Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

‘Unpredictable weather alternates between warm and cold, wet and dry.’ – National Park Service

The summer is flying by. I want to stop and remember the sweet moments, so today I’m going back to write about our first adventure of the summer. We are always excited to take our annual Memorial Day trip to Estes Park, Colorado, but this year felt extra special because we had the opportunity to share our favorite spots with some of our best friends.

This was our friends’ first visit to Colorado, so they were excited to explore. Unfortunately, for the first couple days of our trip, the weather was overcast, cold, and rainy. Despite the gloomy skies, I was impressed with everyone’s positive attitudes and willingness to get out and hike.

Packing for trip to Estes Park, Colorado
Welcome to Colorado!

Weather in rocky mountain national park

Preparing for the trip, my friend asked me what to pack. It’s a tougher question than you might think because the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park seems to always be changing. I suggested packing warm coats in case it snows, water-proof items in case it rains, and shorts for when it is sunny. Good thing they have a minivan to fit it all in, right? We typically wear comfortable layers because we’ve experienced all of these weather conditions in one day – especially when we drive up the mountain to higher elevation.

The perfect evidence of this can be seen live on Rocky Mountain National Park’s webcams. As I write, the mid-day temperature listed on the Continental Divide webcam says 71.6 F while the Alpine Visitor Center webcam reads 48.2 F.

The National Park has resources on their website that give up-to-date information for weather in Rocky Mountain National Park. This includes current road conditions , current trail conditions, and Rocky Mountain National Park weather trends by season.

Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park: Early Season Hikes

We consider early season hikes ones that are lower in elevation because snow is common on trails in late spring and early summer in popular destinations like Bear Lake. Check out our post about Lower Elevation Hikes for ideas.

On this trip, we chose Lily Lake/ Lily Ridge for its views of Longs Peak and Twin Sisters Peaks and accessible path that’s easy for kids. The hike around Lily Lake remains one of our favorite short hikes in the park. Adding on Lily Ridge makes the hike a little more challenging, but I think the views are worth it.

Lily Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike up Lily Ridge

Next, we hiked in the Wild Basin up to Calypso Cascades. With so much rain and snow melt, we had to be careful in the Wild Basin as we hiked near waterfalls and rushing streams. The kids all did a great job staying on the path. Near Calypso Cascades, there were even a few spots of snow on the trail. The kids thought it was the coolest part.

This hike was a little more challenging for our crew. It is 1.8 miles each way and gains 780 feet of elevation. We didn’t hear any grumbles though, perhaps the key to complain-free hiking is inviting a best buddy along.

Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
rain, rain, go away!
Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
Copeland Falls in Wild Basin
Wild Basin trail
Calypso Cascades RMNP

Beyond hiking, we enjoyed staying dry inside by visiting some of our favorite Estes Park restaurants including Latitude 105.

Estes Park restaurants
sharing a lemonade at Latitude 101

I was thankful the dads offered to hang out with the kids for a few hours so my friend and I could get some much-needed girl-chat at Snowy Peaks Winery.

Estes Park winery

Overall, I hope that our friends had a good first trip to Colorado (despite the colder weather). We loved sharing Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park with them!

Hike to Arch Rocks and The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite early season hikes. It’s lower starting elevation (8,150 ft) typically means there is less snow than other areas of the park.

The hike begins at the Fern Lake trail head. There is a small non-paved parking area. The road is narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trail head.

On our late-May hike we enjoyed spotting spring wildflowers, a busy humming bird, and a garter snake.

Arch rocks

40 foot vertical rocks called Arch Rocks are a main attraction along the way to The Pool. The rocks are 1.2 miles from the trail head.

Arch Rocks

big thompson river

Walking along the Big Thompson River is another highlight of this hike.

The Pool

A wooden bridge crosses over the river. This video shows the water gathering and powerfully flowing into the Big Thompson River. The Pool is 1.7 miles from the Fern Lake trail head. If you turn around at this point, the hike is a total of 3.4 miles. On this trip, we chose to turn around at this point.

Love loop hikes? From The Pool you can split off towards Cub Lake and head back around to the Cub Lake trail head. The final section of the hike between the Cub Lake trail head and the Fern Lake trail head is on a connecting road. This loop is 6 miles.

Fern Falls

Fern Falls

Another option to continue the hike is to make your way up to Fern Falls. To hike to the waterfall, you will add approximately 1 mile each way. Most of this section is uphill. If you are up for the challenge, the waterfall is worth the effort!

Fantastic Family Hike to Fern Falls

Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby

fern lake

The name sake of this trail is Fern Lake, which is 3.8 miles from the trail head. It has spectacular views of Notch Top mountain.

Fern Lake

The Fern Lake trail head is a launching point to many memorable destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park including Arch Rocks, The Pool, Fern Falls and Fern Lake.

on my mind: Ticks in Rocky Mountain National park

Well, it happened! After five years of living tick free, we found several ticks on my daughter during our most recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, Colorado. We were playing in some areas that had tall grass, so it’s not very surprising, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind everyone who is out enjoying the great outdoors to be checking themselves and their kids. Here is some additional information about ticks found in RMNP.

Make your reservations now: Trail Ridge Road is Open

Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. The road is located within Rocky Mountain National Park, so a park pass and time-entry permit are required to travel on this scenic roadway which will take you above tree-line and into the alpine tundra. Trail Ridge Road opened on June 4, 2020. Here is an article from Estes Park News about the annual ribbon cutting celebration.

New! Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park can obtain a time-entry permit through Recreation.gov

Winter Hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Flying out of Northwest Arkansas regional airport (xna) to Denver

Last week we took a spontaneous trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park to play in the snow. It was the first time that I flew out of the airport in Northwest Arkansas. I was impressed with the ease of the small airport. We were able to walk from our parking spot right into the airport. Parking was less than $10/day. We easily found our gate and there were several places to grab a meal or purchase a magazine.

Family amenities at XNA include a giant chess board
Family amenities at XNA include a giant chess board.

It was also the first time I attempted to fly with both girls without my husband. Since we were flying out of a small airport, the plane we traveled in had two seats on each side. The girls (ages 5 and 2) sat on one side of the aisle, and I sat on the other. Loaded with Kindles and Halloween leftovers, we happily made it through the two-hour flight to Denver.

Ready for take off from Northwest Arkansas Airport to Denver Colorado
Ready for take off!

The contrast between the airport in Northwest Arkansas and the busy Denver International Airport was huge. Luckily, I have some experience navigating the Denver airport. We were happy when we spotted my husband waiting for us at arrivals after getting off the train between concourses. With work visits scheduled along the way, he drove out to Colorado on his own, bringing our luggage and vehicle with him.

Hiking in the snow – alberta falls

Once in Colorado, we were ready to get out in the snow. We bundled up our family and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. We decided to hike to Alberta Falls beginning at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead which sits at 9,180 ft. in elevation.

Glacier Gorge trailhead to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

At this altitude, there was a lot of snow and ice on the trail, so my husband and I both wore Yaktrax on our shoes to help with traction.

Yaktraxs help with traction in the snow
Yaktraks on hiking boots help with traction in snow.

The hike gains 220 ft of elevation and is a little under 1 mile each way. Our oldest daughter was able to hike most of it on her own. She did some slipping and sliding, so we were careful to hold her hand in spots we thought might be precarious.

winter hiking in rocky mountain national park

The weather was cold, but since we bundled up and kept moving, we felt pretty comfortable with the trees protecting us from the wind and the sun shining above.

kid friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

The trail to Alberta Falls is well maintained, even in the snow. This is a very popular trail during the peak summer months. Many times when the Glacier Gorge parking lot is full, we have started this hike from Bear Lake.

trail signage to alberta falls and bear lake in rocky mountain national park.

We think Alberta Falls is one of the Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was my first time hiking to Alberta Falls during the late fall/winter season. The snow and ice looked like a layer of sparkling white icing on the cliffs and boulders.

ice and snow in rocky mountain national park.

Alberta Falls is a powerful waterfall, but on this visit there was little visual evidence. Buried under the snow and ice, we could still hear water rushing underneath.

alberta falls covered in snow

The trip back down to the trailhead was equally as beautiful as the journey up. I didn’t mind when my daughter frequently stopped to practice writing her name in the snow with a stick ‘wand’ she found, because I could look up and see snow dusted mountains towering in the distance.

snow covered mountains in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of the trail for the girls was when their Dad slid down the final steep hill with them.

sliding down snow covered hill in rocky mountain national park

I highly recommend hiking to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park anytime of year. If you want a quiet hike and a front-row seat to see this landmark, winter is a great time to visit.

If you plan to hike during the winter, make sure to keep an eye on the weather and talk to the helpful park rangers about trail and road conditions. I got the trail stats for this post from one of our favorite guide books, Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster.

More snowy hikes in rocky mountain national park

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Frozen river in Moraine Park
We chose Moraine Park because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

Winter hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snow covered hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Serene Family-Friendly Walk Around Lake Irene in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Irene is located off of Trail Ridge Road approximately 5 miles south of the Alpine Visitors Center. This peaceful lake is one of our favorite spots in Rocky Mountain National Park to eat a picnic lunch.

Amenities include a small parking lot, restrooms, and several picnic tables.

Lake Irene is located off of Trail Ridge Road approximately 5 miles south of the Alpine Visitors Center.

You can take an easy stroll around the lake.

Lake Irene Overlook trail

A little beyond the lake you will find signage pointing to an overlook.

Lake Irene Overlook

From the overlook, you can see a meadow with mountains in the distance. I’ll admit that this view isn’t the most spectacular you will find in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the competition here is world-class.

Quiet place within rocky mountain national park

The area is lush and green.

Lake Irene offers family-friendly hiking destination

Although the trail is not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers, the short hike does not gain much elevation. Our preschooler was able to walk most of the .8 mile distance on her own.

the trail around Lake Irene is surrounded by pine trees

With some help from Dad.

Kids cross over wooden bridges on the trail that goes around Lake Irene

Our two-year-old also enjoyed walking for portions of the trail. For our young family, Lake Irene offers a serene spot to enjoy lunch and just enough adventure to ensure the whole family is having a fun and memorable experience.

Lake Irene is located on the West side of RMNP. Here are some additional posts that feature destinations in this section of the park:

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park