4 Days 153 Miles
Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter
The snow is gently falling, the sky is a deep blue and the Rocky Mountains are covered in a sparkling white blanket. There’s something that makes winter in Rocky Mountain National Park stand out amongst a sea of snow-covered destinations—the feeling of pure joy and exhilaration that comes with every outdoor adventure.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or snowshoer looking to explore the park’s many majestic trails, a skier eager to hit the slopes or simply someone who loves being surrounded by natural beauty, Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect place to enjoy all that winter has to offer.
With so much to do and see, it can be hard to know where to start when planning a trip to Rocky Mountain. So, here’s a four-day itinerary that will help you make the most of your winter wonderland experience.
Where to Stay Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is located just a short drive from the charming town of Estes Park, where the famous Ridgeline Hotel offers stunning panoramas of the park and cozy lodgings for a winter getaway. Where luxury meets mountains, The Ridgeline is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and recharge your batteries.
Day 1 – Downtown Estes Park
Day one of your Rocky Mountain adventure is all about exploring the charming mountain town of Estes Park. A relaxing day in town will also give you some extra time to adjust to altitude. Downtown Estes Park is home to more than 200 local businesses for shopping, dining and browsing local art.
Begin your morning with a delicious breakfast or lunch at The Egg of Estes on Elkhorn Avenue. The expansive menu features dishes crafted with locally sourced ingredients. You’ll find something for everyone with vegetarian, gluten free and kid-friendly options. After you’ve had your fill, it’s time to take a stroll through the town.
Elkhorn and Moraine Avenues make up the heart of Downtown Estes Park. From old fashioned candy and ice cream to souvenir t-shirts and handmade jewelry, you could spend days browsing all of the local boutiques here. Check out Earthwood Artisans or Wild Spirits Art Gallery for a unique collection of art and gifts from more than 100 national and regional artists.
Between shopping, make sure to sample the variety of local libations. Build your own flight at The Barrel, which offers a daily rotating tap selection. In addition to craft beers, the brewery also serves hard kombucha, CBD seltzer, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages. For delicious local wine, check out Snowy Peaks Winery to taste award-winning wines and pick up some savory souvenirs like handmade cheeses and chocolates.
For a warm and intimate dinner, make a reservation at Bird & Jim. Seasonal menus are inspired by sustainably and locally sourced ingredients, and dishes can range from hearty bison burgers to light and fresh tuna poke. Pair your dinner with a local bottle of wine, carefully selected by the restaurant’s sommelier.
Get a good night’s rest for tomorrow’s outdoor adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park!
Day 2 – Winter Hiking
There’s no better way to experience Rocky Mountain National Park than exploring it on foot. Stop by the Estes Park Mountain Shop to grab your microspikes or snowshoes. Trust us—you’re going to want them!
Once you’re all geared up, head to the park’s visitor center where you can take the shuttle bus up Bear Lake Road. This will be the starting point for many of the park’s most popular trails. Some of our favorite winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include:
This short but sweet hike takes you through a subalpine forest to an alpine lake that is simply breathtaking. It’s the perfect way to get your nature fix without spending all day on the trail. However, you can combine Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, making it a longer hike if you’re feeling up for it.
Nymph Lake is another excellent option for those looking for a shorter hike. The trail to the lake is only about a mile, and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of lush meadows, aspen groves, and of course, Nymph Lake itself.
Dream Lake is one of Rocky Mountain’s most popular trails, and for good reason. The hike takes you through a gorgeous forest before opening up to a freshwater lake with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
As we mentioned above, these three lakes are all located relatively close to each other, making them the perfect trio to tackle in one day. You’re going to pass Nymph Lake and Dream Lake before you reach Emerald Lake, so build up the momentum to keep going. All in all, you’ll be hiking around 3.6 miles round trip. The breathtaking views of Hallet Peak at the end of the Emerald Lake Trail will be worth the extra effort.
Where to Eat Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Once you’ve had your fill of lakeside views, head back to Estes Park for dinner. Latitude 105 Alehouse, located inside The Ridgeline Hotel, serves delicious comfort foods, perfect for refueling after a day of high-altitude hiking. Pair your meal with a delicious cocktail or local beer before getting a well-deserved night’s rest.
Day 3 – Skiing & Snowshoeing
Cross-country skiing, sledding and snow tubing are just a few reasons people love winter. And luckily you can do just about all of those activities in and around the National Park.
The Kawuneeche Valley
The flat terrain in the Kawuneeche Valley makes it a great place for beginners to learn the ropes. With plenty of snow and few crowds, it’s the perfect place to snowshoe without the crowds. If you’re experienced in backcountry skiing, this is also a great place for touring!
Trail Ridge Road
If you’re looking for a challenge, head to Trail Ridge Road which reaches more than 12,000 feet above sea level. The road is closed to vehicle traffic in winter, so you can enjoy the panoramic views in peace as you cross-country ski or snowshoe.
A former ski area, Hidden Valley is an excellent option for those looking for a family-friendly sledding or tubing experience. The area has gentle slopes and wide-open meadows, making it perfect for families or groups of friends who want a leisurely day of downhill fun. Sledding is available daily from 10am – 4pm, but you’ll have to grab some sleds in Estes Park before you leave.
Where to Eat Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Once you’re all tuckered out from a day on the trails or sledding down hills, head back into town for some delicious Nepalese and Indian cuisine at Himalayan Curry & Kebob. Savory curries will be sure to warm you up after a day in the snow!
If you’re still in the mood for some sweet treats after dinner, head back to The Ridgeline and enjoy complimentary s’mores from the front desk to roast by the hotel’s cozy fire pits.
Day 4 – Winter Festivals & Events
Your last day in the Rockies is going to be full of laughter, joy and fun. From fireworks and rodeos to silent discos and live concerts, we recommend planning your trip during one of Colorado’s famous winter festivals.
Grand Lake’s Winter Carnival
This festival is annually held on the second to last weekend of January at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the perfect way to celebrate winter with a whole host of activities, including a parade, ice sculptures, snow mini-golf, teapot curling, human bowling, and bed sled races, amongst many others.
Estes Park Winter Festival
Every January, the town of Estes Park comes to life during the Estes Park Winter Festival. The two-day event is held over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and features fun for the whole family. From the famous chili cook-off to the silent disco and live entertainment, there are plenty of ways to keep warm during this lively weekend in the mountains.
Frozen Dead Guy Days
This quirky festival is held in a mountain town one hour south of Estes Park, in and around the town of Nederland. It’s a three-day party that celebrates Nederland’s most famous resident, Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, who has been cryogenically frozen since 1989. The festival includes look-alike contests, a salmon toss, live entertainment, and more.
Can’t make it during one of the fun winter festivals? Check out more of the top things to do in winter in Estes Park.