunities are available in nearby communities outside of the park.
Join a Ranger-led Snowshoe Walk
The ranger-led Beginner Snowshoe Walk is a two-hour exploration of the subalpine forest. No previous snowshoe experience is required, but the walk is considered moderately strenuous. Participants should have a baseline fitness level that allows them to snowshoe approximately one mile over hilly terrain at high elevations. Participants must be 8 years or older and MUST wear waterproof boots. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/romo/
Reservations are required for all ranger-led snowshoe programs. There is no additional fee beyond the regular park entrance fee to participate. On the east side of RMNP (near Estes Park), snowshoe walks are offered every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. and reservations can be scheduled up to seven days in advance by calling 970-586-1223. On the west side of RMNP (near Grand Lake), snowshoe walks are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.; reservations can be scheduled up to four days in advance by calling 970-627-3471.
Are you a teacher interested in bringing your class to Rocky this winter? Ranger-led educational snowshoe programs are offered to organized school groups. To learn more and to schedule a field trip on either the east or west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, visit the park’s webpage at www.nps.gov/romo/learn/
Become a Track Scene Investigator!
Have you ever been out hiking and wondered what animal made a track in the snow? If so, join our new east side (Estes Park) ranger-led program titled “Track Scene Investigator.” This program will be offered on the following Sundays at 1:00 pm (February 5, February 19, March 5, and March 19). Participants will meet your park ranger guide at the West Alluvial Fan Parking Lot. This program is free and designed for visitors of all ages. No reservations are required. This program will be taking place outside, so be prepared for weather and winter conditions; snowshoes are recommended but not provided. To learn more, visit https://www.nps.gov/romo/
A variety of winter and springtime programs are also offered through the park’s non-profit partner, the Rocky Mountain Conservancy (RMC). Some of these programs are free and some charge a fee to participate. To see their program schedule and to learn more, please visit the RMC website at https://rmconservancy.org/
Sledding is another wintertime activity fun for all ages. The only place in RMNP where sledding is allowed is at the Hidden Valley Snowplay Area, located on the east side of the park approximately 7 miles from the Beaver Meadows and Fall River entrances. Facilities at Hidden Valley include a warming hut (open on weekends), and flush restrooms. For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/romo/
Take a Winter Camping Trip
If prepared, winter camping can be a fun getaway. Approximately 70 campsites are available in Moraine Park Campground. Winter campsites are first come, first served and the fee is $30 per site, per night. For more details, visit https://www.nps.gov/romo/
If interested in winter wilderness backpacking camping trips, contact the park’s Wilderness Office at 970-586-1242. Permits are required for all overnight camping in the park.
Winter Safety Tips
Your safety is your responsibility; know your limits and make sure that everyone in your group is prepared for the anticipated weather and conditions. Travel across and under steep slopes is not advised unless all members of your party have the education, safety equipment, and experience to make informed decisions about traveling in avalanche terrain. For the latest avalanche conditions, visit http://avalanche.state.co.us.
Trip planning in winter is critical! Parking lots at popular destinations like Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge, and Hidden Valley often fill on weekends. Trail navigation in winter can present difficult challenges. Trails in the park are not marked for winter use, so route-finding skills are necessary. Signs and trails can be buried beneath snow and difficult to follow. Never follow other people’s tracks, they can easily lead you off-course. Cell phones, GPS devices, and other electronic devices are not reliable in cold conditions, as batteries can freeze. Pack a paper topographical map and know how to read it. Before heading out on your winter trip, always tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you will return.
And remember, roads can be icy and snow packed. Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter driving in the mountains.
For more information on Rocky Mountain National Park, please call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206 or visit our website at www.nps.gov/romo.