Away from the Grind

New Year’s in Rocky Mountain National Park: You can set up the year just right.

by Roger Ludwig

The information in this piece may be out of date. I have moved away from Cheyenne and am no longer maintaining this site. You may leave a comment if you wish. Useful comments will continue to be posted.

My friend Sue said that the way you spend New Year’s Day is how you will spend the rest of the year. “Chinese tradition,“ she said. Wow. So how could I have a really great day and set fate on a roll to a splendid year?

Picture this: effortlessly gliding across a sparkling snow field under towering peaks beneath a bluebird sky. That was my plan. Cross country skiing. Why not Rocky Mountain National Park?

The afternoon of the first of twenty-ten I rushed into the visitors center, out of breath, having successfully run the gauntlet of Estes Park shops without spending a cent. The snowy-haired ranger looked at me like I was nuts. Wrong side of the park. Not enough snow on this side. Rarely is.

“Do you have snowshoes? The snowshoeing is very popular, up and around Bear Lake.” 

“Well, yes,” I replied without enthusiasm. My snowshoes are huge. Made to carry a fully loaded behemoth across an ocean of deep powder. They weigh, I think, thirty pounds each. I don’t like them.

“Well, good,” he said. “Go up to Bear Lake.” Ok, so maybe I’ll get some fine sunset photos of that ships-prow of a mountain, Hallett Peak. Maybe the Tribune-Eagle will like them. It was an hour to sundown.

As I drove up the clouds came down, swallowing all traces of mountain. This could be Kansas with a low ceiling and pine trees for all I could see.

I found a place to park and hoisted the mighty snowshoes, poles and pack. Forgot to bring water. Great. “Don’t eat yellow snow.“ Famous Eskimo advice. Laden with gear, stumbling toward the trails across the icy parking lot, I would not let twenty-ten fizzle due to lack of effort.

Snowshoes strapped on, I pushed off. Heave ho. Heavily plodding up the hill, the tubular frames of the shoes banging into each other as I waddled, legs further and further apart. That was bad enough. 

But everyone was be-bopping around me. Sweet college girls with tiny little snow shoes. Young fathers with toddlers bouncing in packs on their backs with tiny little snow shoes. Spry old ladies, yes, with tiny little snow shoes. These people were having a lot of fun.

There is something worse than being the last donkey trudging up a mountain in the age of ATVs. It’s being the last donkey and having everyone wave cheerily as they pass. “Happy New Year!” they called. Doom settled deep into my soul.

And the cloud cover dropped lower. I forgot my map. And took a wrong turn. But who could see the peaks anyway? I took a picture of a frozen lake with frozen trees below a frozen sky. After two hours of trudging I was back at the truck, in the dark, eating snow. 

Is this an ill portent? Will my 2010 consist of hard, useless, bone-headed plodding, in the dreary dark, far from my pie-in-the-blue-sky dreams?

Well, at least I spent the day outdoors. And the bed was warm. Supper had been filling. I had a good book to read. 

Then they came. Crashing into the rooms on either side of me. Nine college students. Rapping along to their boom box. In German. Did I say they were foreign exchange college students?

So will 2010 have a loud, annoying, confusing, sleepless ending? Is there anything I can do to salvage this coming year?! Is my fate sealed?!

But, Confucius say, wisdom enters by pain’s door. I have seen how others thoroughly enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park in winter. Let me share their wisdom.

First, have breakfast at the Big Horn Restaurant, 401 W. Elkhorn. Ever wonder where locals eat in Estes? This is it. It’s all good, especially the green chili. Farmer Brothers coffee. They will also pack a great sandwich for you to take to the trail.

Second, rent tiny little snowshoes. There are several places but you won’t beat the Estes Park Mountain Shop on 2050 Big Thompson Ave (just at the start of the Estes Park valley.) For $5 they will outfit you with perfect, cutting edge shoes that are just right for the well-packed trails of the park. And for $1 more they will send you out with adjustable poles. 

These shoes are bomb-proof plastic with stainless steel rails and crampons to grip and bite the snow. They truly weigh 30 ounces each. The staff is so nice you will ask them to come with you.

Third, take your map and water and drive up Bear Lake Road. Yes, it’s kept open all winter for passenger cars. Strap your new rentals onto your comfy old waffle-stompers and leap off. Be-bop your way up to Dream Lake with Hallett’s notable peak in the background, and if you’re in the mood, on up to Emerald. Hope it’s a sunny day.

The rangers will give you a newspaper that lists other good trails into these great granite gorges. It will also mention the Wild Basin trail, which traipses by three nice frozen falls. (Bring your marimba for Calypso Cascade.) It’s south off Hwy Seven.

Sun screen and sun glasses can be vital, as is layered clothing topped with a windbreaker. The danger is getting too warm. No sweat. Gaiters to keep the snow out of your boots are nice but not essential.

Eat your sandwich. It will be tasty.

Fourth, when in Rocky Mountain National Park, before leaving, always stop for a while to eye the elk (gaze the grazers?). In January and February they can usually be found along Fall River Road.

Then, go back to Estes and have dinner at the Big Horn Restaurant. Did I tell you about it? As you come into town from the east go past all those little shops, straight through the last light, pass the Glassworks Studio and it’s there on the right. 

Rent a cabin so you will have no rapping college students on your right and left.

So that’s what I’d do. If you want to ski go somewhere else. 

You know that thing Sue said about what you do on the first day of the year? She said it was a Chinese thing. Guess what? The Chinese New Year is on February 14th, 2010. Who said there aren’t any “do-overs”!? Bring on the Year of the Tiger! I finished 2009’s like an Ox.

So on February 14th (it’s a Sunday!), picture this, gracefully stepping up a sparkling snow-packed trail in tiny little snow shoes under towering peaks beneath a bluebird-blue sky… What a way for the year to begin.

Rocky Mountain National Park directions:

The Park is about 70 miles from Cheyenne. Take I-25 south to Loveland, turning west at Centerra on Hwy 34. In the town of Estes Park take Hwy 36 west to the Beaver Meadows Entrance. Bear Lake Road is just past the entrance on the left. 

The Park web site is For current road conditions in the park call (970) 586-1206. The entrance fee of $20 per vehicle is good for seven days. (Yes, it hurts but a least you will be assured that twenty of your dollars to our federal government will go to a good purpose.)

Snowshoe rentals:

Aspen Lodge 6120 Hwy 7 (970) 586-8133
Estes Park Mtn. Shop 2050 Big Thompson (970) 586-6548
Kirk’s Mtn. Adventures 230 E. Elkhorn (970) 577-0790
Outdoor World 156 E. Elkhorn (970) 586-2114
Rocky Mtn. Connections 141 E. Elkhorn (970) 586-3361
Warming House 790 Moraine (970) 586-2995


Hiking Lady

Feb 4, 2010

I went snowshoeing on New Years Day too out here in CA, but luckily I brought along my super light brand new pair of MSR snowshoes 🙂 The scenery you described sounds beautiful!

Since you spent Jan 1 outdoors I think you’re set for a fantastic year 🙂


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