Winter is one of my favorite times to travel and explore Colorado. I love the crisp, cold air and the beautiful snowy mountains and trees, it’s a frozen winter paradise! After 2020 ended I was determined 2021 would be an amazing year full of fun and adventure. I know we’re still dealing with Covid and everyone needs to be careful so a road trip to explore the Rifle Mountain Park was perfect for us, and I was able to check off another Colorado bucket list item, exploring ice caves!
The ice caves are formed after several cycles of freezing and thawing and typically take their shape from December to February. Each ice cave is uniquely beautiful with hues of aqua throughout the ice. It’s a true winter gem.
Rifle Mountain Park is located just north of the town of Rifle, about an hour from Glenwood Springs (another favorite place of ours). Some people opt to park by the entrance sign and walk in, while others prefer to drive closer to the caves. The park road follows the East Rifle Creek through the canyon, and on the other side of the creek is Koper’s Trail. There are small parking areas along the way, with bridges to cross the creek to allow cave access. You can also park at the Koper’s Trail trailhead and hike along the creek to all the caves.
Admission to the park is $5 per vehicle. You pay at a kiosk just past the entrance sign.
The drive into the park is nothing short of stunning. The road parallels the trail and creek so if snow or terrain is ever too difficult you can cross over a bridge and walk on the road. In the summer rock climbing is popular in Rifle Mountain Park, and in the winter you may spot some ice climbers as well.
The trail is a mixture of snow, ice, and dirt. Inside the caves the ground is solid uneven ice. It’s crucial to wear microspikes – or even better crampons – to avoid falling. Poles are helpful when navigating around rocks and terrain on the trail, but poles alone will not help you in the cave. If you don’t have a solid traction device on your feet please don’t enter the cave. Also it’s winter in Colorado so remember to wear a warm synthetic or wool base layer, possibly a mid layer (I usually don’t need one if I’m active), waterproof pants, a jacket, gloves, hat, and waterproof snow boots. Don’t forget to pack some water and snacks too!
The first cave is a a short hike from the beginning of the Koper’s Trail. Upon entering I was in awe of this beautiful icy fantasy land, it’s like walking behind a blue frozen waterfall. Inside, the ground was a frozen thick sheet of ice with icicles hanging from the ceiling. You could hear and see water trickling beneath the ice in some areas but the icy ground was solid.
The caves are large enough to walk around in, and although they can be dim in certain areas you do not need a flashlight to see inside.
Someone on Instagram mentioned how cute it was that I matched the ice caves. Haha… it was unplanned I promise!
The second cave is a little farther down the trail, with a little elevation but nothing extreme. Poles can be helpful here, remember you can always exit and walk along the road where it’s easier.
The second cave is a bit larger, with a narrow opening on one side and a larger one on the other end.
Below is one of the bridges connecting the road/parking lot to the Koper’s Trail that leads to the caves. The creek is warmed by the groundwater with beautiful green aquatic plants growing inside it, even in January.
We had heard that there are more ice caves farther up the trail, but by the time we exited the second cave it had started snowing really hard so we decided to head back. Based on our research, though, we heard that the first two caves were the best.
Crampons | Poles | Base-layer | Hat (so many fun colors!) | Down Jacket (runs small so order a size up)
I think everyone should explore this beautiful frozen trail, and especially the ice caves. After exploring the caves we went back to Glenwood Springs for a nice quiet hot spring soak which was fantastic, and then the next day we ventured a little farther to Ouray, Colorado, where we had more frozen fun. I’ll be sharing our Ouray trip on the blog soon. Happy winter!