Rocky Mountain National Park includes some top-tier scenery and opportunities for enjoying the out-of-doors all year long, and some fans of the park say winter is their favorite season at "Rocky." Upcoming activities in the park include ranger-led snowshoe walks, cross-country ski tours and full moon walks, and areas for winter camping and sledding are also available.
Park spokesperson Kyle Patterson notes, "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."
Ranger-Guided Snowshoe Walks for Beginners
If you'd like to give snowshoeing a try but are a bit hesitant about getting started, the park is offering ranger-led snowshoe ecology walks for beginner-level snowshoers on the east side of the park, 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.
According to Patterson, "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 for this program, which is offered on the east side of the park on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. through March 23. The beginner snowshoe tour on the west side of the park is held on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. through March 8.
There Are Conducted Walks for Experienced Snowshoers As Well
If you're already an experienced snowshoer, a two-hour snowshoe walk is offered on the west side of the park on Sundays at 1:00 p.m. through March 9. Previous snowshoeing experience is recommended because of the elevation gain, mileage, pace and terrain covered in this program.
Ranger-led cross-country ski tours are also being offered on the west side of the park on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. through January 25. Participants ski a snow-draped landscape and learn about the Kawuneeche Valley.
All snowshoe walks and ski tours require reservations, which 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.
Don't have your own equipment? The communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake have shops where winter recreation equipment, including snowshoes, cross-country skis, poles, boots, sleds, tubes, saucers, gaiters, and stabilizers can be rented or purchased.
How To Reserve A Spot for These Programs
To make reservations for east side snowshoe walks, call the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206. 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 4:30 p.m. daily. When you make a reservation, you can ask for details about where to meet for the activities.
If winter camping appeals to you, there are opportunities in both frontcountry and backcountry camping settings. Moraine Park Campground is open all winter; the fee is $14 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 at Hidden Valley
Looking for a good place for sledding? In the Hidden Valley area, slopes have been contoured to enhance the safety of sledding and other snowplay activities. The gentle sledding hill is the bottom of the bunny slope of the former Hidden Valley Ski Area, and is especially enjoyed by younger park visitors.
Facilities at Hidden Valley include a warming hut, which is open weekends, and heated restrooms which are open daily. Winter winds can scour the area, causing conditions to vary, so call the park Information Office (970-586-1206) for the latest information before making a trip to the area.
The Hidden Valley area is also a good base location for those interested in backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the undeveloped areas in and around that vicinity. If you plan to venture into the backcountry, the park staff reminds you to be aware of avalanche conditions; "always check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website" for updates before heading out in the winter.
Take A Snowy Walk Under a Full Moon
For a spectacular setting, it's hard to beat the snow-clad mountains and forest in the light of a full moon, and Full Moon Walks are scheduled on the east side of the park on January 15, February 14 and March 16. Times and locations will vary each month. Reservations are necessary and may be made seven days in advance by calling (970) 586-1206.
There's clearly plenty to do in the park in coming weeks, but it's also important to remember that nature is still in control in these mountains. Patterson invites visitors to "come enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter" and offers this timely reminder: "Whenever visiting Rocky Mountain National Park to snowshoe, ski or hike, stop by a park visitor center or call (970) 586-1206 for current road and snow conditions."