A winter snowshoeing guide for the east side of the park
Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park will bring you to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the state of Colorado. While the national park is not nearly as accessible as it is during the summertime, there are still plenty of great trails leading to beautiful alpine lakes and waterfalls (which are all frozen over in the winter time). Although there is plenty of great snowshoeing on the western side of the park, this article will focus on the trails on the eastern side, which is much more accessible during the winter months because Trail Ridge Road is closed.
Hikes from Bear Lake Trailhead
The Bear Lake trailhead is open during winter and generally gets more snowshoe traffic than any of the other trailheads in the park (during winter or summer). Although the parking lot should become pretty full on a clear winter’s day, you should be able to park at the lot without a problem. However, if the lot is full you must take a bus up to Bear Lake the park and ride four miles back down the road. With this being the case, you should always try to be at the trailhead no later than mid-morning, both to beat the rush and to beat nasty weather that usually comes in the afternoon.
If you begin your snowshoe trip to Bierstadt Lake from Bear Lake, your round trip hike is will be about 4.2 miles. The Bierstadt Lake trail from Bear Lake brings you through the forests up to the ridge of Flattop Mountain at about 9750 feet of elevation. Once you gain the wooded ridge you will descend down a few hundred feet over a little over a mile to get to the lake.
Before you embark on your trip, take note of the weather conditions. If there are high winds, the Bierstadt Lake trail is a great option since you are mostly in wooded areas.
Once you get to the lake, you will be awarded with amazing views of Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Powell (among others). If you look to the southeast, you will have a breathtaking view of Rocky Mountain National Park’s only fourteen thousand foot summit, Long’s Peak. If you are snowshoeing in the middle of winter, you should be able to successful walk on the lake itself. Take care though to assess the current conditions as well as the temperatures in the preceding days and weeks. It is always adviseable to stop by the visitor center and talk to a ranger before starting out on any of these snowshoe trips in Rocky Mountain National Park.
From Bear Lake, it is just a short 1.1 miles (one-way) to get to Dream Lake. One the trail, you will have some great views to the south towards Longs Peak and its neighboring mountains. This trail is more exposed to the wind than the Bierstadt Lake trail, so if you don’t like wind, you may want to seek out a different destination. To get to Dream Lake, you will pass by Nymph Lake, which looks like nothing more than a random open meadow in the middle of the forest. Nymph Lake is a good place for a quick water break, but views to the neighboring mountains are mostly obstructed.
Directly above Nymph Lake, take care, as there are a few areas along the trail prone to snow slides. Be sure to take note of the conditions around you before proceeding in these areas. This trail, however, is not prone to a full-fledged avalanche. It is well trafficked, but there are points along the trail where you are hiking on a pretty steep slope where snow could easily slide loose.
Once you get up to Dream Lake, you will be treated with one of the most beautiful views in the park. This lake is one of the most frequently photographed in park publications, so be sure to bring your camera and snap a few shots.
The trail between Bear Lake and Mills Lake is approximately two miles over gradual uphill terrain. The Mills Lake trail has the benefit of passing by Alberta Falls, which is one of the prettiest and most popular waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. In the wintertime, Alberta Falls is nothing more than a large mass of ice, but it is certainly still a sight to see. The Mills Lake trail is probably the most exposed of all of these trails and is therefore most susceptible to high winds, especially when you get up to the lake itself.
On a clear calm day, you will have a spectacular and unobstructed view at the backside of Longs Peak. However, on a windy day, the wind will whip through the valley at breakneck speeds leaving you to wonder why you even got out of bed in the morning.
Cub Lake Trailhead
The Cub Lake trail will lead you to the fairly inconspicuous Cub Lake after a pleasant 2.5 mile hike through Moraine Park. This trail is the easiest of the five described in this article. While Cub Lake is not the most spectacular lake in the park, it provides a break in the forest with a good vista towards high subpoints to the west.
Storm Pass – Lily Lake Trailhead
While not taking you to a dramatic lake, the Storm Pass trail will lead you to a great vista of much of the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This trail starts just off of Colorado Highway 7 between Estes Park and Allenspark at Lily Lake. From Lily Lake, you will ascend about 1,250 vertical feet through wooded areas to Storm Pass.
From Storm Pass you will be afforded with some magnificent views west towards Hallett Peak and the other craggy peaks on the eastern side of the park. Hallett is the easiest peak to spot because of the large sheer cliff on its northeast face (which dumps right down into Dream Lake). Compared to the other trails in this article, the Storm Pass trail is the most sheltered from high winds.
Be sure to also check out these other articles on Rocky Mountain National Park and the other national parks in the state of Colorado: