On Christmas day, my husband, my dad, and I went snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a gorgeous sunny day, mild in temperature, with no wind—unusual in winter in the high mountains.
We parked at the Sprague Lake parking lot, which was fairly busy for a winter day—but then again, it was a holiday with perfect weather and lots of snow.
We three tramped past the lake and through the forest for a distance. So many of the pines were brown from pine beetles, but still it was beautiful: sun shining on snow crystals, the kodachrome-blue sky, the chatter of squirrels.
The snow squealed and crunched under our snowshoes. “Guess we won’t be sneaking up on any wildlife,” I joked.
Our outing was magical, and we stopped to admire a lovely view of Hallet’s Peak. Then we returned to the lake, where you could walk over ice to cross to the other side. A lot of families were out—many of them from out of town. (Wearing tennis shoes in snow drifts is always a giveaway.) Some kids were sledding on a hill.
One young man without a coat—he looked like he was from India—was fascinated by my snowshoes and poles. “Are those skis?” he asked. I shook my head: “No, these are snowshoes.” I’m not sure if he understood, but he smiled as he watched us crunch away on them.
Our National Treasures
Meeting people from other parts of the country and world reminded me of what a treasure our national parks are. They’ve all been set aside as natural or historic preserves with little or no development allowed. They’re some of our country’s greatest natural wonders. They let people experience the magnificence of the outdoors in ways they otherwise might never have.
Although most visitors come during summer, Rocky Mountain Park is open year round—even for snow camping.
There’s something special about visiting a national park in the off-season—like it’s a secret nobody else knows about. Normally there are few visitors, so you might get the place all to yourself.
Of course, quite a few people—many of them wearing Santa hats—were out on Christmas day. But it was a secret I’m glad to share.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails ranging from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain peak climbs.
Protect the national parks you visit by following the Leave No Trace principles.
Originally published on December 27, 2010
Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:
- Sea Kayaking in California’s Channel Islands
- Fossils Come Alive at Dinosaur National Monument
- 10 Reasons to Celebrate America’s National Parks
- Castles in the Utah Desert: Hovenweep National Monument
- Solar Power Lights Ft. McHenry Historic Monument
- Mesa Verde: An Archaeological Pilgrimage
- Sleep in a Sustainable Hotel in Mesa Verde National Park
- Treasures of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
- Explore a ruined pueblo: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
- Discover Painted Hand Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients