3 Easy Rocky Mountain Snowshoeing Trails

Nothing made me feel more like an adventurer than snowshoeing through Rocky Mountain National Park. Even for someone who thinks he knows every peak, ridgeline, and tree can expect to feel a little out of his element in a new and exciting way when the trail is lost beneath the snow, and the terrain is made unfamiliar by the wintertime elements. A hushed quiet and feeling of seclusion fell over the landscape; a hard atmosphere to achieve in the summer when the park's massive attendance often steals the wild from wilderness. Snowshoeing as a winter sport has gained traction (pun-intended) because it's inexpensive, relatively low-risk, and open access, meaning almost anyone can try it! 


Even though snowshoes are relatively inexpensive, compared to the startup cost of other winter sports like cross-country skiing or snowboarding, I would recommend renting your first pair. My friend and super talented photographer, Faith, had an extra pair for me to borrow, but Estes Park Mountain Shop is right on Route 34--you'll pass it on the left as you drive toward the park entrance--and rents shoes for only $5.00, ALL DAY! 

They even rent mountain boots if you're feeling like you might need some extra security. 
I wore regular waterproof leather Tevas and while I romped around without too much of a problem, my boots were a little slender for the snowshoe bindings and kept slipping out. 
Next time, I'll try to wear bulkier mountain or snow boots to achieve a better snowshoe fit. 

Rocky Mountain Snowshoeing Trails

The fit is important, so you'll want to make sure that you try them in the store, and rent a pair whose length (in inches) matches your body weight (i.e. lighter the load, smaller the shoe). RMP backcountry is typically not flat so rolling terrain snowshoes will make for the best experience because they have more aggressive crampons and beastier bindings, but if you plan to walk around some of the park's more well-travelled trails, like the ones I recommend here, flat terrain shoes will work just fine too. 

Before you head out though, definitely check the weather conditions! The National Park Service monitors snowfall, wind speed, temperatures, trail conditions, and road closures. Check this site out first to make sure that the Bear Lake Road isn't closed and that the wind will be mostly calm for your excursion. Our trip was cut a bit short because wind gusts in unprotected meadows forced us to turn back.  

Bear Lake Trailhead Snowshoeing
Center: Mike, wiping snow off my face from a gust of wind. 


Bear Lake Loop
This short loop around Bear Lake is less than a mile long, basically flat terrain, and considered one the park's easiest "hikes." Don't let the easy-descriptor turn you off though, because snow-packed trails are harder to navigate, and you might find that this lake lap is a perfect entry-level experience. 

Dream Lake 
Our excursion to this sub-alpine lake was just enough of an adventure on a day when the average temperature was only six degrees! The snow was light and powdery, and when Mike decided to test the "floating" superpower of his snowshoes on a drift, he fell straight through so be careful. Even though this trail is a bit further into the forest, it's still well-travelled--we passed by fellow snowshoers and cross-country skiers. 

Emerald Lake
If you decide to push farther, Emerald Lake is just beyond Dream Lake. You'll likely get warm as you gain about 600 feet of elevation and snowshoe about 3.5 miles round trip. If it's overcast, the incredible views of Hallett Peak, and Long's Peak--Colorado's infamous fourteener--will be invisible, lost in low, white clouds. There are also places along this trail when the forest breaks and you cross through open terrain. If it's windy, snowshoeing through these meadows without the cover of the trees, can be harsh--this is where we had to turn around. That being said, the payoff is a subalpine lake sparkling under snowcapped peaks.

Dream Lake Trail Rocky Mountain National Park
These trails are open all year for exploring the mountain wilderness, and whether you want to stay fit through the winter or you want to try a new winter sport, snowshoeing can be as easy as walking or as exhilarating as racing. Yeah, snowshoe racing is a thing! 

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