Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

My husband and I just got back from a romantic getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. We stayed at our cabin at Solitude Cabins where we enjoyed the warm fireplace, views of Longs Peak, and cozy kitchen where we cooked several of our meals.

restaurants in estes park

Besides eating at the cabin, we also enjoyed several meals at local restaurants. Himalayan Curry & Kebob’s spicy cuisine warmed us up as we looked out the window at falling snow. We also enjoyed a warm bowl of soup at Claire’s on the Park for a post-hike lunch.

We selected Bird & Jim’s for our anniversary dinner. Described as, ‘Modern mountain dining from an ingredient-driven kitchen’, dining at this restaurant has been on our Estes Park bucket-list for a long time. We opted to sit in the bar area where we sat on a blue velvety coach. The lounge furniture paired well with our smoked whiskey drinks and hummus appetizer. We enjoyed our meals of roast chicken and steak. The whole experience was perfect!

Estes Park Winter

Our evening walk in downtown Estes Park felt like strolling through a scene in a classic Christmas movie with festive holiday lights and fresh snow.

Estes Park Winter

To warm up from the frosty weather, we enjoyed sampling wine at Snowy Peaks Winery and drinking seasonal pints at our favorite Estes Park brewery, Rock Cut. We sipped Kind Coffee as we strolled down the Estes Park Riverwalk.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is located near the East entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. In the summer, this is a hikers dream-spot. In the winter months you can hike with traction, or snowshoe depending on trail conditions. When we arrived, the area had just received fresh snow, so we rented snowshoes from Estes Park Mountain Shop along with poles with snow baskets on them.

Snowshoe Rental Estes Park colorado

Winter is considered off-peak season in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there are no timed-entry permits to worry about. Finding a parking spot is quite a lot easier, although we were surprised to see a long line at the entrance around noon (holiday week).

Winter Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter Hike to The Loch

We went on two snowshoeing excursions during our trip. The first day we attempted to make it to The Loch. We parked at the Glacier Gorge trailhead which is in the Bear Lake corridor. As we stepped out of the car, we were hit with brutal winds. The winds calmed down significantly once we got deeper into the woods. However, my gloves were no match for the 10-degree temperatures, so I was fairly miserable. I was proud of myself for making it past Alberta Falls to the North Longs Peak Trail junction before giving up when a blast of icy wind blew away our snowshoe tracks and scared me to go beyond that point. We gained about 800 feet of elevation and hiked 3.7 roundtrip.

Romantic vacation Estes Park

There is a winter trail that we missed that skips Alberta Falls but offers a more direct route to The Loch.

shopping in downtown estes park

That afternoon, we enjoyed shopping in downtown Estes Park. We bought adorable Smokey the Bear beanies at Trendz boutique for our little girls. We also bought nice ski gloves for me at Hyk.

Winter Hike to Chasm Lake junction

Wind conditions Rocky Mountain National Park

Bolstered by my new glove purchase, we decided to attempt snowshoeing again the next morning. This time, we headed to the Longs Peak trailhead in hopes of hiking to the Chasm Lake trail junction. My husband enjoyed this hike last January which he wrote about here.

snowshoeing rocky mountain natinoal park

The winds were much more tolerable. I had moments where I felt warm as we gained 1,800 feet of elevation. This hike was beautiful in the snow. Some spots were challenging where the snow was deep.

winter gear hiking

Once we approached the tree line, a gush of what felt like hurricane-force wind came down the mountain and we immediately turned around. It was intense!

I enjoyed the hike back down because it was much easier than the way up and went pretty fast. Our total hike was 4.5 miles. I tried to take in the beauty of the forest in the snow while also looking forward to our awaiting seat-warmers.

Layer upon layer – What I Wore hiking in cold weather

pants: Under Armour cold-weather tights and hiking pants

shirt: base layer turtleneck, fleece, winter coat

feet: wool socks, waterproof hiking boots, snowshoes and poles with snow baskets

extras: sunscreen, sunglasses, beanie, neck gaiter, ski gloves, hiking backpack. *our pack’s straw froze, so pack a separate water bottle

COTREX – location tracker and digital topo maps that don’t require cell signal. Keep in mind that cell phones can freeze up in extremely cold temperatures. I found this article about how to prevent loss of use.

Estes Park Winter Bucket List

The temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, and the first few holiday decorations are going up. Winter is on it’s way, so I’m getting in the spirit by making a winter bucket list for our trip to Estes Park, Colorado.

Go Sledding

Sledding at Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park is our favorite winter activity.

Snowshoe

Snowshoeing is a fun way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter. You can rent snowshoes locally at retailers who rent out gear in Estes Park.

Winter Hike

Some of our favorite winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include Alberta Falls, Moraine Park, and Lily Lake.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

Drink Hot Chocolate

Sipping a steamy cup of hot chocolate is the best way to warm up during the winter months. Our favorite places to get a hot chocolate are Kind Coffee and Trailhead Restaurant. For more ideas, we wrote a fun post last winter about the Best Places to ‘Have a Cup of Cheer’.

Shop for a Christmas ornament

One of our favorite holiday traditions is visiting one of the Christmas Shops in downtown Estes Park and letting each of our girls pick out a special ornament to hang on our tree. The town has several Christmas shops including The Spruce House and The Christmas Shoppe.

Sit by the fireplace with a good book

Our cabin has a great fireplace in the living room and I love to sit next to it and read books while the snow falls outside our window. I wrote a post for fellow Book Lovers here.

Star Gaze

Fascinated by outer space? The Estes Park Memorial Observatory schedules private viewing sessions for groups who enjoy learning about astronomy.

go to a Movie theater

Estes Park has two movie theaters, Reel Mountain and the Historic Park Theatre & Cafe. Both venues are showing Frozen II this winter – a movie that our daughters want to watch again and again.

float down the lazy river

The Estes Valley Community Center opened a new pool with a lazy river, slides and water play area. There are resident and non-resident fees to use the facility. 

Attend a local festival

The winter is full of exciting events in Estes Park including:

  • Estes Park Tree Lighting Ceremony – 3:30-5:30 pm on November 23, 2019
  • Catch the Glow Parade – 5:30 pm on November 29, 2019
  • Estes Park Holiday Wine Fest – November 30 – December 1, 2019
  • Estes Park Winter Festival – January 19 – 20, 2020
  • Wine and Chocolate Festival – February 8, 2020

Check out the Estes Park Event Complex’s website for more information.

art groove

The First Friday Art Groove events in Estes Park celebrate local artists. A Winter Trolley will run between the galleries. Art Groove events are from 5pm to 8pm on December 6, January 3, and February 7. The event is free to the public.

Enjoy a quiet moment of reflection

This time of year can be hectic with events and shopping. My natural inclination is to have a to-do list running through my head. Seeking out quiet places to reflect on the year will help me maintain a sense of peace and appreciation.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel (Chapel on the Rock) is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM, except on national holidays. There is a weekly Catholic Mass every Tuesday at 11:45 AM.

Guide for Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado This Winter – 1 Day Itinerary

breakfast at a local coffee shop

The first thing on my mind when I wake up on a cold winter morning is drinking a warm cup of coffee. Our day started in downtown Estes Park at our favorite local coffee shop, Kind Coffee. I featured Kind Coffee when I wrote about the Best Places to Have a ‘Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park. My girls were delighted to get hot chocolates. Along with our coffees, I ordered oatmeal and my husband enjoyed a breakfast burrito.

sledding in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of our day was going sledding as a family. After breakfast, we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park towards Hidden Valley. It is the only place within the park where you are allowed to go sledding. We were immediately hit with a strong blast of winter wind when we opened the doors to our SUV. We bundled up and started walking up hill to find the perfect sled run. Thankfully, the tall pines blocked the gusts. We flew down the hill on our little blue sled. We took turns – I was secretly competing with my husband to see how far I could make the sled go.

sledding at hidden valley in rocky mountain national park

Winter Hike at Lily Lake

After everyone had enough sledding, we decided to head over to Lily Lake for a short winter hike. The lake was mostly frozen over, but not solid. The wind made a marble pattern across the top. We enjoyed views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lily Lake frozen in ice. Views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in rocky mountain national park

lunch

For lunch we went to my husband’s favorite sandwich shop. Scratch Deli makes fresh, delicious sandwiches. We took our meals back to our cabin and enjoyed lunch around our table. After lunch, we rested for awhile. We took showers and changed out of our snow gear. The girls happily played with each other, but refused to nap.

afternoon scenic drive around estes park

We decided to carry out our secret nap plan. An afternoon drive is a great way to explore the surrounding area. We saw a large herd of elk near our cabin. The girls drifted off to sleep as we cruised along the curvy mountain roads.

herd of elk in rocky mountain national park

shop estes park

In the late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Estes Park to go shopping. Cliffhanger Used Books is my favorite place to shop. I picked out three novels and several children’s books. Our total was under $20. Proceeds benefit the Estes Valley Library.

wine tasting in estes park

Happy with my deals, we walked further down the block to do a wine tasting at Snowy Peaks winery. The girls enjoyed their colorful play room and got to pick out a special rock from their treasure chest after they cleaned up the toys that entertained them while we sipped local wines.

family dinner in downtown estes park

For dinner we headed to a restaurant that has become a family-tradition, Mama Rose’s. The girls shared a milk flight and enjoyed spaghetti (our oldest) and meatballs (our youngest).

mountain retreat

After a full day, we headed back to our cabin. On a short trip, it’s hard to decide what to fit in. I hope our winter 1-day winter itinerary is helpful for anyone planning a trip to Estes Park this season. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below.

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Earlier this month we took a winter trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Little did we know, a few weeks later the national parks would be affected by the current government shutdown. Unfortunately, that means visitors can’t drive into the park. Based on articles I’ve read, this hasn’t had a big impact on the local economy yet because winter is typically a slower season. With that said, I hope that the situation is resolved soon!

Moraine Park

During our December trip, we enjoyed a brief but beautiful hike in Moraine Park beginning at the Cub Lake trail head. We chose this area because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

I was excited when this picture was featured on the instagram feed @visitestespark where over 930 people liked it.

The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for. The Big Thompson River was mostly frozen and seem to glimmer against the blue sky and snow covered mountain backdrop.

rocky mountain national park

Luckily, you don’t have to walk far before tall trees and surrounding rock formations block the wind. Our four-year-old daughter veered off the path to scramble up boulders to join her sister and dad taking in the peaceful views.

view of moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Beautiful views are not the only reason to visit Moraine Park, it is also a great place to encounter wildlife. Last fall we wrote, Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Toddler Friendly Hiking

toddler friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

Our nearly two-year-old insisted on hiking in her pajamas, wearing socks as gloves, and borrowing my hat. She held on to my husband’s hand in icy patches, but wanted to show off her independence by walking at her own pace. This led to our decision to cut the hike short. The trail to Cub Lake is 2.5 miles each way. We wrote about this hike in more detail in a previous post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Cub Lake.

log bridge in moraine valley near big thompson river

New Year Goals

As we look forward to a New Year and new outdoor adventures, our goal is to have the girls walking rather than riding in kid-carriers during many of our hikes. We are excited to discover new hikes in the Rocky Mountains and the Ozark Mountains which are located near our new home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We will write about all of them in our family hiking journal and also look forward to sharing with y’all too!