If you’re already dreaming of snow and starting to plan your winter adventures, Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing winter playground for those willing to bundle up. Peaks look larger when they are covered in snow and forests seem more expansive. Maybe it’s because each footstep on snowshoes takes a bit more effort or maybe it’s how your feet sink silently into the soft snow.
If you are visiting for more than a day, winter is also a great time to take advantage of cheaper lodging rates in Estes Park and other surrounding towns. We’ve chosen three of our favorite (and most scenic!) snowshoe routes for you to explore.
1. Gem Lake
Distance: 1.8 miles one-way
For a mellow (but still substantial) hike, try Gem Lake, accessed via the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. This 3.6-mile round trip walk is busy in the summer, but less traveled in winter. The hike includes sections that meander through forests, and steep switchbacks on the ascent. The lake itself is small and sits beneath layered granite cliffs whose dark minerals provide a dramatic backdrop to the ice-covered water.
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Directions: Park at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. From the parking lot, take the trail that goes to the right. It should be well marked as the trail to Gem Lake. After hiking for ½ mile, you will come upon the Black Canyon Trail Junction. Keep right to continue to Gem Lake. After another 1.3 miles you will reach Gem Lake.
2. Cub Lake and The Pool Loop
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Combine the Cub Lake and the Pool trails in a loop for a stunning snowshoe route. A forest fire in 2012 sadly burned much of the area around Cub Lake, but the bare trees that line the trail make for a hauntingly beautiful scene. Be sure to check out the frozen waterfalls along the trail.
Directions: Start at the Cub Lake Trailhead. Keep right at the South Lateral Moraine Trail Junction (mile 0.5) to stay on the Cub Lake Trail. At 2.3 miles, avoid the small trail leading to the Cub Creek Backcountry Campsites and stay on the main trail to reach Cub Lake.
Continue along the Cub Lake Trail to reach the Pool. About 0.2 miles past Cub Lake, you will come to the Hollowell Park Trail Intersection. Keep right to the Pool (1.0 miles further along the trail).
Follow the Fern Lake Trailhead back to your car from the Pool.
3. Deer Mountain Hike
Distance: 6.2 miles roundtrip
For a strenuous hike, half-day hike, go for the summit of Deer Mountain. The peak tops out at 10,013 feet, quite a bit lower than many mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park so the weather at the summit tends to be more predictable (though be sure to check weather ahead of time, as storms can come in quickly and can make for dangerous conditions above treeline). Declare victory when you reach the top and take in the breathtaking views of the Continental Divide.
Directions: Park at the Deer Ridge Trailhead to access the trail. Take the Deer Mountain Trail traveling east from the parking lot. At 2.9 miles, the trail to the summit veers up to the right. Continue on this trail to the peak of Deer Mountain.
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