Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

By Courtney Holden ,
Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Check out the winter wonderland that is Rocky Mountain National Park between November and March. Just make sure to do a bit of planning and preparation before heading into this lovely white landscape.

What to Wear in Winter

Layer up! Temperatures often dip well below freezing, yet it’s easy to work up a sweat if you’re engaging in strenuous activity skiing or snowshoeing. That means you’ll want to strip down when you’re hot and put more layers on when you’re cold. Wear insulating layers and a waterproof coat on the outside. If you’re going to be tromping through the snow, wear boots, waterproof pants or gaiters to keep feet and legs warm and dry.

Also remember that at high elevations, the sun is especially harsh. Be sure to wear sunglasses and use sunscreen.

Winter Wildlife Watching in Rocky Mountain

Because animals move down to lower elevations during the harsh Colorado winters, the winter months can be a great time to see wildlife. Animals are less likely to stay in the more remote, higher regions of the park, and may even wander into town.

Elk

In winter, the elk herd in Rocky Mountain National Park numbers between 600 and 800. Colder temperatures above treeline drive them to lower areas like Moraine Park and often into the gateway town of Estes Park. The elk’s brownish tan coats are easy to spot against the white snow.

Mule Deer

Male mule deer, or bucks, are in search of mates during October and November. Keep an eye out for their grayish, brownish, tannish coats.

Bighorn Sheep

Loud crashing sounds in the park likely mean two bighorn sheep are nearby. Male rams challenge each other in November and December with headbutts so loud they can be heard a mile away.

Black Bears

Black bears need their beauty sleep. You’re not likely to see one of these bears since they hibernate during the winter.

Moose

Moose love the cold, wet mushy valleys. Find them on the west side of the park in Kauwneeche Valley.

Winter Roads in Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road is Closed in Winter

One of the highest paved roads in the United States, Trail Ridge Road peaks out at 12,183 feet. High elevations, exposure and lots of snow lead park officials to close it during the winter months. Depending on the year and the snowfall, sections of it are often closed between mid-October and late May. Generally, the road closes 8 miles from the east side entrances at Many Parks Curve and about 10 miles from the western Grand Lake Entrance at the Colorado River Trailhead. Officials may reopen the road if weather and conditions permit; however, if you’re traveling in the depths of winter, don’t plan on it.

Related Story: In Winter, Rocky Mountain National Park Splits in Two

Other Park Roads

Endovalley Road is closed at the West Alluvial Fan parking area. Those on foot or bicycle are allowed beyond the closure, as are leashed pets.

Old Fall River Road is also currently closed to vehicles, although this is largely due to damage it incurred during the September 2013 flood.

The following roads are currently open, but weather conditions might change that status:

- Bear Lake Road
- Fern Lake Road
- Wild Basin Road
- Twin Sisters Trailhead Access Road
- Upper Beaver Meadows Road

Call at 970-586-1222 or visit this webpage for the most up-to-date information: http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/road_status.htm.

Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Centers in Winter

Alpine Visitor Center is closed for the season and will reopen in late May 2015, weather permitting.

Located three miles west of Estes Park on U.S. Highway 36, Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is open year-round from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas day.

Fall River Visitor Center, located five mile west of Estes Park on U.S. Highway 34, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. between November 29 and December 28 on weekends. Exceptions include November 28, December 22-23, December 26, and December 29 - January 1, when it’s also open.

Visitors can check out the Holzwarth Historic Site year-round, although there’s no access to the inside during the winter. This site is located on Trail Ridge Road/U.S. Highway 34 about 7 miles north of the Grand Lake entrance station on the park’s west side.

Just a mile outside of Grand Lake, the Kawuneeche Visitor Center is open all year from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for Thanksgiving and Christmas day.

Moraine Park Discovery Center closes for the winter.