Estes Park Photo Tours - Winter Photo Options

What do you want to shot in the Winter?

Wildlife Sunrise Sunset Winter Macro

NOTE: Unless otherwise stated these tour options can be part of a 3.5, 6, or 8 hour trip.

Winter Weather Info page for complete details on how bad or nice the weather can be in Rocky.

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big horn ram headshot


Click for a detailed list of Wildlife

Winter Wildlife - All Winter - In the winter season we generally see Elk, Mule Deer, Turkey and sometimes Coyotes nearly everyday. The Big Horn Sheep have become easier to find over the years, but they are not always close, common ranges are 50-200 yards, and sometimes literally on the roadside or way up a hill as tiny dots. Moose are extremely rarely seen and almost never a good photo option in the winter months. In March and after Sheep become much easier to find day to day, but late Oct. - November is best for Rams during the ruts.   We also find Pine Squirrels, Abert's Squirrels, Magpies, and very rarely red tail hawks. Generally best morning and evenings.

Mule Deer Rut - Nov. 6th - Dec. 10th - The rut season for Mule Deer can often bring out some monster bucks and the mule deer are very easy to see in the evenings and sometimes mornings. We often combine a trip looking for Mule Deer with chances for Sheep, Elk, and Coyote shots. The Prime Rut season is the 2nd week of November, generally the 10th. 70% chance to see.

Elk - All Winter - Elk bulls can often be found in the National Park and town edges, and cow elk are often found at the edges of town and farther out in a few areas. If they are close to the road we can get great shots of bulls or cows in herds surviving the winter. 90% chance to see.

Elk Sparring - Very often in the morning and evening the Bull Elk congregate and we can get some great shots. They will often spar with each other as long as the winter hasn't been too harsh. Just a note the elk loose their antlers around March 10th-15th, so if you want to see animals with racks show up before then. 80% chance to see but happens very quick.

Snowshoe Hare - All Winter - Snowshoe Hares are generally only found in the last hour and a half of the evening. These targets require snowshoeing less than a quarter mile one way, some patience, and a bit of luck. Fast lenses and high ISO are also required, even then its probably only a 40% chance we can locate and photograph these amazing white rabbits..err...hares. Targeting snowshoe hares uses most of the tour time, so you have to choose elk or hares.

Big Horn Sheep - Oct. - Feb. - Through most of the winter Big Horn Sheep are a 40% chance closer sighting. Oct 20th throuh late November is prime Ram finding but ewe herds are far more common. The Big Horn Rut activity is best in Late October through early December.

Big Horn Sheep - March - Late winter the Big Horn Sheep become very common. The park population is high on ewes but with some luck we can find Rams. 65% chance to see.

Scavenging Animals - Feb. - March - Late winter is the time the elk and deer die due to the harsh Rocky Mountain winters so when we are lucky enough to find a fallen animal the photo opts can be right out of National Geographic. You can see Coyotes, hawks, and magpies around the carcass. 5% chance to see.

Turkey - All Winter we can often find turkey in a near town. In mid March the Spring Mating season kicks in and we sometimes can find fanning and dancing toms. 85% chance to see turkey, 25% fanning toms mid March.

Coyotes - All Winter - The Coyotes are very active in the mid morning through mid afternoon. They are generally alone, but sometimes in a small pack hunting small rodents. We can often get within 40 yards, and sometimes they are just outside the car window. Its a great time to get them leaping through the grass. 10% chance to see, sadly have become less common over the last few years.

Divide Pano Sunrise


NOTE: Sunrises in the winter are very random and extremely weather dependent. Early in the winter only about 40% of the mornings we get great color in the mountains. Later in winter the chances for a good sunrise generally increases to about 60%. Often we have to adjust plans, so sunrise is a real bet in the winter but when it comes its a great gamble.

Mummy Range Sunrise - In the winter months the sun's rays hit the Mummy Range the best. There is a location along the road we can shot, or hike up a nearby hillside for an amazing panorama of both the Mummy Range and a second shot of the Front Range including Longs Peak. If we shot by the road it requires a 30 minute before sunrise start. The hiking destination which is less than a quarter mile but has a 20-40% uphill grade requires a start time 45 minute before sunrise.

Deer Mountain Overlook Sunrise - If your looking for an easy set up but a great landscape Deer Mountain Overlook is your place. The Mummy Range and part of the Front Range gets the best morning light all winter and this is a quick and easy set of locations to get to. Sunrise happens fast so you want to prepare your location as the exposed ice changes from week to week. From this same roadside spot we can shoot part of the Mummy Range as well as Longs Peak which gets good morning light with good weather. The start time required is 30 minutes before sunrise.

Moraine Park Sunrise - Moraine Park offers a great view of the mountains with the Big Thompson River running through a grassy meadow. This shot is best March 1st and later. This is a drive up location which requires a start of 30 minutes before sunrise. From there we can hit a variety of landscape locations or search for wildlife. We can also strap on the snowshoes and head into the mountains for post sunrise landscapes.

Dream Lake Snowshoeing Weather comparison

Dream Lake Snowshoe Sunrise and Ice Abstract Combo (3.5 or 6 hour tour) Easy to Medium Hike - Sunrise at Dream Lake is one of the best 1 mile hike photo spots in the park, and it produces some fantastic photos but it is extremely dependent on good winter weather which is much more rare. This tour requires a start of 1 hour and 30 minutes before sunrise. It is an easy snowshoe hike for fit individuals, medium difficulty for folks from lower elevations and are not as active. Keep in mind we will be standing still for a good while in likely high winds and wind chills around zero degrees so be sure to dress very warm. By Mid December after sunrise we can head out onto the ice and shot Ice Abstracts of the world famous ice on Dream Lake. In the 6 hour option we will continue up to Emerald Lake which offers even more great mountain views and some great ice. On the way down hill we can stop at Nymph Lake for landscapes and Bear Lake which has some great ice sickles.

Winter Bear Lake Sunset


NOTE: Sunsets in the winter are very random and extremely weather dependent. Early in the winter only about 40% of the evenings we get great color in the mountains. Later in winter the chances for a good sunset generally increases to about 60%. Often we have to adjust plans, so sunset is a real bet in the winter but when it comes its a great gamble.

Bear Lake Sunset - This option takes us to most popular lake in Rocky, but in the winter it takes on a different look. Almost always the ice is snow covered so there usually it just the amazing mountain view getting the evening light. Long's Peak from Bear Lake is thee only high peak that gets evening light in the winter time that doesn't require a rather long snowshoe trek to capture.

Winter Macros

Ice Patterns - December - March - There are some places many folks aren't aware of that produce some fantastic ice patterns. Its a great option to focus on for an hour or two, or to visit after shooting sunrise. This location is over a marsh so there is no risk of falling through the ice.

Ice Abstracts - Rocky Mountain National Park is home to some of the most interesting subalpine lake ice in the US. We'll strap on the snowshoes and hike up to Dream Lake and possibly Emerald Lake to shoot the ice abstracts. We can also shot the landscapes there.