Going on my National Parks backpacking trip this summer made me realize how I may take Rocky Mountain National Park for granted. It’s so easy to throw my gear in the back of my car, drive an hour (if even that) and hike some of the most amazing scenery we have in Colorado. It’s old news to talk about the long line of cars at the entrances every summer. But with us locals, winter is the perfect time to enjoy a more peaceful Rocky Mountain National Park experience for yourself and visitors from out-of-town (or at least the hardy ones, anyway).
Some of the most beautiful moments that I’ve been lucky enough to experience in the park have been while snowshoeing the winter trails. Snowshoeing is a tad more difficult than regular ole’ hiking, especially when your winter pack weighs more than your summer pack because of extra gear and layers, but there are some easy snowshoeing trails (or cross country skiing, if that’s your thing) that are perfect for a sweet and easy trip. Bierstadt Lake Trail is one of those! This is lovely for solo trips when you don’t want to be so far into the backcountry by yourself, and for new residents and tourists who need something with less incline as you acclimate to the elevation.
There are two ways to get to Bierstadt Lake. There’s the main trailhead as you come up Bear lake Road. This is generally where most people park and hike. It’s the easier and shorter way, too. However, in my personal opinion, the better way is to park and start at Bear Lake and take the back way. It’s only a smidge longer, but I think the scenery is dramatically better.
Hang a right on the Bear Lake Trail and you’ll come to the trail sign for Flattop, Odessa Lake, Fern Lake, and Bierstadt Lake. From here you’ll see it’s a simple 2 mile hike. However, don’t be fooled, the elevation on this first part is a bugger! It’s about a 700 foot gain that feels fairly straight up. It will get you warmed up and breathing heavy.
Once you reach the top (about a mile and a half in) it levels out and stays that way for the rest of the way. From here you get to enjoy a nice moment between the trees in a fairly thick forest. the Gray Jays hang out here a lot and hope you’ll feed them (don’t do it). They are super cute, though. It’s fun to see them flit about the trail signs.
While it’s easy to navigate, I do suggest taking a photo of the trailhead map. There are various loops you can do like Mill Creek Basin and Hallowell Park (and these are great options if you want to extend your mileage and effort beyond Bierstadt!).
The trail itself is pretty well used, so it’s a little more hard-packed and you most likely won’t have to break trail yourself. Sometimes you won’t even need snowshoes after the snow has had some time to repeatedly warm up and freeze. So always bring multiple traction devices! I did some crampon testing on this trail last year and they were perfect on a sunny bluebird winter day.
While I enjoy solitude on the trail more than others, this trail was particularly fun to see people on. Everyone was smiling and having a great time. It was contagious, and it always seems to be that way each time I snowshoe it.
I do recommend that you have your snowshoes with you too. As you get closer to the lake, the trail tends to disappear into the snowbanks in the trees. This makes navigating an adventure. I’ve had some postholing fun around these parts as I tried to get closer to the lake.
Because this trail was easy breezy, it was one of the moments that I got a true Rocky Mountain High – goosebumps from head to toe, lungs full of fresh forest scent, the crisp refreshing winter air on my skin, and a real euphoric endorphin rush from the cardio exertion. I swear, this is what keeps me addicted to the outdoors.
The next time you need a quick and easy snowshoeing experience, or if you want to take your out-of-town guests on a lovely winter adventure, add this trail to your to-do list! Bring a thermos of hot chocolate or soup to savor at the lake for maximum awesome effect!
Total Length: 5 mile out and back with the loop around the lake
Beginning Elevation: 9,475 ft.
Peak Elevation: 9,760 ft.