Monday, March 13, 2017

Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter is an absolutely wonderful time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. The park, as well as the area surrounding it, offers many outstanding outdoor opportunities, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding, downhill skiing, wildlife watching, dog sled rides, fat biking, ice fishing and even hiking. Even if you don’t own your own equipment there are many outfitters in Estes Park and Grand Lake that will rent everything you’ll need to enjoy your adventures.

Winter in the Rockies can typically last from November through April. The lower elevations along the eastern slope of Rocky Mountain National Park are usually free of deep snow. However, at higher elevations, arctic conditions prevail. Sudden blizzards, high winds, and deep snowpack are common in these areas of the park. The west side of the park usually experiences more snow, less wind and clear cold days during this time period. Skiing and snowshoeing conditions are usually at their best in January, February, and March. Unpredictable weather alternates between warm and cold, wet and dry conditions during April.

Based on the latest ten years of precipitation data, Estes Park (7522 feet) receives approximately 34 inches of snow each year, while Grand Lake (8369 feet) receives roughly 147 inches annually.

Visitors to the park should make note that the upper portion of Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter. Depending on weather, the road usually closes for the season around mid-October or early-November, and reopens by Memorial Day Weekend. During the winter season, weather permitting, Trail Ridge Road is normally open to Many Parks Curve on the east side of the park, and to the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side. For the latest information on closures you can call the Trail Ridge Road Status Line at 970-586-1222, or visit the park website.

The following are a few of the winter adventures you can enjoy in and around the national park:

Snowshoeing – is one of the most popular ways to enjoy the park and surrounding areas during the winter. Basically, if you can hike, you can snowshoe! Within the park you can join a ranger-led snowshoe excursion. Several outings are offered throughout the winter. Participants will learn techniques to traverse various terrain as they explore the natural world of subalpine forests. No previous experience is needed for these programs. Outside of the park are several other areas you can explore. On the west side you may want to note that 70% of Grand County is public land. Therefore, snowshoers will have access to hundreds of miles of trails in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Never Summer Wilderness, Arapaho National Forest, Arapaho National Recreation Area, Byers Peak Wilderness, Vasquez Peak Wilderness, Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest, Winter Park and Fraser Valley areas. You can find additional information on these areas, as well as equipment rental outfitters and various Nordic centers by clicking here. For information on equipment outfitters and snowshoeing opportunities in the Estes Park area, please click here.

Cross-country Skiing – is another popular winter sport in and around the park. On the west side of the park, Rocky Mountain National Park rangers offer the "Ski the Wilderness in Winter" program each winter. Cross-country skiers also have access to trails in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Never Summer Wilderness, Arapaho National Forest, Arapaho National Recreation Area, Byers Peak Wilderness, Vasquez Peak Wilderness, Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest, Winter Park and Fraser Valley areas. You can find additional information about these areas, as well as equipment rental outfitters and various Nordic centers by clicking here.

Although the terrain and the amount snow on the west side of the park make for better cross-country skiing, the Estes Park area also offers many cross-country skiing opportunities as well. For additional information on these opportunities, as well as equipment rental outfitters on the east side of the park, please click here.

Hiking – Depending on the amount of snow on the ground, visitors can also enjoy hiking in the park, especially on the east side. Destinations such as Cub Lake, Chasm Falls, Deer Mountain, Gem Lake and Upper Beaver Meadows are all great choices during the winter. For more information about these hiking destinations in winter, please click here.

Sledding - Hidden Valley is the one place in Rocky Mountain National Park where sledding is allowed. Please note that no tows are provided, and you must provide your own plastic sled, saucer, or tube (if you don't bring your own they can be rented in Estes Park at most outdoor shops). This gentle hill is at the bottom of the bunny slope of the former Hidden Valley Ski Area. On most weekends there's an attendant here. A warming room is also available. Winter winds can scour the area, causing conditions to vary, so you should call the park Information Office at 970-586-1206 for the latest information.

Wildlife Watching - Many park roads are usually open during the winter, which provide access for viewing park wildlife. Winter is an especially good time to look for elk, mule deer, moose, and other large mammals. Visitors should look for moose along the Colorado River on the park's west side. Elk and mule deer are most active at dusk and dawn, and are usually seen in meadow areas. Look for bighorn sheep along the Highway 34/Fall River corridor on the park's east side. Coyotes may be seen any time of day. Members of the Jay family, including Steller's jays, gray jays, Clark's nutcrackers, and the iridescent, long-tailed black-billed magpies are commonly seen in the winter as well.

Other Outdoor Activities – in addition to the winter activities already mentioned above, the Grand Lake area offers several other winter adventures, including downhill skiing, dog sled rides, fat biking, ice fishing, ice skating, sledding and snowmobiling, among many other options. You can click here for a full list of winter activities.

Before venturing into the park during the winter months be sure you’re properly prepared for cold and snowy conditions. Be sure to layer up with insulating, waterproof clothing, wear sunglasses, use sunscreen, carry water and carry a good topographical trail map.

Other info:

For the latest information on weather conditions, please click here.

* Current Bear Lake Snow Conditions

* Overall Trail Conditions

* Colorado Avalanche Information

If you do plan to visit Rocky Mountain this winter, or anytime of the year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings and other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.






Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
HikingintheSmokys.com

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