Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

| February 25, 2012
dream lake winter rocky mountian national park

Hallett Peak (left) and Flattop Mountian (right) as seen from the frozen Dream Lake

Photo details:
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L, ISO100, f/8.0, 1/640th, handheld)

I could not wait to share some details about our awesome President’s Day weekend adventure snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. As fate would have it, a long time friend owns a house in Estes Park, which is right on the doorstep of Colorado’s own Rocky Mountain National Park. With accommodations and good company in tow, Donna and I threw the camera gear and snowshoes in the car and headed out for a weekend surrounded by 360 degrees of natural beauty.

Beautiful it was and the weather was fantastic, making the whole trip that much more fun. Average temperatures during our hikes was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The balmy temps, combined with the exertion of hiking uphill to just over 10,000 feet, motivated us to shed our down coats and stuff them in our packs!

All of pictures you see here except the one directly below are from our second day of snowshoeing in the park. The first day, we hiked to Mills Lake, which was a six-mile round trip with a 700 foot vertical gain. Unfortunately, the orientation of the sun and the time of day prevented me from making satisfactory pictures. The sun was very harsh, causing a good dose of flare through my lenses. Despite the less than ideal shooting conditions, we still had a great time. In fact, it left us wanting more.

mills lake rocky mountian national park

Mills Lake – Less than ideal shooting conditions

Compare the shot of Mills Lake immediately above with the one of Dream Lake at the very top of the post. The sun at Dream Lake was off to the left at about 45 degrees and the sky was nice and blue with a few clouds thrown in for good measure. This, in my view, creates a much more pleasant balance of light and shadow, allowing colors to and detail to come through. In the less than ideal photo conditions of Mills Lake directly above, the sun is high and behind the mountain, creating very harsh contrasts between the light and shadow. When you are out shooting, constantly look at the quality of light and determine how you can capitalize on it to make nice photographs.

Snowshoeing to Emerald Lake via Dream Lake

The hike highlighted in today’s post is a relatively easy one. In the summer, the hike from the Bear Lake parking area to Emerald Lake can be very busy. It is only 1.8 miles one way and you only have to climb a modest 600 feet over that distance to get there. Fortunately, most folks are fair weather hikers, which made our winter snowshoeing adventure a less crowded. Everyone we saw though was very polite and quite happy to be out among nature, letting folks by when traffic increased.

snowshoeing rocky mountian national park

Donna (middle) and friends making their way up to Dream Lake

The trail all the way to the lakes was fairly well packed so we could have gotten away with shorter snowshoes, or even crampons for that matter. My shoes, which are 30 inches long, work best in deeper snow but also perform well on a packed trail. We did venture off into the powder from time to time for fun where the longer snowshoes came in handy. I would not recommend doing a winter hike like this without something on your feet to gain purchase into the snow. The cleats on the bottom of the snowshoes are great for maintaining a steady footing in almost any condition we encountered.

dream lake rocky mountian national park

Snowshoeing across Dream Lake toward Emerald Lake

After meandering the trail among the trees for a while, we finally met the big reveal of Dream Lake. What an awesome view!Ā This time of year, the lake is frozen over, making it easy to walk across to reach our final destination at Emerald Lake. If you have a concern about whether the lakes are safe to walk across, just ask a ranger at the trail head and they will be glad to give you sound advice.

Cresting the last hill to Emerald Lake

A short distance after crossing Dream Lake, we climbed a little more and finally reached Emerald Lake. Here, there were even fewer folks around, making it a great spot to drop our packs and indulge in a small lunch. Below are me and my better half posing for a photo. The lake, which sits at 10,800 feet above sea level, is down behind us just beyond the trees.

Me and Donna at our destination on Emerald Lake

As we sat an had our lunch on the frozen banks of Emerald Lake, the Clark’s Nutcracker below flew over with a couple of Grey Jays and politely asked for peanuts. I have seen Scrub Jays at our house in Monument at 7300ft but no Grey Jays or Clark’s Nutcrackers. According to my Peterson’s Field Guide, the Clark’s Nutcracker is typically found in the high mountains around conifers at tree line. Sounds like he is exactly where he should be!

A Clark’s Nutcracker looking for peanuts at Emerald Lake

I plan to go back up to the lakes when the they thaw but before the snow completely melts. To make nice photographs I often have to visit a place more than once. Besides the effect of ever changing seasons, it is nice to document how the light behaves for subsequent attempts to make the best photograph possible.


Category: Colorado, Photography, Travel

Comments (4)

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  1. Beautiful shots, Lee. What an amazing location. That offer still standing where you pay my mortgage if I move out? šŸ˜‰

  2. Great shots Lee – looks like a blast of a weekend. I need to get out there in spring or near wildflower season…let’s make this happen.

  3. A.Barlow says:

    Those are amazing sir. Love that bird shot too!

  4. Lee says:

    Thanks guys.

    Jesse…I am sure it would be easier than picking up a mortgage on Long Island!

    Absolutely Brian. Let’s GChat soon to nail down some dates!