Cross-country & Backcountry Skiing in Estes Park

Cross-country & Backcountry Skiing in Estes Park

Estes Park is a small town known for its picturesque winters. A wonderland averaging about eighty-two inches of snow annually. This amount of fresh powder attracts ski bums from all over the country. Making the Rocky Mountains one of the most sought-after winter destinations. In contrast, the town also sees an average of 238 sunny days per year. The warmth of the sun at that altitude makes the winter days less chilling. February is the best time to ski in Colorado due to the base depth of snow on the mountains. As result, ski resorts in the state can be very heavily populated in the winter months. Making cross-country and backcountry skiing a popular hobby for locals and visitors. Estes Park is an underrated place for Ski Enthusiasts. Offering different options for skill levels. Keep reading to learn more about the cross-country and backcountry skiing options in Estes Park.

Trail Ridge Road is located in Rocky Mountain National Park. A driving destination in the summer months, which are from May to June. Trail Ridge Road sits at 12,183 feet in the sky. The road was constructed in 1931 by the National Park Service. Connecting the Estes Park from the east entrance to the Grand Lake west entrance of the park. This forty-eight-mile road has jaw-dropping views making it an unforgettable and terrifying drive. Due to the potential danger of the highway, it shuts down completely in the winter months. Plowing only up until the viewpoint section at Many Parks Curve. The windy road completely opens up to cross-country skiers in the winter. The admittance to this hike is a $25 National Park Fee that you would pay at the entry gate. Grab your ski gear and spend the whole day here. The stunning views of the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains is the perfect skiing backdrop. Being allowed to ski in a National Park is a bucket list item for most. It is recommended to always check road conditions with Rocky Mountain National Park before starting your adventure. Being prepared for winter adventures is a very important factor. 


Visitors coming to Estes Park do not need to bring their gear with them. Equipment rentals are available in town. Estes Park Mountain Shop offers rentals for cross country skis, AT skis, and downhill. Gloves hats and winter clothing are also available to rent. Colorado weather can be very unpredictable. It stays mostly sunny between winter storms. It is not uncommon to see sixty degrees and sunny one day. Then twenty degrees and blizzard conditions the next. If you can’t fit four seasons in your suitcase, Estes Park Mountain Shop has you covered. 


Additionally located in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Hidden Valley Snow Park. Enter from the Estes Park entrance and drive to the Hidden Valley picnic area. This spot is a backcountry skiers paradise. It was once a ski resort back in the early 1950s until the early 1990s. It was commonly used by locals in the 1950s even before the chair lifts were built. The lifts are no longer there as the resort became abandoned over time. The National Park Service eventually closed the area in the early 1990s. Today, skiers are able to walk up the trail where the old runs were. The slope trails are narrow so skiers take turns down the mountain. There are spots for tree shots which is a skiing area with great open trees. This area gives a bit more variety than the flatter trails sought by cross-country skiers. Hidden Valley is not just a hotspot for skiers either. The bunny hill from the old ski resort is now used for sledding and tubing. A great family destination, providing something for everyone. There is no fee to use this area besides the initial park entrance fee. Note that this spot is not supervised. Going in groups is recommended.


Cross-country skiing can be a fantastic winter workout. Sprague Lake – Glacier Basin Campground Loop is a ski trail for beginners. It has a minimal elevation gain of 246 feet and remains relatively flat. The 2.7-mile loop brings you around the lake and into the forest. A winter picnic is a must here. There are picnic tables located off the Sprague Lake Road parking lot. Cross Country Skiing burns an average of 800 calories per hour. So enjoy your much-earned lunch as you admire the scenic views of the park. 


mountaineer-skiingAn important rule for all cross-country and backcountry skiers is being prepared. Avalanches can be fatal and are extremely common in Colorado. Approximately 2,300 avalanches are reported to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) every season. With even more occurring that are unreported.  Backcountry skiers can trigger avalanches if skiing on the wrong terrain. Loose snow avalanches are triggered by ski cutting or started accidentally while skiing. Especially on steep terrain. Be sure to research all areas before descending. You can check current conditions on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center Website at It is updated daily and has an avalanche rating system. Low being one to five being extreme. If the area reaches above a three, it is advised to consider a different area.  You can also call the Rocky Mountain National Park information line at 970-586-1206 for the latest conditions and snow reports.


Staying on populated trails can be a safer bet. Trails that do not have ski tracks or boot marks can be more dangerous. The more remote a trail is, the looser the snow is. Looking for packed-down snow or other cars around is a good start. Winter adventuring should not be a frightening experience. As long as you do your research, your personal snow day will be everything you imagined. Estes Park may not be rated as one of the top ski areas in Colorado, but it very well should be. The variety of trails make it a perfect destination for backcountry and cross-country skiers. Whether it is your first time or the hundredth time. Grab your skis and hit the road, Estes Park is waiting for you. 


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