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The Perfect Sunrise Hike at Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

 In Colorado, Destinations, Hikes, mountains, Outdoors, Stories, US Destinations

Lake Haiyaha is one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most visited areas. This trail offers a great introduction to winter hiking and snowshoeing. Travel during the winter to beat the crowds and enjoy a sunrise for even more solitude. Here’s how to hike to Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter.

Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park - Squirrel

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Rocky Mountain National Park is quickly becoming one of the most popular national parks in the United States. According to the park, in 2014 there were over 3.4 million visitors. That’s staggering. Traffic jams, long lines, and overcrowded trails lead me to mostly stay away from the place despite the scenery.

The key to avoiding the crowds at this national landmark is to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter. Although the road connecting the west and east end of the park is closed, you can still enjoy several viewpoints (like Many Parks Overlook), hike in the Bear Lake Trailhead area and explore endless snowy landscapes.

Be prepared for windy, wintery conditions. However, the reward for braving the cold are fantastic views with about a quarter the crowds you’ll see in summer. If you really want some solitude, wake up for sunrise. I promise, it won’t dissapoint.



Lake Haiyaha Trail Area

The trail to Haiyaha Lake is one of the most popular trails in the state if not all of the National Parks. It’s easy to see why: Lake Haiyaha Trail is one of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, especially during winter. The trail is roughly 4 miles round trip up pretty easy terrain. As you meander gently uphill the trail treats you to four pristine high alpine lakes nestled among staggeringly high dramatic cliffs. The trail gets tougher and thus, less crowded, once you start to gain a rather short ridge to the final Lake – Lake Haiyaha. As you round the corner you’re greeted with a steep drop to a valley below while surrounded by the iconic rocky peaks that make Colorado famous.

The place is a dream. And we had it all to ourselves. Ya sure, conditions were less than ideal, with strong winds and freezing temps, but fit for a new year. Everything isn’t going to go your way, there will always be an obstacle to overcome in return for the reward.

Get your free hiking planner and checklist and be organized for your hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Information for Lake Haiyaha Rocky Mountain National Park

Trailhead: Located at the end of Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Use the East access for entry.

Warnings: Be aware that this trail goes through avalanche terrain. There is a workaround if you do not have experience traveling through avalanche terrain, this adds distance to the journey. Always check for avalanche conditions prior to heading out in winter.

Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park - Lake Haiyaha

Round Trip Distance: This trail is roughly 6 miles round trip. It was hard to track this time of year, as the snow means that the main trail is covered. With all of the drifting snow, we were certainly off the main trail.

Elevation Gain: Only 885 vertical feet of gain makes this trail a breeze, even in the snow.

Dogs: Dogs are not allowed on trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. Leave Fido at home, as the car gets very cold.

Want more winter trail inspo and tips? Check this out:

Great beginner hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Amazing winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter. #hiking #snowshoeing #rockymountainnationalpark #colorado #travel

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Showing 17 comments
  • Mo Palepale

    Love this article as the pics remind me so much of Alaska. I’m with you on getting up very early to enjoy the wild without the crowds.

    • foxintheforest

      I really need to get Alaska on my “next destination” list! I love getting up early to avoid crowds – it truly is the best way to enjoy the wild!

  • Agness of eTramping

    Definitely looks like a bunch of solitude. Good luck on future endeavors Fox!

  • Pete

    Now there’s dedication!

    I’ve got a National Parks passport and I collect stamps from all the US parks and historic places I visit in my travels. Turns out there’s a bunch of them and hunting down stamps takes me to places I would never have otherwise gotten to. The cliff dwellings at Walnut Creek, for example.

    • foxintheforest


      That’s so cool! I’ve seen the passports and follow a few people on Instagram who are involved with National Park Geeks. I think it’s great that you’ve gotten to explore places you’d otherwise skip over. I’d love to spend more time in national parks, but their dog policy makes things difficult. It’s hard for me to go out into the wilderness and not bring my best friend! However, I’m determined to make more of an effort this year. Happy collecting! 🙂

  • Katie Featherstone

    Oh wow, I’m so jealous of this scenery. Lake Haiyaha looks like something out of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”! I’m glad you found some peace there. Sometimes all it takes is a little time away from our man made world to remember why we are alive!

    • foxintheforest

      It kind of does! I never thought of it that way! Haha. It’s definitely worth the visit if you are ever in the area.

  • Kate

    Ahh after living in Arizona, the sight of that much snow makes me cringe. RMNP surely is beautiful though. I was there once and had an amazing time!

  • Adrenaline Romance

    What a beautiful, scenic place! The ice-capped mountains and forest of pine trees in the National Park are remarkable. We would love to hike and camp here.

    Just looking at the thick layer of snow makes us shiver; it must have been really cold. But we are looking forward to that considering that we are living in a tropical country where the sun continually burns the landscape.

    • foxintheforest

      Thank you! Rocky Mountain National Park is so iconic to Colorado. I’ve seen it during many different seasons and this trip was by far my favorite. I used to be the kind of person that was ALWAYS cold – and when I’m in my street clothes in the city I still am, but this year I invested in good winter gear and wow what a difference it has made! Don’t get me wrong though – I’ve lived in a tropical country too and there are days where I’d love to just sit in the heat haha.

  • Cliodhna Ryan

    Off season travel is just the best. I couldn’t imagine a better way to usher in 2017. That photo with the sunlight glinting over the mountains is magical. Good to know its still possible to find solitude

  • Rhiannon

    What a unique way to see in the new year! This place looks beautiful, and what a treat to get it almost all to yourselves! I love it when that happens although I’m not an early riser myself so it’s very rare for me!

  • Munchkins Treks

    Rocky Mountain National Park looks like a great place to visit. I’m an avid hiker and love learning about new destinations. I love your photos with the snow-covered mountains.

  • Michelel D

    haha definitely looks like there were lots of opportunity for solitude! Not sure I could do it but its quite a romantic idea. Being on your own.

  • Kelly

    Love the piece and love your connect with the New Year and connecting your hiking to conquering obstacles in life. It looks breath taking and I give you so much credit for getting up early and hiking in the cold. Kudos to you!

    • foxintheforest

      Thanks Kelly! I like to go at life with a reckless abandon and squeeze all the juice out of an experience 🙂

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winter hiking and snowshoeing - windet storm