Mistakes to Avoid During Your First Winter Hike | Krista Aoki, a lifestyle & travel blog - lessons learned from my first winter hike in Rifle, Colorado at the Rifle Mountain Park ice caves and frozen waterfalls

Ice Caves and Waterfalls in Rifle, Colorado

January 28, 2017

If you’re a well-seasoned winter hiker, you won’t get much out of this (other than a good laugh). But, if you are a newbie like I am trying to learn from someone else’s experiences, then this just may be your cup of tea!

Okay, okay, you’ll probably get a good laugh out of the naivety I experienced when we went on an adventure to find ice caves.

For Mike’s birthday, we took a stress-free staycation to what’s known as the ice caves at Rifle Mountain Park in Rifle, Colorado. The small, charming town of Rifle sits about an hour and a half or two hours West of the ski town where we work, Vail.

The caves are only an hour North of Rifle. 

Every time I tell people we visited there, they relay they had no idea that such a beautiful magnificence is located just a short distance away from this small mountain town.  

It’s no wonder these ice caves are considered and referred to as a winter jewel.

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Lessons Learned from my First Winter Hike | Krista Aoki, a lifestyle & travel blog | Riflle Ice Caves in Rifle, Colorado

You can find the road to the Rifle Mountain Park at a fork beside the parking entrance of Rifle Falls State Park.  Don’t be doubtful when you reach an unpaved, somewhat muddy road. Soon, you’ll find a couple of unmarked parking areas and walking paths that lead to the other side of a small creek.

We read online that the hike itself is about ¾ of a mile, so we were prepared to do a little walking, but not that far. 

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Even if it’s a Warm Day Full of Sunshine, Bring Extra Layers

Lessons Learned from my First Winter Hike | Krista Aoki, a lifestyle & travel blog | Riflle Ice Caves in Rifle, Colorado

Okay. So Mike always makes fun of me for being unprepared for the cold winter days.  He tries to educate me to dress warm over dressing cute.  Since I’m stubborn I try finding ways to do both.  

That day I wore a Smart Wool base zip-up layer and a green Tommy Hilfiger jacket. Even though we started with a beautiful, sunny day in town (it was probably around 30 degrees F – it’s all relative), to get to the frozen waterfalls we climbed up in elevation and were met with much colder weather.  I should have packed my North Face down jacket that keeps me warm with minimal extra layers and single-digit temperatures.  Thank goodness Mike packs prepared that I’ll underdress, and offered me his flannel to sport.  

When we took pictures, I asked, “does this look too bulky?  Should I take this flannel off?”  Weird, he didn’t answer me.  He only rolled his eyes.

When You’re on the Prowl for Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls, You’re Probably Going to Encounter Some Ice

No duh, right? Well, we failed to consider this aspect of it.  Before searching for the ice caves and frozen waterfalls, we stopped by Rifle Falls State Park and walked around. We started on a loop trail that led up the mountain and didn’t look back.  The small patches of icy walkway didn’t intimidate us! So we continued on the loop trail.

But, what goes up must come down.  We started taking a few steps down, noticing more and more ice. Then we were confronted with staircases and hills leading downwards.  By that point it wasn’t worth trying to figure out a way to climb upwards past sheets of ice, so we got creative: sat down and slid down!  

Then we jumped back into the car and took the other road towards Rifle Mountain Park. There wasn’t a lot of signage. So once we got onto the muddy road, we felt tempted to turn back. Luckily we kept driving and finally reached a small parking area at the side of the road. And our second short hike of the day began! It was fun climbing over big packs of snow to get good views of the frozen waterfalls.

Once we got to the Upper Ice Cave in Rifle Mountain Park, the entire entranceway into the cave was a huge, thick slippery sheet of ice.  So Mike slid on the ice on his knees and took a few camera shots of the inside while I admired the frozen waterfalls on the outside.  

It would have probably been an easier journey had we accounted for such and brought shoes designed to walk on ice. C’est la vie…

Pack a Pleasant Surprise for You and Your Hiking Partners

Sure it’s common sense to bring water and maybe even some grub, but impress your hiking partner with some hot, hot chocolate you can enjoy after you’ve reached your destination!

I only wish I had brought hot chocolate in an insulated thermos with us.  Not only would that be ridiculously romantic, but it definitely could have awarded me with a girlfriend-of-the-year title.

It’s About the Journey, the Destination, and Your Company

Lessons Learned from my First Winter Hike | Krista Aoki, a lifestyle & travel blog | Riflle Ice Caves in Rifle, Colorado

That phrase “it’s not about the destination, but the journey” is said often to inspire others to enjoy each trip or what-have-you in its entirety.

But it can be about the destination.  After all, when we finally reached the frozen waterfalls and the ice caves behind it, we were both in awe.

And most importantly, your partner on each journey is incredibly important – whether it’s a friend, your life partner, or just yourself.  You may be a less experienced hiker traveling with a more seasoned hiker.  It’s important that your partner is totally supportive of your capabilities and the pace you need to succeed.

Assess Each Situation on a Case-by-Case Basis

Colorado Ice Caves & Waterfalls in Rifle, CO at Krista Aoki, a lifestyle & travel blog. mistakes to avoid during your first winter hike. hiking travel vacation frozen waterfalls colorado weekend trip staycation small town budget travelAt least we returned home with these silly stories to laugh about and share.  We didn’t pack or prepare too much because we saw a ¾ mile hike as simple.  

But, before you do go on your next winter hike, prepare yourself! Look into the ten essentials that every hiker should leave prepared with.  REI has a good list.

Where is your favorite winter hike?  Do you have any other hiking tips or stories to share?

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  • Anna

    Gorgeous shots! Layers are definitely a must, but one layer I had neglected until a few years ago are socks. I was stuck working outside, freezing my poor feet off, until I bought a thick pair of Rocky brand boot socks meant for outdoor activities like hiking. The price tag shocked me at first, but I’ve quickly come to appreciate the value of good cold weather gear. Even if I’m just wearing said gear to go grab coffee on a cold day. That requires going outside, so it still counts as an outdoor activity, right? 😉

    • Thank you, Anna! Oh my gosh! I had no idea until this past winter how valuable a good pair of socks could be! I will have to try out the Rocky boot socks because you’re right – it’s worth it to invest in cold weather gear!