Ranger-led snowshoe hikes return to Rocky Mountain National Park in 2022

After a long hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, ranger-led snowshoe hikes are once again taking place in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Park Ranger Sue Langdon recalled the last time she led a snowshoe hike in 2020 on the day the park was shut down for two months due to the pandemic.

“It was March 15,” she remembered. “By the time I got back down to the Visitor Center, it was closed down. It was a very weird day.”

This month, the ranger-led snowshoe hikes started back up.

“It’s great to be doing it again,” Langdon commented.

I recently joined Langdon and a group of 15 people for a trek around Bear Lake and Nymph Lake on a glorious bluebird- sky day.

We kept six feet apart and started up the moraine by Bear Lake, stopping along the way for talks by Langdon about proper snowshoeing techniques and winter ecology information.

We circled back around to a tremendous overlook that provided a wonderful view of Bear Lake and the mountain backdrop beyond. Then we started up a much steeper trail up to Nymph Lake.

The temperature at the Bear Lake Trailhead had been 21 degrees. A fierce wind was blowing by the time we got to beautiful Nymph Lake where the ranger said the wind chill was probably hovering around zero. It was, indeed, the coldest hike I have taken in Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the way back down from Nymph, we stopped at another overhang of Bear Lake and we watched people walking across the glorious frozen landscape.

Total mileage was only about a mile-and-a-half, but it was still enough of a workout to be enjoyable.

“You need to know what you’re doing to go on up to Dream or Emerald Lake,” Langdon said. “You may have been there many times, in the summer, but it’s not the same place in the winter.”

Several of the participants were from Front Range communities.

“I just really wanted to snowshoe,” commented Karen Pirello who drove from Aurora for the experience. “I haven’t done it up in the mountains for so long with COVID. I just love the quite. The national park looks completely different in the winter. It’s just a whole different character in the winter than in the summertime.”

Pirello noted that even though she has been showshoeing for many seasons, she learned new aspects about showshoeing that she didn’t know before.

“I learned a lot I didn’t know about nature, too,” she added. “It was definitely worth it. By the time I go home, it will have been a round trip of 200 miles.”

The park used to offer intermediate snowshoe hikes, but with snow levels are not high enough to offer those anymore.

“This is a beginners’ hike,” Langdon explained. “Sometimes folks want to learn about winter ecology. Other times, they just want to be out there snowshoeing with somebody so they don’t have to worry about getting lost. For others, it is their one winter adventure to go on a snowshoe walk with a ranger every year.”

Rangers used to lead snowshoe hikes around Sprague Lake also, but the snow is no longer consistent enough there.

“That’s part of the overall climate change,” Langdon pointed out. “It’s just not getting as much snow. On the west side, the Kawuneeche Valley still gets a lot of snow, so that’s a great place if you truly want to be in those flat areas.”

Langdon has worked in Rocky Mountain National Park for the last three decades. She has been leading snowshoe hikes in Rocky since 1996.

“I started as a seasonal intern,” Langdon noted. “I worked at the Alpine Visit Center and was lucky enough to get permanent employment. My husband and I live in Estes Park. We just haven’t found a reason to leave.”

The snowshoe hikes last about two hours. The cut off age is 8 years old. Programs are offered weekly, as conditions allow, through March 2022.

On the east side, the walks are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:30 p.m. Advanced reservations are required. Call 970-586-1223. Reservations can be booked up to seven days in advance. Participants are required to bring their own or rent snowshoes outside the park.

On the west side of the park, beginning on Saturday, January 22, ranger-led snowshoe walks will be offered on Saturdays at 1 pm. A ticket is required to participate. This no-cost ticket can be picked up on the day of the walk at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. Snowshoes are provided for use during the guided program.

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