The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t receive as much snow as the west side of the park, so it is much easier to hike without using snowshoes or cross-country skis. Typically, trails below 8,500 feet are more accessible for winter hiking. As always, make sure you check the trail conditions, or talk to a Ranger, before starting a hike.
Below is a list of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain:
1. Chasm Lake
is a marvelous alpine lake at the base of Colorado’s most famous peak—Longs Peak, at 14,259. The lake lies in a granite cirque, with sheer cliffs towering 2,400 feet above, known as "The Diamond". With it’s view of The Diamond, Longs Peak, Mount Lady Washington and Mount Meeker, this is one of the most sought after views in the park.
Begin at the Longs Peak Trailhead, and stay left when the trail splits. Follow the trail through the thick, snowy lodgepole pine, fir and spruce forest. At just over 2 miles, you will break the treeline, and enter the subalpine, with Longs Peak, Mount Lady Washington and Mount Meeker coming into view. The junction for Chasm Lake is at 3.5 miles, and the trail will split to the right; this portion of the trail contains some route finding and easy rock scrambling. Once you reach Chasm Lake, you are immediately met with picture-perfect views. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy this amazing landscape.
This trail is open year-round, and provides excellent views of the surrounding mountains, covered with snow. Whether you are planning a holiday getaway in December, or trying to experience the last of the snow in early spring, this a the perfect trail for you! Hiking this trail in winter, you may want to bring traction devices
. Even if the trail looks clear when you first start, there is a high chance of snow once you get to higher elevations. Also, having trekking poles
is helpful in general, but when you have to cross a snowfield, they are especially helpful to keep your balance and have something to lean on.
2. Calypso Cascades
The trail to Calypso Cascades takes you past Copeland Falls—just under a half mile from the trailhead. There is a side trail that takes you to the upper and the lower falls, which will most likely be beautifully covered in snow and ice. You will want to bring traction devices with you, as the trail can be quite icy and snow-packed once you pass Copeland Falls. Continue on the main trail, and you will cross the Sandbeach Creek on a footbridge. At 1.3 miles, you will reach a junction, stay left here for the trail to Calypso Cascades. Hike on through the quiet, snow-dusted ponderosa pines for another half mile and you will reach Calypso Cascades. In the winter, the cascades are under layers of snow and ice, but if you listen closely, you will be able to hear the rumble of flowing water beneath the snow.
This is an ideal winter hike in Rocky Mountain. Since most visitors are snowshoeing in the Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge areas, there are less people hiking in Wild Basin, so you have a great chance for solitude in this peaceful area of the park. And, with less people frequently this trail, you are likely to see wildlife, including the white-tailed ptarmigan
, which is beautiful and magical to see in the snow.
3. Chasm Falls
Starting at the trailhead—located on Trail Ridge Road (which is open to Many Parks Curve in the winter when the rest of the road is closed), you will begin down Old Fall River Road, the first road built in Rocky Mountain National Park. After walking for approximately one mile, the road takes a sharp switchback, taking you east and giving you great views of the valley below. The junction for Chasm Falls is at 1.4 miles, and it is a short walk to the overlook of the falls. In winter, the waterfall will most likely be frozen with spectacular ice features. This hike is great during the winter season, as it doesn’t gain too much elevation, so the trail is easy to complete, and since you are hiking on an old road, there is little chance to lose the trail, even when it is covered with snow.
4. Upper Beaver Meadows
Soon after beginning the trail, you will reach a split in the trail—this is a "loop within the loop", so you can take either a right or a left at the junction. Taking a left at the fork, you will be gifted with incredible views of Longs Peak and the mountains of the Continental Divide. Eventually, you will enter a ponderosa pine forest, which are beautiful with winter snow glistening from their needles. This trail is spectacular because you get a little bit of everything—expansive views, wide-open meadows, snow-speckled pine forests, and frozen streams. You are traveling through the upper limits of the montane ecosystem, which is home to many species of wildlife, a treat to see in the winter. Follow the signs at each junction you come to, and once you reach the ridgeline, you will have a great view of Deer Mountain in the distance. The view from the top is panoramic and you are able to look out to the snow-covered peaks of the Continental Divide; this is a view that people dream of, but few have the chance to actually experience.
5. Deer Mountain
You will start through a ponderosa forest, blanketed in crisp, white snow, giving a sense of peace and tranquility to those who travel through it. In route to Deer Mountain, you will get remarkable views of the Mummy Range and Little Horseshoe Park. Keep your eye out for elk and deer throughout the first mile of open meadow. The trail then becomes strenuous and contains a series of switchbacks—be careful of these switchbacks in icy conditions, and make sure you are wearing traction devices. At 3 miles, you will reach the summit of Deer Mountain and receive incredible and panoramic views of Estes Park, Moraine Park, Longs Peak and Hallett Peak. This is a great place to take a break, eat a snack (and remember to drink water, even if you’re not sweating), and take in this remarkable winter wonderland. When ready, head down the mountain the same way you came up.