The Big Chill – Photographing Ice In Rocky Mountain National Park

Ice Patterns on the Big Thomspon River, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Here’s and example of ice fractures on the Big Thompson River. I photographed this image in Moraine Park on a cloudless morning. After walking around the surface of the Big Thompson for some time, I settled on this fracture and snow. If you look closely enought you can see ash embedded in the ice from the Fern Lake Fire. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 100mm F2.8 L IS Macro
Disclaimer: Photographing ice can be a dangerous and deadly activity. Conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park can change rapidly causing ice to quickly become unstable. Before wandering out on the ice to explore, I strongly advise that you check with NPS Rangers for the latest conditions before heading out on the ice.

It’s that time of year again. That time of year when you start to see shots of ice fractures and patterns from Rocky Mountain National Park popping up all over the internet. It’s a subject that has been photographed quite a bit, but even still some may wonder where and how to capture images of ice in Rocky Mountain National Park.

While there are many locations in Colorado where one can photograph ice patterns on our lakes and streams, Rocky has some of the best locals in all of Colorado to photograph icy surfaces. Combine plentiful locations to photograph ice, with your typical winter doldrums and photographing ice can be the perfect cure to get you back out in the field with your camera.

Rocky is chock full of watery locations that will freeze over once the colder weather settles in. There are however, a few locations that are more accessible and more popular locations to photograph ice in the Park.

Dream Lake tops the list of my popular locations to photograph ice in Rocky. The high winds that race down from the peaks above Dream Lake act like nature’s Zamboni. Even when there is heavy snowpack, winds will often sweep the surfaces of Dream Lake exposing large swaths of the icy surface of the lake. Dream Lake is also a fairly short hike in the winter. The trail is heavily used and will most likely be hard packed. It rarely requires snowshoes to access but I would recommend snow spikes or Yak-Trax type equipment to make your footing a little more sure on the ice and snow.

The Loch, like Dream Lake is also a very good location to photograph ice. The winds at the Loch in the winter can be relentless. This of course will keep large areas of the good size lake free of snow and ready for exploration. The Loch requires a bit more of a physical commitment to reach than Dream Lake but you are likely to encounter fewer photographers here than Dream Lake.

Ice Fractures on Dream Lake, RMNP
Dream Lake is by far the most popular location in RMNP to photograph ice. You could spend days photographing the different patterns on the surface of Dream Lake. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS

For those who want to avoid long hikes or extended periods out in the cold and wind, Fall River in Horseshoe Park, and the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park can provide some nice areas of ice, especially if the snowpack is lower. Keep in mind you will be able to find interesting ice patterns in just about any location in Rocky Mountain National Park where there is water present.

As for actually photographing the ice and the patterns, I recommend taking your time to observe the patterns, bubbles and fractures present on the ice. Try lots of different compositions and look for patterns or anomalies in the ice that will make for an interesting subject. My favorite lenses when photographing ice are my 100mm Macro lens and my 24-105mm lens. I find the 85-105mm range to be best at isolating the patterns.

Furthermore, keep in mind that weather conditions will play a big part in your results in the field. Cloudless Colorado bluebird days will result in the ice taking on a bluish hue from the sky reflecting in the ice. Cloudy days will result in the ice taking on a more milky white like hue. I recommend you photograph the ice in Raw. Why you ask?, mostly because this gives you the option of adjusting your white balance when processing your shots. This will result in much more dynamic images as you can decide to warm and or cool the white balance based on your desired results.