Since moving near Rocky Mountain National Park we’ve developed a huge love for hiking, and our favorite time of year is winter. Once upon a time I used to find winter hiking very intimidating, it does take more planning, but winter hiking is a true gem. The crowds thin out, the cold crisp air is invigorating, and the views are just incredible, it’s like hiking in a snow globe!
There are lots of amazing trails for all fitness levels throughout Rocky Mountain National Park but today I’m going to share with you my five favorite easy winter trails on the east side of the park. I’m also listing some of our favorite AFFORDABLE winter essentials for hiking.
- Micro-spikes – These are our favorite, so lightweight and easy to put on. They are essential for traction in ice and packed snow!
- Hiking poles – These are our favorite, and come in lots of fun colors, and they work for all seasons.
- Map or GPS – We use and love the Alltrails.com Pro app, but we also keep a map handy if our battery dies.
- Base-layer top and bottoms – To insulate the body and wick away sweat, this is my favorite pair and Brian’s.
- Mid-layer – Such as a fleece top.
- Waterproof Insulated pants and jackets
- Warm socks
- Waterproof gloves
- Insulated waterproof hiking boots
- Hat and neck warmer – or this combo one.
- Sunglasses – Ski googles are a lifesaver on extremely windy days!
- Sunscreen – Winter sun is intense!
- Water in an insulated container – Regular water bottles can freeze during winter hiking.
Winter weather in Rocky Mountain National Park can be quite unpredictable. You may not need all of the items above, but it’s a good idea to have them handy just in case.
- Distance 0.9 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 10 feet
- Directions: Enter Rocky Mountain National Park on highway 36, turn left on Bear Lake Road, go about 6 miles and turn left at the sign for Sprague Lake.
Sprague Lake is the perfect easy winter warm up hike for all ages, there is very little elevation gain so it’s wheelchair and stroller friendly too. Here you’ll see dreamy views of the continental divide, cross bridges, read historical information about the lake, and see children playing on the frozen snow covered lake. You’ll probably see trout in the babbling stream too.
- Distance 0.8 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 45 feet
- Directions: From highway 36 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn left on Bear Lake Road, go all the way to the end which is a little over 9 miles.
Parking at Bear Lake is the summer is a nightmare, you may wait a little bit in the winter for parking depending on the time of day, but overall it’s much easier. This popular lake trail always has a crowd but don’t let that keep you away. The views all around the lake are stunning!
Walking around Bear Lake is like a true winter wonderland, you’ll see stunning mountain views, gorgeous snow covered pine trees, icicles, and a snowy view of Hallet Peak. This trail is perfect for all ages.
- Distance 2.2 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 450 feet
- Directions: The trailhead is at Bear Lake. From highway 36 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn left on Bear Lake Road, go all the way to the end which is a little over 9 miles.
Starting at Bear Lake, the hike up to Dream Lake is incredibly stunning in every direction. Staying on the trail can be tricky at times, especially after fresh snow because people go off the trail a lot. Pay attention to signs, and it’s a good idea to bring GPS if you’re unfamiliar with this trail. You’ll start gaining some altitude with this trail but it’s an easy trail as long as the weather cooperates. Dream Lake can have very bitter cold winds in the winter so dress very warmly, also be prepared for deep snow in spots.
The close views of Hallet Peak are absolutely incredible and make any extreme weather worth it.
- Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 640 feet
- Directions: From highway 34 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn right at the Old Fall River Road sign and park in the West Alluvial Fan Trailhead parking lot, and continue hiking west along the road past the winter gate.
In the summer Old Fall River Road is a one way road that takes you up to the Alpine Visitor Center. In the winter the road closes to all vehicles and it becomes a great hiking trail. The trail starts out flat, walking through groves of sleeping aspen trees and beautiful snowy mountain views in the distance. As you near the waterfall you’ll get the heart pumping with a few switchbacks but it’s nothing that in-shape older people or enthusiastic kids can’t handle. You’ll see a sign for Chasm Falls to the left and follow steps down to the waterfall.
Partially frozen, the waterfall is beautiful! You can hear and see the water dropping 25 feet under a veil of ice into the icy pools below. There is railing everywhere so it’s safe and a beautiful photo taking spot! We usually see only a few other hikers on this trail, which is a nice bonus.
- Distance 4.4 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 630 feet
- Directions: From highway 36 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn left on Bear Lake Road. Go about 7 miles to the Bierstadt Lake sign and parking lot on the right.
Bierstadt Lake is a favorite trail of ours any time of year, but the winter season has a completely different feel from the summer. Bierstadt Lake has low crowds in the winter making it a quiet peaceful trail. You’ll begin this trail walking through pine trees, then transition into switchbacks with sweeping views of Long’s Peak and the Continental Divide. The trail is narrow and often ice packed so traction devices are extremely helpful.
Once you reach the top you’ll be greeted by a quiet forest of pine trees surrounding the lake. You can turn around and go back at this point or continue the loop around the lake following the orange tags on the trees to stay on trail. There are clearings along the trees to allow access to the lake. On a clear day you’ll be able to see sweeping views of the mountains behind the lake. I love walking around the lake being surrounded by snowy pine trees. Snow can be quite deep in some areas around the lake, it’s a great spot for snowshoeing too. We see older kids do this trail all the time, it depends on their comfort level.
If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the wintertime I hope I’ve convinced you to go on a winter hike. It’s truly a magical time of year. Bring sure to bring an insulated pot of hot cocoa to enjoy after your hike!