Photo Credit: Riverstone and Bear Paw
Experience Memorable Winter Activities in Estes Park
Why visit Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter?
One of the best things about the winter season is the peace you can find in nature while the earth is blanketed in snow. The park is less visited but still very much open and alive with activity.
Reach beautiful backcountry areas on snowshoes, skis, and at lower elevations – even in hiking boots!
Elk, coyotes, deer, snowshoe hares, and other wildlife remain active through the winter. They tell their story by their tracks left in the snow. For those visitors who are prepared, winter is an enchanting time to explore the park.
If you have grown tired of the long lines at ski resorts or the weekend traffic on I-70, or you are the type of person who seeks outdoor adventures –either way, here are eleven outdoor winter activities that are sure to shake your winter blues!
Here’s a list of eleven favorite winter outdoor activities around Estes Park:
1. Take a Winter Ecology Walk led by a Park Ranger
Anyone 8 and older can do it, and you will love the views and all that you learn! Rocky Mountain National Park offers ranger-led snowshoe ecology walks for beginner level snowshoers on the east (Estes Park) side of the Park. No previous snowshoe experience is required. These walks are held on Fridays and Sundays from 12:30 – 2 p.m. Jan. 6 through March 27 with no programs on Jan 20 and Feb 17.
No additional fees are charged to participate, however reservations are required. Call the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at (970) 586-1223 between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily one week in advance to reserve your spot.
2. If you can walk, you can snowshoe!
Renting snowshoes & poles is very affordable, and there are several businesses in town that rent them. Many lodges loan you free snowshoes when you stay with them. Snowshoeing is easy to learn and opens up a new way to see the beauty of nature during its quietest season. For beginners, a great spot to head is Sprague Lake for a relatively flat two-hour exploration of the natural world of the subalpine forest with beautiful views across the lake.
3. Take a Snowshoe Tour
Want a real adventure, but don’t want to do all the planning? This Snowshoe Tour will take you on an outdoor adventure of a lifetime, with 1-2 days of private guided snowshoeing geared to your ability level, and 1- 3 nights at the Historic Stanley Hotel with delicious breakfasts. All gear, lunch, and transportation to the trails is included!
You can learn about sub-alpine ecology on cross country skis, learn to take better winter photos that optimize the lighting and snow, take a beginning water color class, or learn all about coyotes “The Song Dogs of the West” to name a few!
5. Take a Full Moon Walk
Full Moon Walks are another great outdoor activity in winter that the whole family can enjoy. Snowshoeing by moonlight is magical! Join a Ranger to explore the Park under the light of the full moon. Reservations are necessary – call (970) 586-1223 to reserve a spot.
6. Cross Country Ski on the West Side
Experience the big meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park on Cross Country Skis. For beginner and intermediate level cross-country skiers on the west (Grand Lake) side of the park Ranger-led cross country ski tours are offered on Saturdays at 10 a.m. January 26 through February 23. Participants ski a snow-draped landscape and learn about the Kawuneeche Valley.
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. Call (970) 586-1513 to reserve.
7. Head to the Backcountry on Skiis
Backcountry or AT Skiing and Split Boarding let you experience the wild and rugged side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Hidden Valley is a good base location for visitors interested in trying backcountry or AT skiing or snowboarding in and around Hidden Valley, which until the 1980’s was a real ski area inside the Park. There are no ski lifts now – you’ll have to “earn your turns”!
Be prepared and realistic! Winter winds can blow hard and cold in Rocky presenting very real danger.
RMNP has installed an avalanche beacon training park at Hidden Valley where backcountry skiers can practice locating buried beacons and test their skills before heading out.
Backcountry users should be aware of avalanche conditions, check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website at http://avalanche.state.co.us/
8. Take the Family Sledding or Tubing
Family fun sledding & tubing, head to Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley slopes have been contoured for safety for sledding and other snowplay activities. Facilities at Hidden Valley include a warming hut, which is open weekends, and heated restrooms which are open daily. There’s no charge for use of the area, but a Park entrance fee is required.
9. Take a Snow Cat Tour
Want a totally unique Colorado winter adventure? Estes Park Outfitters offers Private High-Country Snow Cat Tours, with a new snowcat machine added in 2019.
You can choose a half day, full day, or overnight tour option (guests stay in a secluded log lodge nestled in Roosevelt National Forest, just 6 miles from downtown Estes Park). Every tour is custom. Cost for the snowcat is $400 for the day, with a maximum of 8 people. Ride into the high country on a snow cat – a winter vehicle that’s one part snowmobile, one part hummer – and from there you can cross country ski in a pristine back country wilderness, carve first tracks as you downhill ski, or backcountry snowshoe with your friends.
If you choose to stay the night, you and up to 7 other friends will enjoy the seclusion of staying in a totally GREEN, solar powered, luxury mountain retreat on 20 acres of pristine mountain property surrounded by federal lands. After spending an exhilarating day outdoors, come home to a roaring fire and relax. What an awesome escape! Contact Estes Park Outfitters to book your own mountain adventure.
10. Enjoy Estes Park’s Winter Festival
Now a winter tradition, the town of Estes Park hosts the Estes Park Winter Festival over the Martin Luther King, Jr weekend. It has grown into a really fun celebration of what makes Estes Park great: great food, music, & art, family friendly activities, together with stunning mountain vistas. We love the way it draws people from all walks of life into the fresh mountain air.
Enjoy walking around in the heated Event Center: tasting beer, wine & cheese and weighing in on the chili cook-off! The Estes Park Winter Festival has live music throughout the weekend with a variety of musical artists, and special activities for kids.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the weekend also coincides with Winter Trails Day in Rocky Mountain National Park. On this day, vendors set up booths inside RMNP to provide free snowshoe demos to the public. Get expert advice on fitting snowshoes, try out the different models to see what works best for you, and get great tips on new ways to enjoy the outdoors in winter from the best in the field. The Bierstadt Trailhead is right next to the demo tents, so people can easily get a feel for the different snowshoes on real trails.
You can also participate in educational clinics on winter activity basics, safety techniques, nutrition and hydration tips, essential conditioning exercises and how to dress for winter hiking and camping. Since Winter Trails Day is sponsored by REI, the Estes Area Lodging Assoc., and the Winter Trails Organization, there is no charge for this event and there will be no charge for Park Entrance on Martin Luther King Day.
11. Go Winter Camping
Winter Camp in the front-country and backcountry of the Park during winter! Designated sections of Moraine Park Campground are open all winter. No hookups, water or dump stations in winter at the campgrounds. Self-registration permits for backcountry camping in winter zones are required. There is no charge in the winter for backcountry camping.
Podcasts on Winter Recreation and Introduction to Snowshoeing can be found on the park website at http://www.nps.gov/romo/photosmultimedia/roaming_rocky.htm