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!

CCY Route in Rocky Mountain National Park

A Trip Report from Eric’s hike on CCY Route in July 2020

**Note–this trail is currently (5/2021) closed due to the impact of the wildfires last fall. For up-to-date information about availability please check here

Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon summits

Last month, I got to take an early morning hike on a route that I’d been looking forward to for a long time: the “CCY Route” in Rocky Mountain National Park. The “CCY” stands for Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon, three prominent summits in the Mummy range in the north-central section of the park. Easy access to this hike is only available for a few months out of the year due to the trailhead location, which is several miles up Old Fall River Road. Alltrails.com lists the route as 8.9 miles round-trip, with 3,244 feet of total elevation gain. However, it’s important to note that this hike is above the tree-line for the majority of the journey, and much of the terrain is considered to be Class II rock hopping.

CCY Trailhead and Where to Park for CCY Route

An early start here is important for two reasons. First, as always, any time spent above the tree line in the summer in RMNP is best done earlier in the day before afternoon thunderstorms pop up. But second, this trailhead has very limited parking available along the side of Fall River Road, only enough for maybe 12-15 vehicles. I arrived at 5:25am and was the third car there, so had plenty of space. But as I was making the switchbacks in the dark, I was thinking what my backup hike might be, and Mount Ida crossed my mind—this is another summit on my list that also requires a journey up either Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park, and it does have substantially more parking at the Continental Divide/Poudre Lake trailhead. But anyway, on to the adventure…

I had a headlamp in my pack, but there was just enough light to proceed without it as I started my hike. Just a few minutes in, you reach a clearly marked junction that directs you to the right for the CCY summits, rather than continuing on the main trail to Chapin Pass.

Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon Summits. Chapin creek. Chapin Pass Trailhead

From here the path becomes far steeper, ascending several rock “steps” to break through the trees to the edge of the tundra. At around the .6-mile mark, another trail split appears, and the sign guides to the right for “all summits.”

CCY Summits Rocky Mountain National Park. Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I’d read that actually either way would work here but decided to follow the sign and continue on the path to Mount Chapin. At this point, the sun was starting to rise, but was hidden from my view, being on the western slopes of these three mountains. Still though, the views looking back were beautiful!

path to Mount Chapin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The route to Mount Chapin is easy to follow from here, despite a few small “rock crossings” along the way.

CCY trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Just past the 1.5 mile mark, a side trial heads straight up to the summit of Mount Chapin, gaining approximately 400 feet of elevation in less than half a mile. The trail is faint in places, so I found myself just trying to stay on the rocks (avoiding stepping on the wildflowers!) and just generally heading up. The views at the top were great!

Summit of Mount Chapin
Looking towards Long’s Peak in the distance
Mount Chapin in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Found the sun!

I didn’t stay long on Chapin’s summit, because the wind was absolutely howling, and I knew that I had two more to go, with plenty of “up and down” along the way. After retracing my way back down to the main trail, I started up the slope of Mount Chiquita.

The combination of wind, terrain, and even the bright sun ahead (hard to look up and track the route) made this section of the hike somewhat of a grind, as the route gains over 1,000 feet of elevation over the course of a mile to reach the summit at 13,069 feet. There are a few wind shelters built of rocks around the summit, which can provide a needed reprieve. It was hard to capture great photos shooting right into the sun, but the views were again great, as you could also see several of the lower-elevation lakes below.

Hike CCY Route in Rocky Mountain National Park

From the summit of Chiquita, the trail is faintly marked, so I just followed what I felt was the most efficient route down to the saddle between Chiquita an Ypsilon, losing around 300 feet of elevation. The third and final summit was a bit deceptive. The terrain isn’t too tricky, and you can try to follow the occasional cairns that are placed along the way, but the true summit is hidden from view for a good portion of the ascent, which gains 700+ feet along the way.

Summit of Ypsilon
Some visible snow near the summit of Ypsilon.

I don’t think I carved the best path up the mountain, but eventually made my way to the top at 13,514 feet, where I joined 3 other hikers that had been ahead of me all morning. We all had a nice visit, taking in the views, and enjoying miraculously still conditions given how windy it had been just an hour or so earlier. I took a quick video of the sights:

On the way back down, rather than re-summiting Chiquita, I followed a faint path around the edge of the mountain, heading directly towards the saddle between Chiquita and Chapin. The wildflowers were particularly spectacular on this portion of the hike.

wildflowers between Chiquita and Chapin in Rocky Mountain National Park

When I made it back to the saddle, I decided to follow the “other” option back towards the trailhead, which dipped slightly lower along the mountain. It was nice to see this section of trail rather than re-tracing my steps, but I also got to see some elk grazing in the valley below.

Elk grazing in meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

I made it back to the trailhead with a total time of four hours and 36 minutes, according to my Garmin watch that tracked my adventure. Below is a map of my route, showing the two splits I described (“to all summits” early on, to the right, and then the “Chiquita cutoff” on the way back).

CCY Route in Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado.

I was trying to make relatively good time, as Kelly had let me slip away for this one by myself, and was back at our cabin with the girls waiting on me to go grab lunch.  It was a great adventure, and a nice challenge. The class two terrain made me wish I would have brought my trekking poles for the decent(s), but other than that, I finished in great spirits and was thrilled to have had the chance to pick up three more RMNP summits all in one day. I’d definitely like to revisit this one again in the future!

Hike Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

Don’t you love a great backup plan? Our original plan for the day was to hike to Dream Lake, but when we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 7:45 am it was already full. We started driving back down the mountain and found that Glacier Gorge parking was also full and so was Bierdstand Lake. We pulled into the Hollowell Park area hoping we could find a spot. We were relieved to find several parking spaces available.

Hollwell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

On a previous trip, we hiked to the Mill Creek Basin and turned around to return the way we came. On this occation, we hiked a loop around Mill Creek Basin and then connected back up with the trail to return to the Hollowell Park trailhead.

Hollowell Park map
Photo of National Park Service map taken at trailhead. I highlighted over to show our route.
Mountain Views. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Longs Peak views

Hike to Mill Creek Basin

The first section of the trail takes you through an open valley with views of Longs Peak. This could be a hot section of the trail during summer afternoons, but soon the path wraps around into a wooded area and follows along side Mill Creek.

We enjoyed the solitude this hike offered. Over the course of four miles, we passed less than a dozen fellow hikers.

Towering aspens. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

Besides some minor complaints during a couple of the uphill sections on the trail, our 5-year-old walked the trail on her own with a great attitude. Our 3-year-old rode in her kid carrier.

Wildflowers blooming by Mill Creek. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

A variety of wildflowers bloomed near Mill Creek and in the open fields.

Crossing Mill Creek. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

Wilderness Camping at Mill Creek Basin

Half way through the hike (or 2 miles from the trailhead) we crossed into the Mill Creek Basin. There are two wilderness camping spots available in the Mill Creek Basin. The National Park Service offers a map of all the wilderness campsites in the Bear Lake area including Mill Creek Basin. Additional information about permits and regulations can be found on the national park service’s website.

Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Mill Creeek Basin
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Uphill section with narrow trail
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Mountain views
This section of the trail was steep going downhill (if following the direction we came).
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

If you are looking for a backup plan hike, a hike that’s less crowded, or a hike with gorgeous wildflowers, I highly recommend giving this loop around Mill Creek Basin a shot. Let me know if you do and what you think!

Want a bigger challenge? This trail connects to several popular destinations in the park including Cub Lake, Bear Lake, and Bierstadt Lake.

Our original post about Hollowell Park is called A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Featured Hiking gear – Trekking poles

Trekking poles – I wish we would have brought trekking poles for the steep downhill section of this trail through the elm trees. I typically don’t have knee issues, but sometimes hiking downhill is hard on my joints and I think the poles help absorb the extra pressure. Trekking poles also come in handy if there are any snowy patches along the trail.

*contains affiliate link.

Waterfalls Galore in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Calypso Cascades is a short hike in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin. Calypso Cascades hike features waterfalls and wild flowers.

We just got back from an amazing week in the mountains. I can’t wait to share all about our experience with the new timed-entry reservation system, how we chose which hikes to go on, and a few tips sprinkled in. This post also features trail details and pictures of Calypso Cascades, one of our favorite spots in Rocky Mountain National Park.

rocky mountain national park timed-entry

Rocky Mountain National Park has a new reservation system. We chose the 6:00 am to 8:00 am entry time for each day of our trip. People can go into the park before 6:00 am and after 5:00 pm without a reservation, so parking can still be limited in popular areas. Overall, the experience was easy and we appreciated that there was less traffic in the park.

wild basin is less crowded

We chose to hike in the Wild Basin for our first hike of the trip because we expected it to be less busy given it’s more remote location. The Wild Basin is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. Once you turn off the highway, the drive turns into a bumpy, narrow dirt road leading towards the Wild Basin trail head. There is no shuttle service in this area of the park. Even though it is typically less busy, the parking lot still filled up around 8:00 am (on a Sunday in July). Luckily, we found a parking space around the corner from the main parking area.

If you are having a hard time deciding which hikes to try in Rocky Mountain National Park, I created a fun chart to help you decide.

wild basin is lower in elevation (8,500 ft)

The elevation is lower in the Wild Basin than other areas of the national park which was helpful for our first day on the trails as we acclimated to the higher altitude.

Waterfalls in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park

wild basin waterfalls

There are several destinations you can reach from the Wild Basin trail head. We decided to hike to Calypso Cascades because it is relatively short at 1.8 miles each way. The trail begins flat and wide with towering pine trees. At .3 miles into the hike, you will pass Copeland Falls. There is signage pointing to the upper and lower falls. There have been several occasions that we stopped right at this point because of weather or tired kids.

Calypso Cascades is a top hike  located in Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Calypso Cascades

But we were having a good day so we continued the hike which begins to steadily gain in elevation. (You climb 780 ft total). There is a picturesque wooden bridge over the cascades which is a wonderful place to take in the scenery or get a family photo. For hikers who want more of a challenge, you can continue on to Ouzel Falls. This time we stopped for a snack after the bridge and headed back down the trail the way we came.

kid carrier for hiking

Our 5-year-old hiked to Calypso Cascades on her own without much trouble or complaints. Our 3-year-old rode in a kid-carrier. We own a Deuter kid carrier like this one which we purchased when our oldest child turned one and a half years old. My husband is the parent who takes on the challenge of carrying our daughter on his shoulders. Carrying an extra 30 pounds up a mountain is tough, but at least the carrier helps distribute the child’s weight so he is more comfortable. My daughter enjoys sitting up high to see the views. A carrier feels safer than carrying a child when they are too tired to walk on their own because it frees up adult hands to catch yourself in case you trip or stumble. Buying our own kid carrier has been a good investment because we have used it for both girls and also shared it with friends and family. However, if you don’t want to buy a kid carrier, you can rent them at Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Kid Carrier for hiking
Make sure to get a kid carrier with a rain roof for unexpected mountain rain storms

pack layers (And Masks) when hiking in the mountains

We enjoyed the cooler mountain temperatures. Many days we started off in sweatshirts or jackets in the morning and took off layers by afternoon when temperatures rose into the 80’s.

We also started our hikes with face masks by the trail head and parking lot, but took them off when we could keep a minimum of six foot distance from fellow hikers. The state of Colorado currently has a face mask mandate for COVID-19.

Wildflowers bloom in the summer months in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin area

The forest, summer wildflowers, wooden bridges, and waterfalls all make the hike to Calypso Cascades a unique experience.

related posts you might enjoy

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our Favorite New Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Into the Wild Basin (featuring Ouzel Falls)

*This post contains an affiliate link for kid carrier. Thank you for your support!