In Rocky Mountain National Park, winter has been especially slow to leave the high country this year. Spring snowstorms have been interfering with efforts to plow Trail Ridge Road, the scenic highway that crosses the park. The National Park Service is doing its best to clear the road, which in other years generally has opened around Memorial Day. But for now it remains closed, with no predictions about an opening date (check current road conditions here). Visitors can still access lower parts of the park on both the east (Estes Park) and west (Grand Lake) sides, though traveling from one side to the other, until the road opens, requires a much longer drive that loops around outside the park.
This is just one more reminder that when you visit a place like Rocky Mountain National Park (“Rocky,” for short), weather matters. Rocky is a high-elevation park, with about a third, including the upper parts of Trail Ridge Road, rising above treeline. Some of the park’s trails and backcountry campsites don’t fully melt out until early July. And once heavy snows recede, weather conditions can still change rapidly, sometimes even temporarily closing Trail Ridge Road. Temperatures drop, and thunderstorms bounce lightning around the peaks. As you travel throughout the park, you may essentially encounter multiple seasons in a single day.
So what does this mean if you are planning to visit the park? First of all, you should know that all these different conditions and elevations have created an amazing diversity of wildlife, wildflowers, and spectacular mountain scenery. But second of all, you probably should do a little reading. Though I’m quite proud of my children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, it can’t pack everything into its 48 pages.
For weather, road, and safety information, I recommend you go straight to the source, the National Park Service, at www.nps.gov/romo. The current park newspaper has a useful description of weather patterns and what to bring for your visit to the park, and you can find other great resources on this page of downloadable brochures. Once you arrive at the park, check the weather forecast and plan your days accordingly. Maybe you can even pick up a copy of my book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain!
And please, please, please, don’t let your kids play on steep snowfields. During your visit, ask rangers where you might find safer places to play in the snow.
I hope you have a fun and safe visit to the park. It’s truly one of my favorite places anywhere.