When I visited Rocky Mountain National Park in January, more than twice their average snowfall was piled up everywhere. Rather than the usual 58 inches, they had 120 inches. Which made snowshoeing extra exciting.
I joined a guided intermediate-level snowshoe hike led by volunteer Sam Crane. We only gained about 300 feet in elevation, but at 9,000 feet, I could sure feel it. Sam stopped often, thank goodness, to fill in our 24-person expedition on the flora, fauna, and geology of the park.
Seeing bear claw marks in the aspens was a highlight. They love to scratch up the trees and eat the bark. And because, the snow was so high, we got an extra good view. “Usually you have to look up to see them,” Sam said, pointing out the huge, deep scratches. “This year, a lot are at eye level.” Sam mentioned that you don’t see claw marks in lodgepole pines “Who wants to get sap on their claws?” Until I saw the width of these scratches, I hadn’t realized that black bears had such big claws. Kind of made me glad they were hibernating.
The hike was very accessible and well-run. Several volunteers accompany the group. That way, if a hiker has a problem and needs to turn back, somebody can stay with them and the hike can still go on. I wasn’t the only one breathing heavily from altitude. I suspect that unacclimated visitors have to cut their hikes short now and then.
If you’re visiting Grand County during winter, I highly recommend this hike. Gorgeous mountains, a little learning about the local environment, a friendly group, and little chance of getting lost. The park offers both beginning and intermediate options. It’s BYOS – Bring Your Own Snowshoes. If you didn’t pack any, you can rent them at Never Summer Mountain Products in Grand Lake.