You don’t need to be a White Walker in order to hike in the winter. Better yet, you probably don’t need to concern yourself about encountering a White Walker while hiking the Rockies. That being said, here’s a list of the best winter hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The order in which the list is presented does not necessarily reflect how each hike compares to the others. As you might know, the selection of these hikes is based on subjective impressions and you are always free to challenge them in the comments section.
This is certainly a trail you should explore in the winter if what you like is a certain degree of suffering or at least a good challenge. The trail is 3 mi (4.8 km) long and provides an elevation gain of 1,075 ft (327.66 m), which indeed may not seem like that much from home.
In case you are a newbie in winter hiking, you will discover that snow can make a hike significantly more challenging than it normally is. Depending on the snow conditions on the day you go, snowshoes may or may not be necessary. It is highly recommended that you take them with you just in case, no matter how optimistic the weather report is.
The best about Deer Mountain Trail: For some, it is the difficulty that comes with hiking a long trail covered in snow. For others, it’s the summit (10,013 ft/3051.9 m), as it offers wowy views of the Continental Divide.
Directions: Drive 4.5 mi (7.2 km) from the park’s Headquarters on Highway 36 to roadside parking at the Deer Ridge Junction Trailhead.
Flattop Mountain is a moderate difficulty 4.4 mi (7 km) long trail that provides an elevation gain of 2,874 ft (875.9 m). From the trailhead, go on the Flattop Mountain trail to the junction with Bierstadt Trail. From there, turn left to the Flattop Trail and see Glacier Gorge and Longs Peak. After enjoying the views while also resting, go west on the trail and reach the junction with Fern-Odessa Trail. At the fork, turn left once again to take the Flattop Trail. Find Dream and Emerald Lakes.
Best about Flattop Mountain Trail: This is one of the most popular trails in RMNP, likely because it provides wowy views of several key locations. More so, the trail is one of the easiest paths to the Continental Divide.
Directions: You start at the main Beaver Meadows entrance and head west to Bear Lake Road. Drive on Bear Lake Road for about 7 mi (11.2 km) to reach the parking lot. Alternatively, you can drive less than a mile more to the Bar Lake parking lot and take the short trail to the trailhead.
This is a relatively moderate trail in terms of difficulty that covers a distance of 3.9 mi (6.2 km) and provides an elevation gain of 1,215 ft (370.3). While it is not a difficult trail, some sections of it are considered to be high-risk avalanche areas.
It is said that Odessa Lake Trail can be quite confusing once you reach the treeline. That being said, you will probably be fine if you make sure to follow directions. Go on the Flattop Mountain Trail for almost 1 mile (1.6 km) in order to reach the junction with the Fern-Odessa Lake trail. Take Fern-Odesa Lake and reach the Odessa Lake spur trail and the lake.
The Best about Odessa Lake Trail: Some might say that the best thing about this trail is having to look at the map all the time in order to ensure they will not get lost. Others likely talk about the views of Mill Creek, Glacier Gorge, and Long Peaks covered in snow. No need to say, Odessa Lake is for many the star of this trip.
Directions: From the main Beaver Meadows entrance head west to reach Bear Lake Road. Take Bear Lake Road for about 8 miles (12.8 km) to reach the Bear Lake parking lot.
A less difficult trail, Gem Lake is 1.6 mi (2.5 km) long and provides an elevation gain of 1,000 ft (304.8) m.
The best about Gem Lake Trail: I am assuming that for virtually everyone, the best thing is Gem Lake, located at 8,800 ft (2.682 m), and the area that surrounds it. While Gem Lake looks fairly spectacular, many also get excited by the balanced rock “Paul Bunyan’s Boot”- a structure that has become famous for having a boot-like shape and a hole in the bottom. The views of the Continental Divide are not to be ignored either.
Directions: From downtown Estes Park, go north on MacGregor Avenue. Cross the U.S. Highway 34 bypass and go to the sharp right turn to find Lumpy Ridge Trailhead parking.
This trail is only 2.3 mi (3.7 km) long and will give you a relatively modest elevation gain of 540 ft (164.5 m). As you might already suspect, this is the least difficult trail that has been mentioned so far. That being said, skis or snowshoes might still be of help or even necessary in some weather conditions.
The best about Cub Lake trail: Cub Lake and Big Thompson River are arguably the best you will get while on this trail.
Directions: You start at Bear Lake road and turn at Moraine Park Road. From there, you only have to follow the signs to Cub Lake trailhead and you won’t get lost.
Chasm Falls Trail
The trail is 2.5 mi long (4 km) and offers an elevation of 400 ft (121.9 m). This easy difficulty hike starts from the West Alluvial Fan parking lot, where you hike until you reach the junction of Endovalley Road and Old Fall River Road. Once at the junction, you take the right fork on the Old Fall River Road until you reach Chasm Falls.
The best about Chasm Falls Trail: The dangerous ice formations are probably the best about this hike. While these formations are quite entertaining, it is important to be cautious in order to actually enjoy them. History-enthusiasts and others will also like the remains of the cabins that were used by prison laborers who build Old Fall River Road at the beginning of the 20th century. The cabins can be found on the road to the junction of Endovalley Road and Old Fall River Road.
Directions: Drive on Highway 34 until you reach Horseshoe Park. Once you reach the west end of Horseshoe, turn onto Endovalley Road and follow it over the bridge to the road closure.
This easy difficulty trail is 2.5 mi (4 km) and gives you an elevation gain of only 200 ft (61 m). Indeed, not the best hike for those who like challenges.
The best about The Pool Trail: Some people really enjoy the flatness of this trail while virtually everyone likes the Pool and the Big Thompson River. The Pool refers to a spot of turbulent water where Fern Creek and Big Thompson meet. Some people also express interest in the Arch Rocks-a bunch of huge boulders.
Directions: First you have to reach the road closure on Moraine Park Road past Cub Lake trailhead. From there, you just have to follow the signs to Fern Lake Trailhead.
During winter, around 100,000 people visit Rocky Mountain National Park each month. In the summer, the park gets about 500,000 visitors per month. In other words, there are still plenty of people you can meet in the park during winter, but you should not contemplate the possibility of ending up feeling in the middle of a metropolis.
Before physically exploring RMNP in search for the best hikes, it is important to check for weather conditions such as avalanche danger-the park’s rangers can help with this. Whether you like human companionship or not, winter adds additional risks when it comes to traveling alone and it is not recommended. As you might suspect, wildlife encounters are quite common.
It is said that the eastern side of the park and the lower valleys offer the best hikes in the winter, as snow is less likely to cover these two areas. On the other hand, if what you want is as much snow as possible, both snowshoes and trekking poles are something you should consider. You may also want to consider cross-country skiing- this way you can get fast wherever you want.
If you can’t imagine visiting the park without camping, worry not-Creek, Moraine Park, and Longs Peak campgrounds are also open in the winter. From these options, I recommend Moraine Park because it is the only one that has water in the winter. Of course, some might want to experience a rougher approach to camping by choosing one without running water and the entertainment value of such an approach is something to be considered.
In conclusion, you can both hike and camp in the park during winter. With maps, brochures, and constant weather updates, you will likely have a good time. Happy winter trekking!
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