Spring is a unique season that comes with its own trail conditions and phenomena. Any day could feel awfully summery, or conversely, a lot like winter. Read on to be prepared for these conditions, and read this for more spring packing tips. Spring sets itself apart from the other seasons with the melt, a new wildlife experience, and the wildflowers in bloom.
The snow may not be gone as soon as you think! (It’s dumping, and we’re forecasted for 5-10” as I’m writing this on April 10.) The snow that is there is probably hard-packed and has done some melting and re-freezing. If there’s not snow and ice on the trail you’re hiking, there's probably mud because it just melted a couple of days ago! Check RMNP's Trail Conditions Report before you lace up your boots.
Snowshoes may not be the most help, as you likely won’t be sinking, but traction devices like micro-spikes will keep you from slipping and sliding. Those can easily be rented at the Estes Park Mountain Shop. Waterproof boots, gaiters, and long moisture-wicking socks are your best friends. If you're looking for extra stability, you can always lean on hiking poles.
It's always unpredictable in the Rocky Mountains, but even more so during spring! Snow, sleet, rain, sun, heat. All possibilities from March through May, and even into June! Weather Underground has some of the most accurate and detailed forecasts.
Spring means sun, which means you need to protect yourself before you wreck yourself (your skin, most importantly), especially with snow lingering and reflecting those pesky UV rays. The number one tip is sunscreen, of course! The sun is intense in the mountains due to the higher elevation and thinner air, so lather up! Don’t forget the tops of your ears, back of your neck, and the underside of your nose. A hat (don't be afraid of a wide brim), sunglasses, sleeves, and pants can be extra layers of protection, depending on the weather.
With the spring melt, rivers are flowing at their peak adding the perfect soundtrack to your hike. The falls are beautiful all times of the year. Frozen in winter, gurgling in fall, but they really take on their most dramatic form during the spring melt. Cascading over cliffs and tumbling down rocks, the senses can be thoroughly enjoyed when taking in a waterfall. The sound of the rushing water, the feel of the mist, the smell of the crisp mountain air, and of course the sight of the power of water making its way down the mountain.
Fall is the most popular wildlife watching season in Estes Park, due largely to the elk rut. But the elk don't take it easy in the spring – it's calving season. The spotted babies make very cute squealing sounds and are great models if you can snap a photo of them. Here are tips to nail your dream elk photo. The elk are generally calving from May-June. It’s always important to give the animals their space, but especially now, with protective mamas looking after their calves.
Bighorn sheep are also giving birth to lambs in May, generally at higher elevations, in order to avoid as many predators as possible. Because of this, Trail Ridge Road is probably your best bet at spotting the horned animals.
Flowers can start blooming as early as April and May, with the chance to see a pasque flower standing tall in the snow, and continue to present their beauty into the summer. Here are our top 5 wildflowers to spot in Rocky and the best places to view wildflowers.
Where to Go
- Hike of the Week - this is a collection of hikes from all different times of the year. Find one to fit your fancy!
- 5 Best Trails to Hike w/ Your Dog - bringing Fido along? Here are five dog-friendly trails, since those in the national park are not.
- 5 Best Trails when the Wind Blows - If the wind is howling, here are a few of the more protected trails in the area.
- Five Incredible Waterfall Hikes - See and hear those rushing falls.
- 4 Hikes Isabella Bird Would Have Loved - Follow a trail one of the founding women of the area would have thoroughly enjoyed.