Winter landscape perfect for exploring west side of Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand County, Colorado
For visitors who are prepared, winter can be an enchanting time to explore Rocky Mountain National Park.
For many, winter is their favorite season to enjoy the park. More than 70,400 people came through the winter wonderland, park-wide last year in January; 4,600 of them were on the Grand Lake side.
Snow conditions on the west side of the park, near Grand Lake, are reported to be excellent, said Michele Simmons, RMNP west side District Naturalist. Snow has been measured at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center for the last 59 years and accumulated to more than 31 inches this December alone.
With that and its natural surrounding beauty the park is alive with winter activity, including that of its resident elk, coyotes, deer, snowshoe hares, and other wildlife species. Beautiful backcountry areas can be reached on snowshoes and skis, just two fun ways to experience RMNP.
For at least the last 15 years the park has offered ranger-led cross-country ski tours, and the snowshoe walks began in 2001. Last year west-side rangers gave tours to almost 450 snowshoers and almost 50 cross-country skiers.
“It’s a fun way to exercise, see the park in a different light, and have a great wildlife experience,” said Kyle Patterson, RMNP management specialist.
Once again the park invites people to come in and join a park ranger on a beginner ” or intermediate-level snowshoeing excursion. It is easy to learn and no additional fees are charged. Simmons said “The conditions are so perfect,” that they end up with a waiting list for snowshoeing activities. This year they’ve added a fourth day.
For beginners, the snowshoe program is a two-hour trek that explores the natural forest. No previous experience is required. The beginner snowshoe program begins at 1 p.m. on Saturdays through March 21. Beginning on Feb. 7, an additional tour will be offered at 9 a.m., also starting at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.
For more experienced snowshoers, a two-hour snowshoe walk is offered at 1 p.m. on Sundays through March 15. Because of the elevation gain, mileage and terrain covered, previous snowshoeing experience is required.
Ranger-led cross-country ski tours are offered starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays through Jan. 31 on the west side of the park. Participants ski a snow-draped landscape and learn about the natural history of the Kawuneeche Valley, including several historic sites.
Reservations are required for all snowshoe and ski tours. They may be made in advance, a week or less prior to the desired date. Participants, at least 8 years old, must bring their own equipment, including poles with baskets. Day trips usually begin at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, just north of the entrance to the Grand Lake Village, on U.S. Highway 34.
Camping also takes place in the winter at Rocky Mountain National Park. Longs Peak Campground and designated sections of the Moraine Park and Timber Creek campgrounds are open all winter; however, water is not available. There is no charge in the winter for backcountry camping, but permits are required.
When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park to snowshoe, ski or hike, officials ask that you stop by a visitor center or call (970) 586-1206 for current trail, road, snow and avalanche conditions.
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