Winter snows pile up deep in Rocky Mountain National Park, where the season is celebrated not only in front of a roaring fire, but also out on skis and snowshoes exploring the snowscape.
True, Trail Ridge Road shuts down in winter, deep in snow, but the Bear Lake Road is plowed to provide access for skiers, snowshoers, and even sledders. And if you're really adventurous, you can try your hand at ice climbing.
Adventurous Winter Excursions
* Sign up with the Colorado Mountain School for one of its ice climbing courses. If you're experienced at ice climbing, or a fast learner, they can take you to some vertical ice to work your moves on. What makes ice climbing in Estes Park different from other areas is that it’s a true wilderness climb. Since most of the great spots are in the national park, climbers find themselves hiking to get to some of the best ice. An added bonus is that you don’t get the crowds that you would in other places. Outfitters in Estes Park, such as Colorado Mountain School and Estes Park Mountain Shop, are skilled in getting eager climbers out to those hidden gems on guided climbs.
* Rocky Mountain National Park surrounds Estes Park on three sides, and offers a number of ice climbing spots, including Hidden Falls, Jewel Lake, All Mixed Up, Petite Grepon and Grace Falls, just to name a few. Cross-country skiers have the whole park to explore.
Of course, it's too big to explore in a day or even a week, but there are great opportunities to ski into the park on a daily basis to check out various areas. Popular cross-country and back-country skiing locations include the Sprague Lake and Bear Lake areas.
A good beginner trail is the 3.3 mile Sprague Lake - Glacier Basin Campground Loop, or just cruising around the lake itself. This trail has very little elevation gain and is a great place to get started.
Another good cross-country option is Trail Ridge Road. Since the road is closed to traffic in the winter, it provides a nice wide path without any obstacles. Of course, you'll have to break your own trail. If you want backcountry skiing, Rocky Mountain National Park also affords acres of untracked terrain to explore.
If you're looking for snowshoeing options, the park has more than 355 miles of trails with terrain suitable for beginners to experts.
Most of these trails are just as accessible in the winter for snowshoeing as they are in the summer for hiking, but area experts suggest staying below tree-line, as whiteouts are common beyond that point. Some areas suggested for snowshoers by the folks at the Estes Park Mountain Shop include The Loch, Lake of Glass, Twin Sisters (right at treeline with killer views of Longs Peak) and Sky Pond.
The Rocky Mountain Nature Association, the non-profit that supports programming in the national park, also offers a Winter Sub-Alpine Ecology & Cross-Country Ski Adventure. This winter adventure combines leisurely cross-country skiing (with ski instruction) and educational discussions about the winter world of botany, birds, mammals, geology and weather in Rocky Mountain National Park.