Rocky Mountains Winter Getaway: West Side and Grand Lake

The words “cold,” “snowy,” and “remote,” don’t exactly describe a dream vacation spot for everyone—but if they send happy shivers up your spine, then a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park’s west side belongs on your short list for winter vacation.

Tiny Grand Lake, Colorado, is just a short drive from the park’s west side entrance and your jumping off point for adventures in this itinerary. Booking accommodations ahead is advised, as some area hotels and lodges have variable winter hours.

snow blanketing trees and Rocky Mountains
Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park is full of beauty and many opportunities for outdoor activities. Photo © Erin English.

Day 1: Snowshoeing & Ice Skating

After a restful night’s sleep, you’re ready for an energizing snowshoe in Rocky. But first, drive to Rocky’s Kawuneeche Visitor Center to peruse the informative displays, browse regional books, and chat with a ranger about current conditions.

Next, it’s decision time. For a mellow snowshoe outing, keep your car parked where it is, and trek along the Tonahutu Spur Trail to join the Tonahutu Creek Trail. Simply reverse your direction whenever you’d like. For a more challenging adventure with varied terrain, drive north along Highway 34 to the Colorado River Trailhead, and tramp along the Colorado River Trail to Lulu City. The round-trip journey to Lulu City is 7.4 miles, but turning around at any point is always an option. Lulu City was a bustling mining town in the late 1800s, but don’t expect to see any relics upon arrival—just a sign identifying this historic site.

Upon arriving back in town, practice your figure eights at the small but sweet skating pond in Grand Lake Town Park.

Day 2: Cross-Country Skiing & Sledding

Today you’re headed back to Rocky for another romp in the white stuff—this time, the mode of transport is cross-country skis. Park at the Harbison Picnic Area and take the Sun Valley Trail for a 2.3-mile loop along mostly level terrain. Stop frequently to enjoy the deep silence of the winter landscape.

In the afternoon, head to the Grand Lake Nordic Center for some sledding fun. It’s free to slide down the Center’s tubing and sledding hill, and a limited amount of tubes are provided for visitors.

entrance to the Grand Lake Nordic Center
Grand Lake Nordic Center provides a limited amount of tubing gear. Photo © Erin English.

Day 3: Snowmobiling

It’s time to kick up the excitement a notch and find out why Grand Lake is dubbed the Snowmobile Capital of Colorado. You’ve made reservations for a snowmobile at On the Trail Rentals, and checked out the website’s trail report the night before. Now, get out there and explore the snowy woods until your fingers and toes start to protest. All of the essential gear you need is provided by On the Trail—just bring along your adventurous spirit.

Day 4: Ice Fishing

The fact that Grand Lake’s namesake body of water ices over in the winter is no deterrent for die-hard fishermen and fisherwomen. Even if you’ve never cast a line in the summer, you should try the winter version, just for kicks. Contact Rocky Mountain Outfitters to arrange a fully-guided ice fishing trip. Bundle up and pack a thermos of coffee or cocoa to sip while you wait for that big one to bite.

two people out on a frozen over lake in Colorado going fishing
Bundle up and head out on an ice fishing excursion. Photo © Arina Habich/iStock.

Essential Info

Rocky Mountain National Park is open 365 days a year, rain, shine, snow, or wind. Admission is $20 for one day, $30 for seven days, or $60 for an annual pass. When visiting in the winter, stay safe by dressing properly in waterproof/wicking fabrics, using good eye protection, hydrating frequently, and carrying a topographic map. A four-wheel drive vehicle and/or good snow tires are recommended for winter travel around Grand Lake and Rocky’s west side. Rent your skis and snowshoes from Never Summer Mountain Products. get your ice skates from Grand Lake Center.

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