Snowshoeing in the Snowmobile Capital of Grand Lake, CO

The village of Grand Lake, Colo., sits at the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. At an elevation of more than 8,300 feet, the park and National Forest surround it. There is spectacular scenery in every direction, wildlife is abundant, trails lead through and away from town, and lakes, streams and high peaks about the town.

In the summer, its location on the western side of the park and Trail Ridge Road makes the town a popular destination. People flock here to vacation, enjoy the scenery and unique shopping, and to stay in the endless variety of lodging available.

In the winter, you would expect the same crowds to come and experience all of the same wonders blanketed in the ample snow the area gets. Except for one problem. The highway that is Trail Ridge Road is closed to motor vehicles throughout the winter and snowmobiles are not allowed in the Park.

Thus, the town effectively sits near the end of a dead end road that is more than 100 miles away from any major metropolitan areas. For years, the town has been labeled as the “Snowmobile Capital of Colorado.” This made it a destination for those that partake of that activity. It was a way to maintain the tourist amenities in the winter. Yet, with the closing of the park to snowmobiles a few years ago, that claim to fame may have lost some of its luster. The town still clings to this label, for better or worse. I, for one, was dubious about ever going near such a place in the winter as my tastes lean toward quieter, less intrusive activities. Like snowshoeing.

I had a fearful image in my mind of what a Snowmobile Capital would be like. My fears have proved to be unfounded, thus far.

Although the area has more than 150 miles of marked snowmobile trails, almost all of these are well to the west of town. The National Park effectively surrounds the town on three sides. Although the town leaves many of its streets snowpacked for snowmobile use, this also allows you to snowshoe right through town. You can stay in town, and snowshoe right out your door on these streets and access the park and two trailheads within 600 yards of the main street. You can access other trails using the frozen ice of Grand Lake itself within a mile. Other options are a short drive away on maintained roads.

For those of you that are into it, you can do a unique combination of shopping, dining and snowshoeing, although you will have to check your snowshoes at the door.

Perhaps facing a possible decline in snowmobile tourism due to the closing of the Park to those machines, the village has decided to embrace snowshoeing. Grand Lake will host the first annual Grand Lake Snowshoe Festival, Jan. 21-23. The oldest tourist town in Colorado certainly has a history of snowshoeing, as both transportation and leisure. This festival is an attempt to bring back some of that history, and to expose snowshoers to some of the amenities the area has to offer. It might also serve to modify the town’s image, and diversify its winter tourist market.

An entire weekend of activities is planned for the snowshoer, their families and wannabes. Activities begin with a moonlight snowshoe Friday night. Saturday brings a guided snowshoe led by a Park Ranger, competitive and shorter fun snowshoe races, celebrity races and kids events right downtown, food, live music and entertainment and an informative snowshoe slide show. Lodging packages are available.

More tours with rangers follow on Sunday, with other events planned. The entire weekend is partnered with the Colorado Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Redfeather Snowshoes of Denver will provide 150 pairs of free demo snowshoes. Will the weekend be a success? Will snowshoers pass by numerous other destinations to go to Grand Lake to be part of a happening?
Will this event change the image of the Snowmobile Capital? Will the normally dispersed snowshoe community try to gather?

In my mind, the efforts shown by the organizers have already made the event a success. I encourage you to check out their Web site at

Come up to Grand Lake that weekend to see for yourself. Snowshoeing in the Snowmobile Capital is much better than you might think.



  • Tom Sobal

    *Known for snowshoeing more miles per year than anyone in the world, Tom Sobal has won more than 130 snowshoe races at distances ranging from one to 100 plus miles. He’s also garnered five World Championship titles in snowshoeing, numerous course records and won races in 12 different states. Tom hold's the world's best time for a 26.2-mile marathon on snowshoes: 3:06:17. Tom is a national advisor to the American Trail Running Association and the U.S. Snowshoe Association. Tom volunteers as a Technical Delegate for snowshoeing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games: Toronto Canada 1997; Anchorage, Alaska 2001 and Nagano, Japan 2005.

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