For anyone who loves the outdoors, the Rocky Mountains will surely be a place to dream about. The Rockies is a place to feel the wind in your hair, enjoy isolation, see wildlife, and escape from the grind of modern life. If you are planning your trip then you will also need to decide when the best time to visit Rocky Mountains national park really is.
In actual fact, the park is open all year around. However, there are different seasons, each with its own implications. The seasons, as well as what you would like to do when you visit the park will affect when you want to go.
Let’s also bear in mind that there are huge elevation differences across the park, different habitats (mountains, valleys, alpine meadows etc), this means the weather and climate can vary greatly from place to place.
Importantly once you have a general idea of when you would like to visit and what you would like to do, then you should conduct more research specific to the area you want to visit.
Sizzling Summer (June – August)
I’m not sure if you can necessarily describe the summer as sizzling!. Temperatures usually range from 70 to 80 Fahrenheit during the day. These temperatures can vary significantly, and can easily drop down to 40 Fahrenheit in the night.
Even in summer, the weather can change rapidly and thunderstorms are not unusual. On the highest mountains, there could even be snow in July. For the most part, across the park expect sunny days, potentially cold winds, potentially rain or thunderstorms, and cold nights.
Whatever the season, you should visit the park prepared for low temperatures (just in case), particularly if you plan to stay overnight.
Having said all that, summer is one of the most popular times of year to visit. This may be a downside if you want to escape the crowds. When arriving at the park the roads can be busy and congested. A good tip to avoid the congestion is to plan your arrival in the afternoon.
Summer is the best season to enjoy the many lakes in the area, with fishing, canoeing, rafting and lots of other water based activities to try.
In summer, you can enjoy hiking, wilderness camping, see wildflowers on the alpine tundra, try rafting or for the more sedate you can enjoy fishing. For active people or families with children, you could even try your hand at Geocaching, a kind of modern interactive version of orienteering.
Multicolored Fall (September – November)
Fall is another excellent time of year to visit the Rockies. The autumn is generally drier than the summer, which makes the season a good time of year to wilderness camp. Again, much like summer, because of the good weather, the park can be busy. Afternoon arrival can help avoid the crowds, at least when getting to the park.
Highlights of the fall, is of course, the leaves changing color on the trees (usually at its best mid -September) and the Elk migration/ mating season (also September).
Even though the weather is generally drier than in Summer, an early snowstorm can hit, so you still need to come prepared for cold nights or a storm, just in case.
If you are interested in wildlife, or photography then fall is THE absolute best time to visit.
For young people, families or anyone else musically (or beer) inclined, in the fall there is an annual music festival at Estes Park: Autumn Gold – A Festival of Bands, Brats n’Beer.
Crispy Snowy Winter (December – March)
Don’t write off winter in the Rockies just yet!
Lower elevations on the East side of the mountain range can be free of snow, but rather than going to the park to avoid snow, perhaps you should be going to embrace the snow.
In winter the weather can be very hostile, high winds, deep snow, and blizzards swooping down from nowhere. The winter is not the time of year to be heading into the remotest areas or for attempting to wilderness camp.
Winter is the time to enjoy some skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing. There aren’t any ski resorts in the area, but with proper preparation and appropriate safety precautions, there are lots of fun places to discover (note: effort lugging your equipment will be required). There are a lot of great possibilities for cross-country skiing too. Even beginners can try out cross-country skiing on the Trail Ridge Road, which is closed to traffic over the winter.
A BIG bonus of the winter months is you get to miss out on the crowds. The park is much quieter in the winter. This means for the tourist adverse of you the winter might just be THE best time to visit.
The nights can be very cold so if you are staying overnight you need to be prepared for temperatures of -35 Fahrenheit.
While the Rockies is one of the most exciting places in the world for adventurous explorers, there are also lots of possibilities for people who are not confident navigating by themselves. The Ranger-led programs are a great way to get more out of your visit, and not to have to worry about getting lost etc. Winter is a great season to try a Ranger-led activity.
Changeable Spring (April – May)
Spring comes to the park at different times, according to the elevation. In the highest areas spring doesn’t arrive until June!
The one thing for certain about spring is the weather will be unpredictable. You might have warm, cold, wet or dry weather. In May, the Trail Ridge Road opens to traffic after the long snowy winter.
The best thing about the spring apart from the flowers (at least in the lowest areas) is the fact the park is still quiet. If you would like to miss the summer/ fall rush then spring will be a great time to visit.
The spring is a time to see the landscape of the park in transition. High altitudes will have snow, and the lower areas will find melting snow and flowers beginning to burst through.
It might just be THE best season to hike and take pictures in the park.
Most of the Rocky Mountain National Park camp grounds open in May, so if you specifically want to camp out then a spring visit should be at the very end of the season.
Please do make sure you check out any warnings the park might have issued before you head into the area. Some places can be dangerous to visit because they are prone to flood water as the snow melts.
Preparation, preparation, preparation = FUN
Lastly, any visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park should be carried out with lots of preparation. This way you can make sure you visit the park prepared for the conditions, nature can be unforgiving even if she is beautiful!
- Summer is for all – mostly good weather, water based activities, camping, hiking, photography, wildlife, CROWDS
- Fall is for even more all – good dry weather, camping, hiking, photography, wildlife, a festival, CROWDS
- Winter is for quiet – cold weather, snowy activities, quiet days, photography, wildlife, NO CROWDS
- Spring is for even more quiet – mixed weather, some snowy activities, flowers, hiking, photography, wildlife, NO CROWDS
I hope this article helped you to identify the best season for you to visit the area.
Have you ever been to Rocky Mountain National Park? Are you a summer, fall, winter or spring person? Where was your favorite place? Which was your favorite activity? Let us know in the comments…