When is the Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park?

Snow in May? Road closures in October? Rocky Mountain National Park operates on a very different schedule than most of the United States. Learn what to expect for each month of the year.

With elevations ranging from 7,600’ (2,316m) to 14,259’ (4,326m), Rocky Mountain National Park is really its own world, making travel planning a little more complicated. Its weather can be completely different from what you’ll find in other parts of the United States or even in Denver, just 60 miles away. Sometimes the temperatures can be as high as 100°F (38°C) in the Denver metro area and at the same time as low as 40°F (4°F) or colder up on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.

As well as wildly varying temperatures, the national park’s seasons are quite different from what you might be accustomed to. Winters are long. Spring is late and very short. Summer is short but delightful and autumn is gone before you know it. While there may be snow in June or August or t-shirt weather days in the middle of winter, there is a general pattern:

  • Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park: mid-October through mid-April.
  • Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park: mid-April through mid-June
  • Summer in Rocky Mountain National Park: mid-June through mid-August
  • Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park: mid-August through mid-October.

Click below to find out what to expect when visiting each month of the year.

January / February / March / April / May / June

July / August / September / October / November / December


January

Weather: January can be a cold and often very windy month. Most of the snow will be in the forested sub-alpine area between around 9,000’ (2,743m) – 10,000’ (3,048m), which includes the Bear Lake area.

Visitation: After the Christmas break is over, things quiet down. The roads of the national park are nearly empty on weekdays, though during the weekends many visitors come up from the Denver area to enjoy snowshoeing and skiing. Obtaining accommodation at this time of year is generally not difficult, though some lodges, restaurants, and stores close for some or all of January.

Activities: The most popular activity at this time of year is snowshoeing in the Bear Lake area. There is a small sledding hill at Hidden Valley, though sometimes the high winds will blow away the snow. There are also some hikes that can be done with micro-spikes. Although there are no ski resorts nearby, some people take advantage of back country skiing. Read more about winter activities.

Wildlife: Elk and deer can often be seen foraging in the snow for food. Occasionally there are a couple of moose in the area. Bighorn sheep can often be seen alongside Highway 34 near the town of Drake. Turkeys are also active in the ponderosa forests at this time of year.

Be Aware:

  • When it snows in the park, you may be required to have all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive or have chains on your vehicle to enter the park.
  • At this time of year, it is important to know about avalanche danger if you plan to spend any time on steep terrain. (Greater than 35° angle).
  • Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are both closed.

February

Weather: February is much like January. It is often cold with high winds, but generally there is more snowfall during this month than in January.

Visitation: Weekends in February are usually busy, but most weekdays are generally quiet in the park. This is a good time to find accommodations.

Activities: The most popular activity at this time of year is snowshoeing in the Bear Lake area. There is a small sledding hill at Hidden Valley, though sometimes the high winds will blow away the snow. There are also some hikes that can be done with micro-spikes. Although there are no ski resorts nearby, some people take advantage of back country skiing. Read more about winter activities.

Wildlife: Elk and deer can often be seen foraging in the snow for food. Occasionally there are a couple of moose in the area. Bighorn sheep can often be seen alongside Highway 34 near the town of Drake. Turkeys are also active in the ponderosa forests at this time of year.

Be Aware:

  • When it snows in the park, you may be required to have all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive or have chains on your vehicle to enter the park.
  • At this time of year, it is important to know about avalanche danger if you plan to spend any time on steep terrain. (Greater than 35° angle).
  • Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are both closed.

March

Weather: March can sometimes be a snowy month and is often one of the best for winter activities in the park. The winter winds may still howl through the area at times, but generally there are many days when is the winds are not quite so strong. There are usually a number of warmer days in March. The lower elevations of the park often melt out and the eastern edge of the park can feel quite spring-like.

Visitation: The first half of March is generally quiet, but then folks begin arriving for spring break. While not nearly as busy as the summer season, you’ll see a lot more people during this period than the rest of the winter.

Copeland Lake and Copeland Mountain in March

Activities: The most popular activity at this time of year is snowshoeing in the Bear Lake area. There is a small sledding hill at Hidden Valley, though sometimes the high winds will blow away the snow. There are also some hikes that can be done with micro-spikes. Although there are no ski resorts nearby, some people take advantage of back country skiing. Read more about winter activities.

Wildlife: Elk can usually be seen in the lower meadows. They often begin losing their antlers near the end of this month. Mule deer hang around the edge of Deer Mountain. Bighorn sheep can often be seen alongside Highway 34 near the town of Drake. Turkeys are active in the ponderosa forests at this time of year. The bluebirds generally arrive in the Estes Valley and the lower meadows of the park during this month.

Be Aware:

  • When it snows in the park, you may be required to have all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive or have chains on your vehicle to enter the park.
  • At this time of year, it is important to know about avalanche danger if you plan to spend any time on steep terrain. (Greater than 35° angle).
  • Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are both closed.
  • If you plan to hike in the lower meadows, be aware of ticks in long grasses or forested areas. Check yourself after each hike.

April

Weather: April is a time of transition in the park. It can be characterized by big heavy snowfalls, some of the biggest of the year. It can look like a winter wonderland as the snow tends to cling to every branch and rock. The daytime temperatures are often above freezing, melting the snow and ice. As the month progresses, the lakes and streams begin to melt and the sound of running water can be heard. While the lower elevations of the park may be entirely snow-free, the snow around Bear Lake will often be well over 5’ deep.

Visitation: This is perhaps the quietest time of the year. Finding accommodation is generally not difficult, though some lodges, hotels, restaurants, and shops may be closed during this month. Even weekends are generally not too busy.

Lake Bierstadt in April

Activities: The snow during this month can often be wet, making snowshoeing a little more challenging, but there will also be days that are perfect for it. Due to the soft wet snow, hiking without snowshoes is not recommended. However, hiking can be done on trails at the edges of the park where the snow has completely melted.

Wildlife: The elk are usually looking shabby as their thick coats are messy and the bulls are losing and then regrowing their antlers. As the month progresses, you’ll see them lose some of that coat as they begin to prepare for the summer ahead. Birds of all varieties begin to return to the mountains, and you can hear their joyful singing in the forests.

Be Aware:

  • When it snows in the park, you may be required to have all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive or have chains on your vehicle to enter the park.
  • At this time of year, it is important to know about avalanche danger if you plan to spend any time on steep terrain. (Greater than 35° angle).
  • Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are both closed.
  • If you plan to hike in the lower meadows, be aware of ticks. Check yourself after each hike.

May

Weather: Around the second week of May, the aspen trees in Estes Park and the lower meadows of Rocky start to reveal their bright green. However, it is still winter in much of the park. Deep snow will cover most of the trails above 9,000’ (2,743m). Many of the largest snowstorms of the year also arrive during the first half of May, sometimes dropping 1’-3’ (0.3m-1m) of snow at a time. Around the middle of the month, spring can be said to have arrived and the lower elevations of the park come to life. The aspen trees of the park put out their leaves. Elk give birth to their young and there is a sense of joy that can be felt everywhere. It is not uncommon for temperatures in the lower parts of the park to reach the 60s and 70s (15-20C) during the final days of the month.

Visitation: The first half of May is generally quiet, but during the second half of the month visitation increases. Memorial Day weekend is especially busy.

Longs Peak in May

Activities: It’s now time to lace up the hiking boots and begin to hit the lower trails. Generally, trails below 9,000’ (2,743m) will be mostly snow-free. The trails above this will still have deep snow and may still require snowshoes.

Wildlife: The elk will be losing their thick coats and the bulls will be growing new antlers. The female elk will also be giving birth to lively young ones. Be sure to give them plenty of space at this time of year as the mothers can be extremely protective. Marmots, bears, and other hibernating creatures are now out and active after their long winter’s rest.

Be Aware:

  • At the end of May, the park’s permit system restarts. Make sure you’re prepared.
  • Trail Ridge Road generally doesn’t open until late May. The exact date is weather dependent. Some years it doesn’t open until the first week of June.
  • If you plan to hike in the lower meadows, be aware that ticks will likely be out. Check yourself after each hike.
  • Keep extra distance from elk at this time of year as protective mother elk can be very dangerous.

June

Weather: Warm days and cool nights are normal in June. The first half of the month can sometimes be a little rainy. Rocky is normally vibrant green, and everything seems full of life. In June you see the first flowers in the lower meadows.

Visitation: The first half of June is often relatively quiet, but around the middle of the month, usually Father’s Day weekend, visitation rapidly climbs. This is the start of the very busy season for Rocky.

Bear Lake June Pano
Bear Lake and Longs Peak in June

Activities: June is when the full range of summer activities returns: hiking, fishing, camping, backpacking, etc. The Junior Ranger program is in operation, and you can visit Junior Ranger headquarters in Hidden Valley. During the first half of the month, the higher trails may still have quite a bit of snow, but generally by mid-month most of the trails are snow-free. This is time to head up into the high country.

Wildlife: The elk will be showing off their new shiny summer coats and fuzzy antlers which are growing more than an inch a day. Young elk will be seen in the lower meadows surrounded by protective mothers. Marmots and pika will be active in the tundra. You may catch a glimpse of moose in the marshy meadows and shallow lakes.

Be Aware:

  • A timed-entry permit will be required to enter the park during this time of year.
  • Keep extra distance from elk as protective mother elk can be very dangerous.
  • Do not be caught out in the open, particularly above tree line or near lakes during electrical storms.
  • Expect significant crowds at entrance stations, parking areas, trailheads, and popular destinations.

July

Weather: Summer is here, and the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park puts on a show with bright green grasses and alpine flowers. The days are generally warm and can even be hot. It is very common for the mornings to start out clear and sunny only to be followed by intense thunderstorms in the afternoons. Evenings are often pleasant.

Visitation: July is a very busy month in the park.

Backcountry in mid-July

Activities: This is the time to enjoy hiking, rock climbing, fishing, wildlife watching, backpacking, camping, and all the other wonderful summer activities.

Wildlife: During this month the elk can usually be found in the tundra areas of the national park, such as along Trail Ridge Road. You may also see bighorn sheep, marmots, and pika enjoying the world above tree line. Coyotes, deer, moose, and other wild creatures can often be spotted in the lower elevations.

Be Aware:

  • A timed-entry permit will be required to enter the park during this time of year.
  • Plan to do your hiking early in the morning to avoid being caught in the afternoon storms. Be below tree line and away from open areas before the electrical storms arrive in early afternoon. Lightning in the mountains is serious.
  • Expect significant crowds at entrance stations, parking areas, trailheads, and popular destinations.

August

Weather: The first half of August is generally warm and can even be quite hot, especially in the lower elevations. It is very common for the mornings to be clear and sunny and then to have intense thunderstorms in the afternoons. Evenings are often pleasant. During the second half of the month the weather begins to change. It is normal to have cooler weather often with rainy days.

Visitation: The first half of the month is generally very busy, much like July. The last week or two of the month are a little quieter as families return home to get ready for the school year. Visitation will pick up again in September.

Activities: This is the time to enjoy hiking, rock climbing, fishing, wildlife watching, backpacking, camping, and all the other wonderful summer activities.

Wildlife: During this month the elk can usually be found in the tundra areas of the national park, such as along Trail Ridge Road. You may also see bighorn sheep, marmot, and pika enjoying the world above tree line. Coyotes, deer, moose, and other wild creatures can often be spotted in the lower elevations.

Be Aware:

  • A timed-entry permit will be required to enter the park during this time of year.
  • Plan to do your hiking early in the morning to avoid being caught in the afternoon storms. Be below tree line and away from open areas before the electrical storms arrive in early afternoon. Lightning in the mountains is serious.
  • Expect significant crowds at entrance stations, parking areas, trailheads, and popular destinations.

September

Weather: September can be a delightful month. At the beginning of the month the tundra begins to change from its summer green into hues of orange, red and brown. The days can be warm and the evenings cool. Around the second or third week of September the aspen leaves at the higher elevation begin to change, displaying brilliant yellows, oranges and even the occasional red.

Visitation: This is a very busy time of year, though the first half of the month is not nearly as busy as the second half. Mid-September through mid-October is the busiest time of the year for visitation in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Activities: This is a terrific time as everything you can do in the summer you can do now, with the added benefits of autumn colors and the elk rut. The afternoon storms are usually over by late August and so you can usually hike through the tundra without fear of being caught in an electrical storm, but always check the weather before you go. Colorado weather does not always follow the schedule!

Wildlife: At the beginning of the month elk begin to make their way down to the lower elevations of the park. By mid-September the large bulls begin building a harem of female elk while sparring with rivals for dominance. You can hear their haunting bugles echoing through the valley. They put on quite the show and roads are often lined with visitors who spend hours watching them each evening and morning.

Be Aware:

  • A timed-entry permit will be required to enter the park during this time of year.
  • Keep extra distance from elk. They aren’t thinking very clearly at this testosterone-filled time of year and can be very dangerous.
  • Expect significant crowds at entrance stations, parking areas, trailheads, and popular destinations.

October

Weather: Early October can give a mixture of warm days and cool days. It is not uncommon for it to snow at any time during this month. You can expect the tundra areas along Trail Ridge Road to be at or even below freezing. During the first half of the month the aspen are golden and the park looks spectacular. The high mountains are often covered in a first coating of snow. Around mid-October the weather changes. The second half of the month is often characterized by high winds and chilly temperatures. When these winds arrive, they quickly put an end to autumn color and overnight the park seems to turn brown.

Visitation: The first half of October is incredibly busy, and the weekends are the busiest days of the entire year. If possible, avoid the weekends in early October. The second half of the month is less busy, but the weather is usually much less pleasant.

Activities: The first half of October is a great time for hiking, though you may start to encounter snow at the higher elevations. It is also a prime time for watching wildlife, particularly elk. Once mid-October rolls around it's generally time to enjoy a book in front of a fire as high winds and cold make most outdoor activities challenging.

Wildlife: The elk are in the rut during the month of October, though the rut begins to wind down around the middle to the end of the month. The rut is when the large bulls begin building a harem of female elk while sparring with rivals for dominance. You can hear their haunting bugles echoing through the valley. They put on quite the show and roads are often lined with visitors who spend hours watching them each evening and morning.

Be Aware:

  • A timed-entry permit will be required to enter the park until sometime in the middle of the month. Read about timed-entry permits for the exact date.
  • Keep extra distance from elk. They aren’t thinking very clearly at this testosterone-filled time of year and can be very dangerous.
  • Trail Ridge Road will close with the first significant snowfall. This could happen at any time.
  • Expect significant crowds at entrance stations, parking areas, trailheads, and popular destinations.

November

Weather: November is generally cold and windy, though the sunsets can be spectacular. The higher areas of the park may experience snow.

Visitation: This is a quieter time of year, but the week around Thanksgiving can be especially busy.

Activities: You can usually get out and hike although the temperatures can be quite cold and the winds strong. However, the snow is generally limited during the first half of the month. Sometimes by Thanksgiving you can begin to snowshoe around the Bear Lake area.

Wildlife: Large herds of elk are usually found grazing in the lower meadows. Mule deer are often grazing along the side of Deer Mountain. The moose often retreat to the forest for their rut.

Be Aware:

  • Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are both closed.
  • Expect winter temperatures and high winds.
  • At this time of year, it is important to know about avalanche danger if you plan to spend any time on steep terrain. (Greater than 35° angle).

December

Weather: December is generally cold and windy, with occasional snowstorms.

Visitation: The first half of the month may be fairly quiet, but visitation increases during the second half of the month. The Christmas / New Year period can be quite busy.

Activities: There is snowshoeing around the Bear Lake area and on especially snowy years there may be other winter activities such as sledding, skiing, etc. Learn more about winter activities in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wildlife: Elk can be seen grazing in the lower meadows. Mule deer are often grazing along the side of Deer Mountain.

Be Aware:

  • Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are both closed.
  • When it snows in the park, you may be required to have all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive or have chains on your vehicle to enter the park.
  • At this time of year, it is important to know about avalanche danger if you plan to spend any time on steep terrain. (Greater than 35° angle).