Rocky Mountain National Park- a huge expanse of beautiful white-capped mountains, valleys, forests, and a truly wild place. It is home to so many species of wild animals and plants, and offers so much peace, beauty, and adventure to the people that visit every year. It is no wonder that people like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir wanted to protect the land here, and no wonder that many people today continue to fight for this park’s protection.
I visited RMNP in November 2018 when traveling Colorado with my cousin Allie. At this time of year here, winter is already in full swing. The western half of the park is closed to visitors in the winter, as the only mountain road that goes through gets covered by 20+ feet of snow. Even so, there is still so much see and do at the park in winter time. There are no huge crowds of people, park admission is free, and the mountain tops are covered in fresh white snow.
Driving up from Boulder, CO, it took us about an hour to get to the Estes Park entrance. The weather was actually pretty good, but it is a wise idea to check in with a park ranger at an information center to get a sense of what spots are safe to visit. In the winter, it can be totally sunny and calm at one point in the park, and a full on snow storm in another spot. We chatted with a park ranger and he was able to give us multiple options for hiking and opportunities to try and see some wildlife.
Pretty much as soon as we started driving in past the gates we saw a group of about six elk right by the road. I absolutely love seeing wild animals in their natural setting, it truly is a privilege. We pulled over and just watched them graze for a while. We were told bear sightings were unlikely as they start slowing down for hibernation at that time, and we did not see any. Later on in the day, we did see another huge herd of elk of at least 50 which was really cool.
For our hike, we drove to the Endovalley campsite and parked there. Closed for the winter to cars, we hiked up Old Fall River Rd to the trailhead for Chasm Falls and then made our way down to the waterfall. It was a fairly easy hike terrain-wise, as most of it was on a cleared dirt road, but it was pretty cold and windy which made it more difficult. The falls was also very beautiful, partially frozen and covered in huge icicles. If interested in winter hiking, make sure to do your research as it is different than warm weather hiking. One of the main things is that one must fuel appropriately as your body burns more energy than usual trying to stay warm. This can be helped by wearing a lot of layers, bringing along hand and feet warmers, and plenty of food and water. I consulted with an expert at REI before leaving for Colorado about my plans and this was extremely helpful! He was able to hook me up with weather appropriate gear and give me good advice about it.
Once we finished our hike, which was about 3 miles out to the falls and back, we warmed up in the car and then drove to a few other spots around the park. We drove up to Many Parks Curve on Trail Ridge Road, which is the spot where the road actually closes due to winter weather and snow. The view from this spot is absolutely gorgeous. After taking in the vistas for a while, we drove back down the road (make sure if you go up during winter that you do have a car with four wheel drive) and made our way to Sprague Lake to try and see some moose. We did not get to see any moose unfortunately, but the lake was very serene and peaceful so still worth the visit.
Once the sun was almost down, we exited the park. We did all of this in one day, which worked well for us and we only could explore the eastern side of the park. I am looking forward to one day returning in the warmer months to explore the rest of it and do some more aggressive hiking when it is not so icy and dangerous! It is definitely worth visiting the park in the winter for the insanely pretty snow on the mountains, and enjoying being immersed in nature without worrying about crowds of people.