Winter is starting to pack its full fury in the Rockies, with the snow piling up across the region. In Rocky Mountain National Park you can enjoy that snow by heading into the park on a snowshoe hike or cross-country ski led by rangers.
Though winter is the so-called "slow season" in Rocky Mountain National Park, for many visitors it remains their favorite time of year in the park that's less than two hours from Denver. For those who venture into this wintry landscape, 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, and while you might not actually see these critters, their story is told by the tracks left in the snow.
To help you explore and better appreciate Rocky Mountain in winter, park rangers are available to lead you into the park on snowshoes. These "snowshoe ecology walks" for beginner level snowshoers are offered every winter weekend on the park's east side, and for beginner and intermediate level snowshoers and cross-country skiers on the west side of the park. No additional fees are charged to participate, however reservations are required.
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 program is a two-hour exploration of the natural world of the subalpine forest. No previous snowshoe experience is required. These walks are led on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. through March 28 on the east side of the park. The two-hour beginner snowshoe tour on the west side is held on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. through March 20. Beginning on February 6, an additional tour will be offered at 9:00 a.m. on the west side.
For more experienced snowshoers, a two-hour snowshoe walk is offered on Sundays at 1:00 p.m. through March 14 on the west side of the park. Previous snowshoeing experience is required because of the elevation gain, mileage, and terrain covered in this program.
Ranger-led cross country ski tours are also 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 reservation, which can be made in advance, seven days or less prior to the desired walk. 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 the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at (970) 586-1223 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily. To make reservations for west side snowshoe walks, call the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at (970) 627-3471 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily.
You also can find frontcountry and backcountry camping in the winter in the park. Longs Peak Campground and designated sections of Moraine Park Campground are open all winter; however, water is not available at the campgrounds. Self-registration permits for backcountry camping is available in winter zones. There is no charge in the winter for backcountry camping.
Sledding activities can be enjoyed in Rocky Mountain National Park in the Hidden Valley area. Hidden Valley slopes have been contoured to enhance the safety of sledding and other snowplay activities. Facilities at Hidden Valley include a warming hut, which is open weekends, and heated restrooms which are open daily. This area is also a good base location for visitors interested in backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the undeveloped areas in and around Hidden Valley.
Trail conditions are posted on the park website, www.nps.gov/romoplanyourvisit/road_conditions.htm. There is a link to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center as well. Whenever visiting Rocky Mountain National Park to snowshoe, ski or hike, stop by a visitor center or call (970) 586-1206 for current trail, road, snow and avalanche conditions.