Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is an extremely popular tourist and holiday destination.
Whether you want to revisit the park or experience it in a different season, there are plenty of ways to plan your vacation in RMNP!
Each season has its own pros and cons, and picking the right one for you is crucial to ensuring you make the most out of your trip!
In this article, we’ll go over each of the different seasons (summer, fall, winter, spring), and what you can expect in each season.
Additionally, we’ll tell you about all the different activities you can do depending on the season, and give you some tips on deciding what season is right for you!
This article will cover:
- The different seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park
- What activities you can do in each season
- Some tips and recommendations for choosing the right season.
Let’s get into it!
What to expect during each season in Rocky Mountain National Park
Deciding what season to visit RMNP in is a hard choice to make. Do you go with a scorching summer vacation or a freezing winter wonderland?
RMNP is beautiful in any season, but there are a few different factors that can shape your visit depending on what you want to get out of your trip!
However, it’s important to note that outside of summer (the busy season), some things in the park will be closed or running at limited capacity.
For example, most of the campgrounds and visitor centers are closed during winter, and some of the roads are closed during the off-season due to weather.
Here’s some quick information about the opening months of certain amenities:
- Alpine Visitor Center: open daily, from late May to mid-October
- Beaver Meadows Visitor Center: open year-round
- Fall River Visitor Center: open year-round
- Holzwarth Historic Site: only open in summer, but the grounds are still accessible to visitors
- Kawuneeche Visitor Center: open year-round, but closed on some public holidays as well as some Mondays and Tuesdays.
- Moraine Park Discovery Center: open daily, from late May until the end of September
- Sheep Lakes Information Station: open daily during summer, and closed during other seasons.
- Aspenglen: open all year, but closes for a week in mid-May
- Glacier Basin: seasonal, only open late May to early September.
- Longs Peak: typically opens in July and closes in mid-September
- Timber Creek: open May to October
- Moraine Park: typically open all year, but as of writing, is closed until June 2024 for construction.
- Trail Ridge Road: usually closed during winter and spring due to snow; opens Memorial Day weekend to mid/late October, depending on snowfall
- Old Fall River Road: open early July to mid-September
- Bear Lake Road: open year-round.
But as I said before, RMNP is beautiful in any season and there are plenty of things to do while you’re there!
Summer (June – August)
At a glance:
- Average temperature: Highs of 80F and lows of 40F
- Weather: Sunny and clear
- Crowds: Peak season; as busy as it gets
- What to expect: Lots of crowds, but stunning weather
- Activities: Hiking, backpacking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, climbing, scenic car rides, cycling
- Pros: It’s the best season for hiking and camping, and has great weather
- Cons: It’s the busiest season – everything gets booked out quickly!
Summer is by far the peak season at RMNP.
Over half of the park’s annual visitation occurs between June and August.
Everywhere is crowded, and you’ll find that most campsites book out months in advance!
However, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t go in the summer; there are plenty of benefits to visiting RMNP during the peak season, as long as you plan ahead.
This time of year is the perfect time to go backpacking, hiking, and camping in the park.
All of the trails and campgrounds will be open, giving you full access to everything RMNP has to offer.
However, the downside of visiting the park in summer is that it’s the busiest season. Nevertheless, if you plan well in advance, you can still enjoy a wonderful summer in RMNP!
We recommend planning your trip and having lots of backup options to avoid disappointment.
Another tip is to explore some of the least popular spots! Ask local guides what they recommend when you get there.
Summer offers by far the best weather in RMNP. It’s typically sunny and clear with endless blue skies.
You can expect a little bit of rainfall, but not as much as you’d experience during spring or winter. The temperature ranges from 70s and 80s during the day, and lows of 40s at nighttime.
Summer is the best season for hiking in RMNP. Most of the trails are accessible during the summer, and with Trail Ridge Road open, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from!
There are lots of hiking trails for every skill level. If you’re a total beginner or you have kids, there are lots of easy lake loops to try out.
Or if you’re more experienced, there are heaps of advanced-level hikes up mountains to find! So whether you want to hike to a gorgeous lake or a craggy overview, RMNP has it all!
Backpacking is another activity that’s best done during summer. The weather will usually be warm during the day and cool at night, providing the perfect conditions for a multi-day hike.
However, because summer is the busy season, it might be harder to obtain the permits you need for backpacking.
We recommend planning ahead to avoid disappointment. Try to be flexible with your plans; make sure you have backups in case your original plans don’t work out!
Another way you can explore the mountains is to embrace the Wild West and take a horseback riding tour!
There are a few stables located in and around RMNP to choose from. Exploring the park on horseback is one of the best ways to experience the mountains.
Camping is a very popular activity during the summer, so always have a plan! All of the campsites should be up and running at this time, so you’ll have plenty of options.
All of the campgrounds in RMNP are either by reservation or first-come-first-serve. Make sure you get in early to secure a spot. If you’re booking a site, prepare to do this months in advance – they book out quickly!
Fishing is another great summer activity. The fish tend to bite when it’s warm, so get out to the lakes during the day! Just make sure you have a Colorado Fishing License.
You can also go rock climbing in RMNP! There are plenty of places you can choose from, whether you’re looking to go mountaineering or bouldering.
Scenic car rides and cycling
And finally, summer is a great time to view the mountains from the safety of your car or the seat of a bicycle.
Trail Ridge Road will open in May, meaning the gorgeous views of the mountains are accessible to you from the comfortable interior of your car! Make sure you check for road closures before you head out.
Fall (September – October)
At a glance:
- Average temperature: Highs in the 60Fs and lows of 30F.
- Weather: Crisp and sunny.
- Crowds: Less busy.
- What to expect: A golden autumnal backdrop.
- Activities: Hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, wildlife watching, cycling.
- Pros: It’s not as busy as summer, you can do a lot of the same activities, and the weather is decent.
- Cons: A lot of amenities close in September and October.
Fall is a great time to visit RMNP, as it’s right after the busy summer season. Most of the park’s campgrounds, visitor centers, and roads will still be open in September and the beginning of October.
The park is typically less busy at this time of year, with the crowds thinning out during September.
The biggest appeal of visiting during fall is that it’s one of the prettiest times of the year. RMNP’s signature Aspens turn orange, transforming the hills into beautiful shades of gold.
It’s also a good time to go if you like wildlife spotting, as it’s mating season for elks. You can watch them compete with each other to win mates and become the leader of the herd.
However, one of the drawbacks of visiting in the Fall is that places in the park start closing. For example, Trail Ridge Road typically closes in October due to snowfall. But if you can work around that, it’s one of the best times to visit!
You’ll find the weather to be another bonus of visiting during this time. It’s typically crisp and clear, with stunning blue skies over the mountains.
If you visit in October, you might experience some early snowfall, which dusts the trees and mountains in a lovely coat of white.
However, the weather can change quickly and without warning in the mountains. Make sure you’re prepared by packing extra layers and raincoats.
Most of the hiking trails will still be open in September and October. As the summer crowds thin out, you’ll be able to enjoy the trails mostly to yourself.
Hiking during the fall is also a good time to enjoy the beauty of the park. The higher you climb, the better the views. Picture looking out over the crisp golden trees from the top of a mountain. Stunning!
Like hiking, most of the trails for backpacking are still accessible during the fall. Many of the campgrounds will still be open, but make sure you check the website or recreation.gov to ensure you get a spot.
It’ll also be easier to obtain permits, as fewer people will be in the park. You’ll be able to secure the spots you want easier. Just make sure you pack plenty of layers for the cold nights!
Fishing and wildlife watching
Another great fall activity is fishing. The best places to fish in RMNP during the fall are Glacier Creek, Pear Lake and Creek, Roaring River, Dream Lake, and Ouzel Lake. Just make sure you obtain a Colorado Fishing License beforehand.
Fall is also a good time to go wildlife-watching! As it’s mating season, you’ll get to watch the elks compete with each other.
While a lot of roads will close to cars in October, you can still view the Rockies from the seat of a bicycle. You’ll be able to ride on any roads that are also open to cars.
Winter (November – March)
At a glance:
- Average temperature: Highs of around 35F and lows of 10F.
- Weather: Cold and wet.
- Crowds: Minimal.
- What to expect: A beautiful winter wonderland.
- Activities: Snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, photography, wildlife watching, camping.
- Pros: It’s great for winter activities and it’s the quietest time of the year.
- Cons: A lot of amenities are closed, including Trail Ridge Road.
Another great time to visit RMNP is in winter, which is the off-season. During winter, RMNP transforms into a stunning winter wonderland! Picture snow-covered mountain peaks, frozen waterfalls, and snow-dusted trees.
One of the benefits of visiting during winter is that it’s less busy than the summer.
You’ll be at peace in the mountains, and able to explore the park and engage with most of the same activities as you can in the summer season – but with fewer crowds!
There are also lots of winter-specific activities, like skiing and snowshoeing.
The only drawback during this time is that you’ll need to plan ahead for winter travels, as a lot of the campgrounds and roads are closed due to the weather.
You’ll also need to make sure you bring lots of layers, and that you’re prepared for quickly changing weather. You’ll also still need sunblock, as you can get burnt from the sun reflecting in the snow!
The weather during winter can change very quickly in RMNP. You can expect it to be cold and wet, with arctic conditions at elevations above 10,000 feet: sudden blizzards, deep snowpacks, and high winds.
Always be prepared for the conditions, as storms can roll in very suddenly without much warning. Also make sure that your vehicle is winter-ready, with chains for ice.
If you love hiking, you’ll also love snowshoeing! It’s a great alternative to hiking, and most of the hiking trails will be open to snowshoeing.
You can rent snowshoes from either Grand Lake or Estes Park. There are also snowshoe tours if you don’t feel comfortable going alone.
Another great winter activity in RMNP is going skiing. You can rent skis from either Grand Lake or Estes Park if you don’t already have your own.
Going cross-country skiing is one of the best ways you can experience the park during winter.
We do have to warn you that there aren’t currently any operational ski lifts available, so you’ll have to get yourself to the top of the mountain.
Always check with local guides before you head out, and be prepared for hazards like avalanches in the mountains.
You can also go sledding in RMNP during the winter! The only part of the park that’s open for sledders is Hidden Valley, and you’ll have to bring your own sled.
However, it’s a fun activity if you don’t feel up to skiing and still want to enjoy winter activities in the mountains.
Photography and wildlife watching
If you want a cheeky snap for the gram, RMNP is perfect in winter. The opportunities for winter photography are stunning, especially when the snow is fresh!
Winter is also a great time to go wildlife-watching. Deer and elk typically like to escape the cold and move to warmer areas in groups, which makes it easier to spot them.
You can still camp in RMNP during the winter, but make sure you’re prepared!
Only a couple of the campgrounds will still be open, so make sure you check ahead of time to avoid disappointment. However, camping during winter can be ideal because it’ll be easier to obtain permits and secure the spots you want.
Spring (April – May)
At a glance:
- Average temperature: Around 60F highs and 30F lows.
- Weather: Unpredictable.
- Crowds: Not busy.
- What to expect: Melting snow and mountain wildflowers.
- Activities: hiking, fishing, wildlife spotting, camping, snowshoeing.
- Pros: It’s the best time for wildlife watching and it’s also not busy.
- Cons: The weather can be bad, and a lot of places are still closed.
Spring is another one of the quieter seasons at RMNP. Coming out of winter, there will still be some snow on the mountains and around the park, but it’ll be starting to melt around this time.
This means the waterfalls will be fuller, and the wildlife and trees will be a lush green.
If you’re a wildlife lover, visiting RMNP in the springtime is a must. You’ll be able to spot plenty of baby animals running around the green plains.
It’s also the perfect time for photography, as the wildflowers come out in spring. The snow-capped mountains create the perfect backdrop for any photo!
The only drawback of visiting in the spring is that a lot of places will still be closed, including Trail Ridge Road (it reopens around Memorial Day weekend).
You’ll also find that a lot of hiking trails at higher elevations will still be covered in snow. But in general, spring offers the best of both worlds: beautiful scenery, and plenty of activities!
Another downside to spring is that the weather can be unpredictable. Your best bet is to come prepared, as there can be lots of rainfall alongside beautiful sunny days.
You’ll also still find some snow lying around, meaning you’ll need snowshoes if you plan to do a lot of hiking. Trail Ridge Road will also remain closed as long as there’s snowfall.
You can still go hiking during spring, just note that a lot of the trails might still be covered in snow, especially at the higher elevations. The lower valleys will be your best friend for your hiking expeditions.
Hiking during springtime is also a great time to enjoy RMNP’s scenery. The melting snow creates gorgeous waterfalls and stunning lakes. Alongside wildflowers popping up all over the mountain, you’ll have a beautiful backdrop for any hiking expedition.
Another ideal spring activity is fishing in RMNP. The melted snow will bring more catch into the lakes, making it the perfect time to fish. Just make sure you have a Colorado fishing license. Our top fishing spots during spring are Loch Vale, Black Lake, Peacock Pool, and Poudre Lake.
If you’re an avid animal lover, spring is the perfect time for you to visit RMNP! You’ll find lots of animals grazing on the greenery in the valleys before they head back up the mountain for the summer season.
It’s also the birthing season, so you’ll see plenty of baby animals hanging around their parents in the valleys.
Spring is still a great time to go snowshoeing. On the trails with higher elevations, you can go snowshoeing rather than hiking.
You can also camp in RMNP during the spring, but be prepared for closures! Many of the campsites don’t open until late May, so there isn’t much available during April and early May.
Local’s recommendations and tips
Know what season best suits you
My top tip for picking a time to visit RMNP is to consider what you want to get out of the park.
Do you want to experience the peak of the busy season alongside the prime hiking and camping time? Or are you more of a winter activity in the off-season type of person?
A good way to decide is to make a list of all the activities you want to do. From there, you can pick out a month or a time that best suits what you want to get out of your visit.
No matter what season you choose, always plan your trips! This is particularly important if you’re planning to visit during the busy season, as a lot of camping spots can get booked out months in advance.
My favorite season…
If you’re looking for the best season to get the most out of everything, I’d recommend going in the early fall (September).
Most of the campgrounds and visitor centers will still be open, and the park will be less busy, meaning you can get the most out of your trip.
What is the least busy day at Rocky Mountain National Park?
The least busiest time of year is during winter and spring. In the period from November through to April, the park experiences the least amount of visitors.
Is Rocky Mountain National Park closed in October?
RMNP is open year-round for visitors. However, some amenities such as visitor centers and campgrounds are seasonal, so check ahead before your visit to avoid disappointment.
What is the coldest month in the Rocky Mountains?
February is the coldest month in the Rocky Mountains.
Does it snow in the Rocky Mountains?
Yes, it snows in the Rocky Mountains, creating a beautiful winter wonderland.
Is it safe to drive in the Rocky Mountains in winter?
Yes, it’s safe to drive in the Rocky Mountains during winter. However, make sure that your vehicle is properly equipped for the conditions, and check for road closures ahead of time. Trail Ridge Road closes in October for the winter season, so plan around that.
Is Rocky Mountain National Park busy in winter?
No, winter is not busy in RMNP. December to March are the quietest months in terms of visitors.
Can I go to Rocky Mountain National Park in December?
Yes, RMNP is open for visitors year-round.