ESTES PARK – For many visitors, winter is their favorite time to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is less visited but still very much open and alive with activity. Weekends are much busier than weekdays. Beautiful backcountry areas can be reached on snowshoes, skis, and at lower elevations – even with hiking boots! Elk, coyotes, deer, snowshoe hares, and other wildlife remain active through the winter. Their story is told by the tracks left in the snow. For those visitors who are prepared, winter is an enchanting time to explore the park.
Snowshoeing and skiing are fun ways to experience the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. This winter, join a park ranger on a wintry excursion! Rocky Mountain National Park offers ranger-led snowshoe ecology walks for beginner-level snowshoers on the east side, and for beginner and intermediate-level snowshoers and cross-country skiers on the west side of the park. Reservations are required and there is no additional fee beyond the regular park entrance fee.
Snowshoeing is easy to learn and opens up a new way to see the beauty of nature during its quietest season. For beginners, the Snowshoe Ecology Walk is a two-hour exploration of the natural world of the subalpine forest. No previous snowshoe experience is required. On the east side, this walk is held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. through March 19. The Beginner Snowshoe tour on the west side is held on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. through March 5.
For more experienced snowshoers, a two-hour Intermediate Snowshoe tour is offered on the west side of the park on Sundays at 1:00 p.m. through March 6. Previous snowshoeing experience is recommended because of the elevation gain, mileage, pace and terrain covered in this program.
A Ranger-led cross-country ski tour, Ski the Wilderness in Winter, is offered on the west side of the park on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. through January 30. Participants ski a snow-draped landscape and learn about the Kawuneeche Valley.
All snowshoe walks and ski tours require reservations. Reservations can be made in advance, seven days or less prior to the desired program. Participants must furnish their own equipment, including poles with baskets, and be at least 8 years old. To make reservations for east side snowshoe walks, call (970) 586-1223. To make reservations for west side snowshoe walks and ski tours, call the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at (970) 627-3471. Please call between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily.
Camping takes place in the winter too! Moraine Park Campground is open all winter; the fee is $18 per site per night. Water and dump stations are not available in winter. Self-registration permits for backcountry camping in winter zones are available. There is no charge in the winter for backcountry camping.
Sledding activities can be enjoyed in Rocky Mountain National Park at the Hidden Valley area. Hidden Valley slopes have been contoured to enhance the safety of sledding and other snowplay activities. The gentle sledding hill is especially enjoyed by younger park visitors.
Facilities at Hidden Valley include a warming hut, which is open weekends, and heated flush restrooms which are open daily. This area is also a good base location for those interested in backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the undeveloped areas in and around Hidden Valley.
Backcountry users should be aware of avalanche conditions; always check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website at http://avalanche.state.co.us before an adventure.
Full Moon Walks are offered on the east side of the park on January 23, February 22 and March 23. Times and locations will vary each month. Reservations are necessary and may be made seven days in advance by calling (970) 586-1223.
When recreating in the park in the winter always be prepared for the possibility of snow, freezing temperatures, short winter daylight hours, cold winds and changing winter weather. Navigating in winter conditions can present difficult challenges. Many park trails are not marked for winter use. Signs and the summer trails can be buried beneath snow and difficult to follow. Following other people’s tracks could get you lost, so having a topographic map and compass or a Global Positioning System (GPS) is strongly recommended. Parking lots at Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge and Hidden Valley fill early on weekends. Planning ahead is critical!
Whenever visiting Rocky Mountain National Park to snowshoe, ski or hike, stop by a park visitor center or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206 for current road and snow conditions. Come enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter!