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!

Planning a Memorial Day Trip to Estes Park, Colorado 2021

This year I decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in teaching, and I also started working part-time as a preschool teacher. I love it, but I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and write on this site. Now, as the school year is winding down, I’m excited to start planning our summer and begin writing again. The first thing on our list is our annual Memorial Day trip to the mountains. It is hard to believe that we will be heading to our cabin in Estes Park, Colorado in just a couple of weeks.

This Memorial Day, we are excited to host our friends who have never been to Colorado before. As we talked through the new timed-entry permit and the restrictions on hiking in areas of the park due to recent wild fires, I realized that planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park feels pretty complicated this year. I’ve attempted to summarize the new system below:

Rocky Mountain National Park Timed-Entry Permit

What: 2 hour reservation to enter the park. There isn’t a restriction on how long you can stay. Parking is not guaranteed. Reservations must be made in advance.

Cost: $2/vehicle + normal park entry fees

When: May 28 – October 11 (pilot program)

Where: There are two types of permits, one for the Bear Lake Road Corridor and another for the rest of the park.

Bear Lake Road Corridor + Rest of the Park– required between 5 am to 6 pm.

Non-Bear Lake Pass – required between 9 am to 3 pm.

How: Reservations for May and June can be made online now through recreation.gov. Reservations for July open up on June 1.

More Information: National Park website.

hiking suggestions

Some of our favorite early season hikes such as Hollowell Park, Cub Lake and Fern Lake are inaccessible right now (as of 5/16/21) because of damage caused by wildfires in 2020. Before planning hikes, make sure to check out the latest information on closures here.

This year we hope to visit the Wild Basin, Gem Lake, Lily Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Sprague Lake.

The Wild Basin tops our wish list because it wasn’t impacted by the wildfires and the elevation is lower compared to other areas in the park, which means typically there is less snow in May/June. There are also several beautiful waterfalls, and the trail is pretty easy for young kids to hike (ages 4- 7).

Gem Lake also avoided fire damage. Even though it is a short hike, it gains a lot of elevation (1,000 ft.). I’m not sure if we will make it to the top, but there are great views along the way and unique rock formations that the kids will love. Even if we make it half way, the hike will be memorable.

Lily Lake is our go-to hike. No matter what time of year or time of day, it’s always a great choice. We enjoy adding the Lily Ridge trail to lengthen the otherwise short hike around the lake.

Bierstadt Lake and Sprague Lake are in the Bear Lake corridor. This means they are popular attractions and require the Bear Lake corridor pass. These start at decent elevations, so it’s possible to encounter slush or even significant snow in May. We’ve spotted elk and moose in this area, and the views of the continental divide are truly spectacular at both destinations.

I can’t wait to share our favorite places with our friends. Even though it’s a little complicated, I know our trip will be well-worth the extra effort. I’m also hopeful that the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park that have been overused will benefit from less traffic, and that those impacted by fire will be soon on the road to a beautiful recovery!

Related Posts:

How to Survive a Long Family Road Trip

Memorial Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose Spotting Makes for a Memorable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

A Winter Hike on the Long’s Peak Trail

This post was written by Eric after a quick solo adventure on New Year’s Eve 2020.

Sometimes when I hike, it’s easy to get so focused on the planned destination that I just put my head down and grind through the miles on the approach, paying little attention to the beauty along the way. So on New Year’s Eve a few months back, I set out on a hike with the specific intention not to reach any particular landmark on the Long’s Peak trail. I knew that I didn’t have the experience or gear to attempt a winter summit of the trail’s namesake on my own, nor did I intend to try to cross the steep ridge over to Chasm Lake without much knowledge of the conditions. I just wanted to get some miles in on a snowy trail through the woods, and pop above the tree line for as long as the typically blustery winter conditions would allow.

Below are some pictures from an absolute treat of a hike—the weather was perfect. Though the temperature was in the single digits at the trailhead, there was almost *no* wind, which again, can be quite rare on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter months. The trail was generally well-packed, so snowshoes were not required (yak tracks were helpful). It was also wonderful to be nearly alone on one of the busiest 14er trails in all of Colorado; a stark contrast from the parade of headlamps that ascend through the early morning darkness during peak “summit season.” With no objective to achieve, I was able to just soak in the incredible surroundings and be more present for the entire adventure.

I hope to build on this memorable experience and take a “destinationless” approach to hiking more often throughout the year.

Hiking in snow Rocky Mountain National Park
Snowy Trail Conditions
Granite Pass Rocky Mountain National Park
Granite Pass – near where I turned around for the day
Chasm Lake trail
On the way back – I wandered down the Chasm Lake trail for a bit
Chasm Crossing
If you look closely, you can see someone making the “Chasm crossing” along a steep ridge
Coyote in snow Rocky Mountain National Park
Back under the tree line, I was greated by a friendly coyote on the trail (excuse the iphone zoom quality)

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!