Since the Rocky Mountain National Park maintains an alpine climate at its summit all year, it wouldn’t seem to be a popular destination in the Colorado winter. In the spring there are wildflowers galore, and in the summer you can escape the heat and even experience an occasional snow shower at the summit. Of course, fall offers the painted multi-colored mountainsides and the bonus sideshow of the elks rutting and bugling.
But winter? Admittedly, you can rarely drive the entire route from Estes Park to Grand Lake in the winter, as the summit is often closed. But the roads are well maintained, and you can go pretty far and see a lot. And it is beautiful! Winter activities, such as sledding, snowshoeing and skiing, couldn’t be in a more breathtaking area.
In the winter, the wildlife seem more likely to come down from the colder mountaintops, and can easily be seen near the warmer and sunnier roads. We were sure that this was the time of year when the elk were growing in their massive antlers, as a huge elk lolled impassively quite near the road in the Park, with only stubs on his head. He was actually the only one we saw in the park.
As far as we were allowed to go in the Park, it was an interesting experience seeing the flora and fauna in yet another season—well worth the scenic drive. However, we found most of the animal sightings after exiting the Park. Two gigantic elk were aimlessly ambling across streets and onto a hotel’s front and side yards. These beasts were huge! Totally undeterred by the gathering and gawking humans, they grazed peacefully only steps away from a children’s open playground. It is my understanding from a Park guard that the elk usually aren't aggressive until rutting season, at which time they reportedly try to butt anything in their paths, including trees and cars!
Farther down the road, as we headed back to I-25 and home, we came upon a herd of big horn sheep casually grazing in someone’s large yard. They, too, seemed oblivious to the people following closely snapping pictures. Why more wildlife wasn’t visible in the Park, I can’t figure out.
The terrible devastation of the floods was everywhere leading up to and leaving Estes Park. In one house, you could actually see a washer and a dryer almost slipping into the creek, seemingly kept from the creek by the dryer hose and conduits. It took a terrible toll along the creek, but rebuilding seems to be in full force.
The drive to and through Rocky Mountain National Park is breathtaking any season of the year. I'm glad we saw it in the snowcapped glory of winter.