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What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

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The small town of Grand Lake, Colorado – population 471 or thereabouts – sits on the shores of Grand Lake at an elevation of 8,369 feet. It’s the gateway community to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and as such has all the services you need. It’s also a destination in itself. In summer the lake – the largest natural body of water in Colorado, becomes a recreational playground. In winter snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular.

I visited Grand Lake at the invitation of the Grand County tourism board. I came specifially to cross-country ski and snowshoe. With its proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park and US Forest Service lands, I discovered that there’s a tremendous amount of country to explore – and two days on snowshoes and skis barely scratches the surface of what’s out there.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

The drive into Grand Lake – notice snowmobile tracks at the side of the road

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Grand Lake – elevation 8,367. You’ll notice the altitude here!

Grand Lake Nordic Centre

Both skate and classic cross-country skiers will love the 35 kilometres of groomed trails at the Grand Lake Nordic Centre. The trails cater to all abilities with some easy sections set aside for those with dogs. Spend a day skiing loops off Randall’s Romp with some trails offering views of the Never Summer Mountain Range. Ski across the Colorado River before its gained any size and enjoy the beauty and peace as you ski through groves of aspen and pine. A lucky few might see a moose on the trail.

Rent skis for $16/day, $13 per half day. Trail passes are also $16 and $13 for full and half days. Snowshoers are welcome and there’s a great tubing hill that doesn’t cost a penny. Onsite there’s a store and a dining room. It’s about a 10 minute drive outside of Grand Lake.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

There’s a trail for every level of cross-country skier at the Nordic Centre

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Fabulous and uncrowded ski trails at the Grand Lake Nordic Centre

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

You can snowshoe or cross-country ski across the Colorado River

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

There are so many options when it comes to snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you stick to the East Inlet Trail near Grand Lake there are no fees. Otherwise you’ll have to pay $10 per vehicle for the day, $15 for a week.

I spent a day snowshoeing and explored three different trails. I came away wishing I had several more days so I could do the trails in their entirety.

I started with the easy East Inlet Trail to Adams Falls, with the trailhead just a few miles outside of Grand Lake. The falls themselves are frozen and underwhelming right now but the trail through a landscape of open lodgepole pine forest is stunning. Continue past the falls on a trail that follows the river to a large meadow with awesome views. From there the trail steepens as it continues to an overlook three miles from the parking lot. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to make it that far.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Beautiful snowshoeing near Adams Falls

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Continue towards Lone Pine Lake to get these views

At 1 PM on Sundays, intermediate level snowshoers can meet at the Kewuneeche Visitor Centre in Rocky Mountain National Park from January 1 – March 5 for a free park ranger lead backcountry snowshoeing tour.  If you’re a beginner level snowshoer sign up in advance and meet on Saturdays at 1 PM for a mostly flat hike. Reservations are required by calling 970-627-3471.

Our group drove north on Trail Ridge Road and stopped in the vicinity of Timber Lake on a big pullout. A couple of volunteers had scouted out the route we took a few days beforehand. Over the two hour trip (which includes driving time to the trailhead) we climbed about 700 feet through another beautiful forest of aspen and lodgepole pine with some views of the Never Summer Mountain range. Along the way as we paused to catch our breath – as we were at above 9,000 feet – the ranger, Barb King, pulled out flash cards with nature oriented questions. For example – what colour should you wear to repel mosquitoes? Orange is the correct answer – and news to me. It was a great way to get participation and there was a prize – the know-it-all award. The best part about this snowshoe tour, apart from learning some unusual facts, was the fun of running down the mountain on snowshoes through deep powder. The tour is definitely worth signing up for.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

On a ranger led snowshoe trip you get up into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Running down in deep powder on snowshoes is so much fun

My third snowshoe trip of the day started at the Visitor Centre and headed off on the short but beautiful Tonahutu Spur Trail. In the late afternoon sunshine, the trees almost glowed orange. This spur trail hooks up with the North Inlet Trail (3.4 miles long) and the Tonahutu Creek Trail (3.3 miles long). From the Tonahutu Creek Trail there are even more options including a 7.6 mile loop so you can really have a full day of snowshoeing right from the Visitor Centre.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Beautiful easy snowshoeing on a spur trail from the Kawuneeche Vistor Centre to the North Inlet Trail

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

If it’s a bluebird day when you visit the scenery in the park is stunning

Before you head out snowshoeing it would be prudent to talk to people at the park to find out about trail conditions, avalanche danger and any wildlife sightings. This is moose country. It will also give you an opportunity to pick up a map and learn the location of other snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails.

Where to rent snowshoes in Grand Lake

You can rent snowshoes (and any other kind of outdoor equipment) at Never Summer Mountain Products in Grand Lake. The Grand Lake Nordic Centre also rents snowshoes but for use on their trails.

Snowmobiling in Grand Lake

Although I am not a snowmobiler (and I didn’t go snowmobiling) I can see the appeal of the region from a snowmobiler’s perspective. Right from the town of Grand Lake you can head out on 150 miles of groomed trails. Add another 700 miles of trails in Grand County and you could be exploring a new trail every weekend of the winter. The town itself is very supportive of snowmobiling – to the extent roads are left snow-packed so people can drive to shops, bars and restaurants on their snowmobiles.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

This is snowmobile country so you can park outside the bars and restaurants

What else can you do in Grand Lake?

The one main street in Grand Lake is loaded with cute shops and restaurants. Hours may be limited in winter but most were open over the weekend.

I’d recommend the Sagebrush BBQ and Grill for lunch and dinner and the Blue Water Bakery for awesome lattes and baked goods.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

At the Sagebrush BBQ and Grill you are given a bucket of peanuts – and you throw the shells on the floor

Where the ice is thick enough, you can certainly enjoy a walk on Grand Lake itself. And don’t miss a visit to Point Park for the views down the lake. In the summer it would be a lovely place to come and picnic. But even in winter the birds are out on the open water and when it’s warm enough to comfortably sit in the sun, it would be a great place to just hang out and take in the beauty of the area.

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Walk or snowshoe on Grand Lake – but be sure the ice is thick enough

What You Can do on a Winter Weekend in Grand Lake, Colorado

Beautiful views from Point Park in Grand Lake

Grand Lake is a 2½ hour drive from the Denver airport via Berthoud Pass. If you live in the Boulder – Denver corridor you could certainly visit over a long day trip but there’s enough to do outdoors in the winter that it’s well worth making it into a weekend getaway.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Hike Bike Travel

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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