Bierstadt Lake in January

This past Sunday was the anniversary of our first date. Five years ago we met at the marina in Berkeley, CA where Chris taught Anna how to fly her new two-line stunt kite. Conversation was excellent and flying was fun. Much has changed for us over the past five years, but we still love to experience new things and spend time together outdoors. January in Colorado isn’t ideal for kite flying, so we opted for a more appropriate winter activity to celebrate our anniversary: snowshoeing.

We arrived at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park to gorgeous sunny blue skies. The wind was fierce but we had noted that in the forecast so we were prepared. We bundled up, strapped on our snowshoes, and set off, though a bit awkwardly at first. It had been a while since we’d walked with snowshoes.

Within steps, frozen Bear Lake was visible with classic Rocky Mountain peaks behind. It was a grand start to the hike.

Bear Lake in January
Bear Lake, just steps from the trailhead
Orange trail marker
Orange trail marker

We followed the eastern shore of Bear Lake for a few hundred feet, then broke away from the lake and started climbing. The route wasn’t obvious because people had compacted the snow in numerous paths and the official trail was buried. Preparation and solid navigation skills are important for travel in snow. Even though we were ready to use our map, compass, and GPS to navigate, we were happy to find the Bierstadt Lake Trail marked with permanent orange flags affixed to trees.

Once we got into our rhythm, the snowshoes made us feel more superhuman than clunky. It was fun to easily traverse steep or heavily side sloped terrain without fear of falling.

All was going well until we realized that the trail should have ceased climbing and that an orange flag sighting was overdue. We decided to backtrack.

In about 500 feet, we found a faded orange flag near a boulder, and realized this was where the trail turned sharply and downhill to the right. Good thing we noticed quickly and didn’t continue following the footsteps of the people that came before us!

The trail snaked through tall pines. The trees creaked in the wind and snow crunched under our feet. We were in good spirits.

Snow at base of trees

Pouring hot chocolate by Bierstadt LakeAfter a few well-signed junctions we reached Bierstadt Lake. The view was better than we had hoped! Wind gusts had blown much of the snow off the solidly frozen lake, creating a glassy surface interrupted occasionally by stubborn snow patches. Majestic peaks stood behind the lake. We sat down, snacked, and drank some not-so-hot chocolate from our thermos.

Rest breaks in such cold weather are necessarily short. Soon we were up and walking around the edge of Bierstadt Lake to take in the view from other angles.

Snowshoeing the edge of Bierstadt Lake

Then we snowshoed back the direction we came.

Snowshoeing Bierstadt Lake Trail

The highlight of the hike back was climbing up an outcrop and watching the sun begin to sink below the peaks. The sun lit up spindrift streaming off the rocky summits, creating ever-shifting glowing clouds. We couldn’t have chosen a better way to celebrate our anniversary.


Trail: Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 255 ft, easy
Usage: About 30 people on a Sunday in January

This post marks a blogging milestone for us too — our 100th post!


  1. Here’s to a wonderful relationship started five years ago! You both are beaming in these pictures–you are definitely out in your element in those beautiful mountains.


  2. I was delighted to learn a new word from your blog post: spindrift! We have had a lot of that here near Philadelphia from the storm yesterday where we got 13 inches of snow. The 25 mile an hour winds are blowing spindrift off the trees. It’s quite beautiful. And a beautiful word. Thank you!


  3. Wow looks like a lot of winter fun!! We have considered getting snowshoes and trying it next winter around Southern Oregon. Rocky Mt Natl Park is beautiful in the winter, although we must say that Bear Lake looked a lot different this past summer when we were there. Is the trail from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake accessible for snow shoeing too??


    1. The trail from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is beautiful in winter. We snowshoed that path a couple years ago. It was much more crowded than the path to Bierstadt Lake, but that also meant the Emerald Lake route was easy to follow and the snow was well compacted.

      A number of outdoor stores offer snowshoe rentals. It’s a nice way to see if you like it before committing to a big purchase.


  4. Hi there! I recently discovered your blog. My husband & I have nontraditional jobs and are spending our winter renting a cabin in CO (near Breck). We really wanted to go to RMNP while here for some snowshoeing, but keep checking the status on the road conditions and it says 4WD recommended. It sounds like you rent a vehicle to get places, so did you have 4WD on this trip? We have AWD, but didn’t know what to expect from the roads, especially given the warnings. Thanks in advance for info & advice!


    1. We rented a front wheel drive car, which was not a problem on the well-traveled and plowed road to the Bear Lake Trailhead. Roads and conditions do vary though. We’d recommend snow tires and 4WD/AWD if you’ll be driving farther from the crowds on seldom-plowed roads or if there was a recent snowfall.

      Just curious, what are your nontraditional jobs? That kind of flexibility sounds great.


  5. Hi again North Star! Thanks for the advice … there was recent snowfall and 4WD recommendations when we planned to go last week, so I’m thinking it was a good idea that we skipped it. We’ll keep watching to see if a better window of opportunity opens, but our time here is running short and we might have to save RMNP for another time.

    As for the nontraditional jobs, like you guys, we love long-distance hiking and wanted to fit in as much of that as we could. So, in 2011, we left our 9-5 steady jobs to hike the AT, then set out to do seasonal work and make adventuring our primary goal. That has included a mix of freelance medical writing (me), hospitality work (both of us) and working for Backpacker Magazine as road marketing ambassadors (both of us). This coming summer, we will be running a bed & breakfast up in Oregon and planning to hike the Te Araroa trail in the winter.


      1. Thanks for that Anna. We’re thinking of buying snowshoes for ourselves, but weren’t sure which of the MSR range would be adequate without being over the top. We’ve tried other brands (hired or on short guided walks) but have definitely been most impressed with MSR.
        Thanks again : )


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