After a snowfall, Estes Park resembles a Currier and Ives painting. Holiday lights illuminate freshly fallen snow on the trees along the Big Thompson River. Snow squeaks underfoot. Rocky Mountain National Park is just minutes away.
Visit Estes Park and can enjoy the winter outdoors the old-fashioned way on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis. Kids of all ages experience thrills and spills at the tubing hill at Hidden Valley. Many outdoor shops in town rent snowshoes, cross country skis, sleds and tubes.
I’m a bit of a klutz when it comes to winter sports so I enjoy snowshoeing. It’s super easy. My wife and I strap on our snowshoes and walk, careful to lift our feet so we don’t trip over our supersized feet. Bindings hold the front of the boot, permitting a natural stride while the metal cleats on the bottom of the snowshoe provide traction when walking up or down slopes. I use ski poles to protect my cranky knees and to provide brakes when I descend a steep slope. Once we get the hang of snowshoeing it’s very much like hiking.
And snowshoeing is a great way to burn calories from those extra cookies and a double helping of Christmas ham. One hour of snowshoeing can burn 600 calories! For that reason, I dress in layers so I can strip down when I heat up. I make sure to wear waterproof boots to keep my feet warm.
One of our favorite trails is a two-mile loop above Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail winds through a thick forest of lodgepole pine. If we’re lucky, snow is gently falling through the trees and the only sound is the squeak of our snowshoes on the trail. At Sprague Lake, there is a favorite bench where we drink hot tea and munch on a muffin as we gaze at snow-covered Hallett Peak.
If you’d like a little guidance the first time out, Rocky Mountain National Park offers ranger-led, ecology snowshoe walks for beginning snowshoers. Call 970-586-1206 for information.
If you catch the snowshoeing bug and want to learn more, don’t miss Winter Trails Day on Saturday, January 14, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This free snowshoe festival at the Bear Lake Park and Ride offers hundreds of demo snowshoes for adults and children, advice from snowshoe experts, and outdoor gear displays.
If you’re a little more adventurous and athletically inclined, explore the hundreds of miles of snow-covered trails in Rocky Mountain National Park on cross-country skis. Technology has advanced since my wife and I ventured out on wooden skis that are now decorating our friend’s mountain cabin. Cross-country ski bindings let the heels lift off the ski, allowing a striding motion with fish scales on the bottom to provide traction. Most beginners begin with a walking motion, but as they gain proficiency they achieve the “kick and glide” of the pros. The Park’s ungroomed trails are ideal for skiing but watch out for the slower snowshoers.
Flying down a snow-covered hillside on an inner tube is the definition of family fun. When our son was a tyke, we took him to Hidden Valley to sled down the slopes on his plastic, red sled. Today, the site of the old Hidden Valley Ski Area is the only place where the Park allows sledding. Tubing here is accomplished the old-fashioned way: we walk our sled, saucer or tube up the hill and slide down. It’s a pretty gentle hill, formerly the bottom of the bunny slope of the old ski area. Afterward, we warm our toes in the warming hut. The bathrooms have flush toilets.
Ice Skating & Ice Fishing
Imagine ice skating under sun-soaked winter skies with a stunning view of the Continental Divide. Trout Haven Fishing Pond has this and more. It is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the winter. You can even try your hand at ice fishing. Trout Haven provides all the equipment including an ice shanty. It’s great fun for families, couples, and individuals. No fishing license is required. Call 970-577-0202 for pricing.
Celebrate the Martin Luther King Holiday at The Estes Park Winter Festival from January 14-15, 2017 at the Estes Park Event Complex. Sip a microbrew or glass of wine and listen to live music (Amplified Souls, Air Traffic Controllers, Dixie Leadfoot, and Chain Station). There’s singing and folk dancing as well as a chili cook-off.
The kids can explore The Shutterbus, a working vintage VW van complete with a photo booth. They can also try out the bungee run, obstacle course, St. Bernard Rescue and the Frozen-themed bounce house.
Relax and Unwind
After a day in the park, warm up with a cup of warm tea or hot chocolate as you browse the shops in downtown Estes Park. With the snow on the peaks and the brisk mountain air, there is no better place.
Written by Steve Mitchell