By Gloria Wadzinski
I love to go hiking and Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places to explore. But, the Park trails are covered in snow from Fall through early June, making it hazardous to navigate with just hiking boots. This year, I wasn't going to let a little snow keep me off the trails. I decided to try snowshoeing.
Two Sides of the Park - East and West
Trail Ridge Road connects the east side of the Park with the west side. Since the road closes in winter, my first decision was whether to snowshoe on the east side near Estes Park, or on the west side near Grand Lake. Both sides have great trails but I chose east simply because of the mileage from my home in Boulder.
Boots and Snowshoes
Buying recreational hiking snowshoes can cost anywhere from $50 to $500. Being my first time, the best option for me was to rent. I rented a pair of basic snowshoes and poles for $6 from the Estes Park Mountain Shop, but there are also several other stores that rent in Estes Park and in my home town of Boulder.
Showshoes are pretty much one-size-fits-all with options for adults and children. They have adjustable bindings that will fit snugly around your boots. For footwear, you want a rugged sole and ankle support such as a hiking boot or sturdy winter boot. I owned a good pair of boots but I could have rented insulated boots for an additional $10 per day.
Beaver Meadows Visitor Center
My next stop was the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center which is just outside the Park entrance. They have ranger-led snowshoe tours three times per week, and a moonlight snowshoe tour once a month at the full moon. These tours are free but they require an advance reservation. I didn't have a reservation so I was on my own, but the ranger did have some good advice on where I should go.
1. Sprague Lake
I headed over to Sprague Lake for my first snowshoe romp. Sprague Lake is easy to get to in the Park and has a nice-sized parking lot. There is a small bridge that gives you access to the lake's trail (pictured at top of page). The lake is one of the most photographed spots in the park with fabulous views of snowy peaks, especially beautiful at sunrise. The trail around Sprague Lake is a mere half mile and has virtually no elevation gain. This was a perfect location for me to get my snow legs.
2. Nymph Lake
After the very easy walk around Sprague Lake, I was ready for something a little more challenging. I drove down to the Bear Lake area parking lot. Bear Lake has restroom facilities and is the starting point for many trails, including Emerald Lake (trailhead pictured above). On your way to Emerald Lake, you will pass by two other lakes, Nymph Lake (my destination), and Dream Lake. To get to Nymph Lake, you hike about a half mile with an elevation gain of 230 feet - another easy trek. Up at Nymph Lake, I took the trail around the lake with several great vantage points of peaks and towering pines (pictured below).
If you are more ambitious, you could do the entire trail to Emerald Lake which is 1.8 miles one way with an elevation gain of 615 feet.
3. Bear Lake
After getting down from Nymph Lake, I decided to take the short walk around Bear Lake. Like the others, this is about a half-mile around the lake. Since Bear Lake is so accessible, you'll see more people on this trail and on the lake itself. The lake is surrounded by beautiful peaks from every angle, and a few icicle falls from melting snow.
In all, I snowshoed a little over two miles in total and saw some awe-inspiring sights in three areas of the park. I can recommend this adventure to explorers of all ages and abilities including families with young children.