Rocky Mountain National Park—70 miles from Denver, a mere 40 from Boulder—offers 415 square miles of alpine and subalpine adventure 365 days a year. RMNP is packed with 355 miles of hiking trails, and home to abundant flora and fauna. Visit this spring to experience the park as two worlds—one thawing and reawakening, the other snowy and frozen, winter’s remnants. Before you go: check with the National Park Service to get the most updated flood impacts and closures from the September 2013 flooding as well as check on spring conditions.
Spring Weather in RMNP
Higher elevations remain snow-packed, lower meadows are sunny and snow-free
As snow recedes and air temperatures rise, visitors will find wonderful hiking opportunities, from low-grade strolls around many of the park’s lakes, to steep summit bids—elevations range from 7,500 to over 12,000 feet. Trees shade many of the trails, allowing some snow and ice to remain well into June (at higher points, it may even snow in July). Hikers travelling beyond the park’s meadows should be equipped with snowshoes or yak-tracks.
Weather in RMNP is variable, especially in the spring—come prepared with layers for many conditions, and know that temperatures run about 10° cooler than in Estes Park, CO. By late April, spring temperatures range from 20s at night to 60s during the day at the lower elevations (8,000 to 9,5000 feet), though light snow is not uncommon. April and May bring an average of 3.8 and 0.5 inches of snow, respectively to Estes Park, and 16.8 and 4.7 inches to Grand Lake (on the west side of the park). Snowfall totals in the park with be somewhere between these two sets, with greater accumulations at higher elevations.
Wildflower Viewing in Rocky Mountain Park
As spring warms to summer, explore mountain meadows via the Tundra Communities Trail—also called the Toll Memorial Trail and the Tundra Nature Trail—to view some of RMNP’s hundreds of wildflower species. Pick up the trail at the top of Trail Ridge Road, near Rock Cut. The 0.5-mile path is wheelchair accessible and traverses terrain home to a set of hardy wildflowers capable of surviving the extreme alpine tundra climate, completing their yearly life cycle during the short weeks of summer. Time your visit right and you’ll see members of this exclusive family, including Indian Paintbrush, Forget-me-nots, and Alpine Avens. Get lucky and you’ll see the ephemeral Alpine Sunflower, found only in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Spring Elk and Bighorn Sheep in the Rockies
Many animals of the high south-central continental divide call RMNP home: In the spring, some give birth, and many become increasingly active, even migrating to lower, more viewer-accessible regions. There are around 1000 elk in the park, and many are easily seen in meadows and sparsely wooded hillsides just off park roads. Newborn calves will join their mothers, grazing and resting in fields. Bighorn Sheep, who typically reside in the alpine realms of the Mummy Range, will descend in late spring and summer to the meadows of Horseshoe Park, around Sheep Lakes. Consult a ranger for the most recent information regarding animal sightings.
Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road, and Other Road Openings & Conditions
Many park bridges, roads, and trails suffered significant damage during the catastrophic flooding that hit Colorado’s Front Range in September 2013. Overall damage was minimal compared to downstream communities—and the west side of the park was largely unmarred. Impact to Old Fall River Road was severe, and this historic dirt track was closed to vehicles. Old Fall River Road is being repaired and is expected to reopen to vehicles in July 2015.
Elsewhere, warm daytime temperatures and spring sun are thawing out frozen sections of the park, leaving roads muddy.
Trail Ridge Road opens in its entirety around Memorial Day (weather permitting), after spring plowing operations have finished, which typically leaves behind roadside snow banks over 20 feet high. These walls may exist at high elevations well into the summer months, depending on the amount of daytime melting. For now, Trail Ridge Road is closed from Many Parks Curve on the east side to the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side, while the middle, high-elevation segment remains under ‘winter trail status’, closed to bicycles and pets. Call the Trail Ridge Road line at (970) 586-1222 for a recorded road status.
Remaining park road openings and closures are listed below:
Bear Lake Road: Open
Fern Lake Road: Closed at the Winter Parking Area; estimated opening date: Late April
Wild Basin Road: Closed at the Winter Parking Area; estimated opening date: Early May
Twin Sisters Trailhead Access Road: Open
Upper Beaver Meadows Road: Open
Endovalley Road: Open from Horseshoe Park to the East Alluvial Fan Parking Area
Rocky Mountain Park Visitor Centers and Facilities
During your visit, make sure to stop in to a nearby Visitors Center for a ranger update on local conditions and trail or activity recommendations. Not all Visitors Centers are open year-round:
Alpine Visitors Center: Open late-May (only open if Trail Ridge Road is open)
(Hosts exhibits on alpine tundra; books, snacks, restrooms available)
Beaver Meadows Visitors Center: Open year-round (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day); 8:00am-4:30pm
(Park introductory film viewing; books, gifts for sale; family restrooms available)
Fall River Visitor Center: Estimated opening May 10, 9:00am-5:00pm
Holzwarth Historic Site: Accessible year-round (no access to interior of building in winter)
Kawuneeche Visitor Center: Open year-round (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day); 8:00am-4:30pm
(Park introductory film viewing; books, gifts for sale; reserve backcountry camping site; restrooms available)
Moraine Park Visitor Center: Estimated opening late May, possibly early June (To be renamed the Moraine Park Discovery Center)
Sheep Lakes Information Station: Estimated opening May 10, 9:00am-4:30pm
Spring Camping in Rocky Mountain Park
For those interested in camping, advance reservations are now available for Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park Campgrounds. Book through Reserve America, www.reserveamerica.com or www.recreation.gov or (877) 444-6777. All campground openings are listed below:
Aspenglen Campground: May 21-September 27, 2015
Glacier Basin Campground: May 21-September 7, 2015
Longs Peak Campground: May 22-Nov 1, 2015
Moraine Park Campground: May 21-September 27, 2015
In Winter: Eight group sites are open on a first-come, first-serve basis
Timber Creek Campground: May 22-November 1, 2015