Rocky Mountain National Park in Spring: Things to Do, Tips, & Where to Stay! (2023)

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I love spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. After months of yellow and brown scenery, it’s the only season where I get to see the park decked out in bright green foliage.

The snow melts, wildflowers bloom, and animals wake from their hibernation. Spring is the perfect time for hiking, photography, and other activities in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Keep reading to learn all about Rocky Mountain National Park in spring.

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Why visit Rocky Mountain National Park in spring?

Spring is a fantastic time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for several reasons.

It’s a “shoulder season,” meaning it’s less crowded than in the summer. The weather is also less hot, making for more comfortable hiking. Plus, you can visit Rocky Mountain National Park up until late May without needing a timed-entry permit (more on that later).

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    Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park Packing List

    Green pasture next to blue mountains

    Before you visit Rocky Mountain National Park in spring, make sure to pack the following essentials:

    • Waterproof boots. Even if you don’t plan on hiking, the ground will be wet and snowy in places. If you do want to take a spring hike, be sure to bring microspikes and trekking poles as well.
    • Warm layers, hat, and gloves. Weather varies widely in the spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. It can be hot and sunny, cold and windy, or anywhere in between.
    • Raincoat. Though Colorado is a desert, we do occasionally get rain—especially in the spring.
    • Sunglasses and sunscreen. At this altitude, the sun is intense all year round.
    • Camera. Not only is Rocky Mountain National Park beautifully photogenic in the spring, but it’s also prime time to spot elk, sheep, marmots, and other wildlife!

    Rocky Mountain National Park in Spring Best Things to Do

    Wondering what to do in RMNP when you visit in the spring? These are some of our favorites!

    Go on one of the best Rocky Mountain National Park spring hikes

    Aqua colored lake by rocky mountains

    Rocky Mountain National Park is full of breathtaking hikes, but these are particularly good for a springtime visit.

    Alberta Falls is a quick, easy hike (less than a mile each way) with a spectacular 30-foot waterfall at the end. The falls freeze over in winter, but in spring, they’ll be roaring again. Bring water shoes if you want to explore the creek, but fair warning: the water’s frigid.

    Sprague Lake is another family-friendly hike, with a 0.8-mile path that’s flat enough for strollers and wheelchairs. You’ll get gorgeous views of the Continental Divide and verdant spring foliage reflected in the lake.

    For a more challenging spring hike, head to Lake Haiyaha at the base of Chaos Canyon. The Native American word “haiyaha” translates roughly to “big rocks,” which add to the landscape’s rugged beauty. Pack a lunch for a picnic on the rocks before you start the trek back.

    Emerald Lake is an in-between option: 3.3 miles round-trip but tame enough for beginner hikers. Break out your microspikes for this one! Before you reach the deep-green water that gives this lake its name, you’ll pass winding rivers, snow-crusted grass, and two other lakes dotted with lilypads.

    Drive Trail Ridge Road

    View out the window of a road near the mountains

    Trail Ridge Road winds through the bare alpine landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

    It’s a great place to start your Rocky Mountain National Park spring trip, with countless scenic pull-offs for taking photos, walking around, or just letting your mouth hang open in wonder.

    Keep in mind Trail Ridge Road is closed during winter and early spring, typically reopening in late May.

    Look for Wildlife

    Spring is a great time for wildlife spotting in Rocky Mountain National Park! For best results, bring binoculars. Keep your eyes peeled at dawn and dusk when animals are most active.

    Meadows are the best place to spot elk, while rocky areas are your best bet for pikas and marmots. If you’re looking for bighorn sheep, head to Sheep Lakes—they hang out here from May through August. You might also spot some bats swooping around lakes and ponds.

    Have a Picnic in the Park

    When hunger pangs hit, you can pop a squat pretty much anywhere in Rocky Mountain National Park—but some areas offer tables and even grills to make your picnic more enjoyable.

    Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and the Wild Basin trailhead have picnic tables, and Sprague Lake has both tables and pedestal grills. For a larger picnic event, there’s a group picnic area at Lily Lake (reservations are required).

    Stop by the Visitor Center

    Sign that says "Alpine Visitor Center: Trail Ridge Store"

    Visitor centers are a great opportunity to orient yourself at the start of your visit. If you’re looking for a hike but are not sure which one to do, you can check out maps and talk to park rangers about trail conditions to determine the best hike for your group. You can also hit the restroom, grab a snack, or buy souvenirs.

    Rocky Mountain National Park has several visitor centers, but some of them close seasonally. The Fall River Visitor Center is open year-round, and the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center opens in late February. Those are two great options during your spring visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. A little higher up, the Alpine Visitor Center opens for the season around Memorial Day.

    Go Stargazing

    Starry sky over a mountain with snow

    Rocky Mountain National Park is a wonderful park for stargazing, especially if you visit on a new moon night, with as little light as possible to obstruct your view.

    Because Trail Ridge Road is above the tree line and on, well, a ridge, you can pull over pretty much anywhere for a gorgeous view of the stars. If you’re up for a short night hike, Dream Lake and Bear Lake are easily accessible places where you can see the starry sky twice—up above and reflected in the water.

    Catch the Sunset or Sunrise

    Yellow flowers grow on a rock with mountains in the distance under a purple sky

    Sprague Lake and Dream Lake are great places to watch the sunrise that require only a short hike. If you don’t feel like hiking in the dark, pull off Trail Ridge Road at Many Parks Curve to see Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s best-known 14ers, light up with the dawn.

    You can also catch Longs Peak illuminated in orange light at sunset from Bear Lake.

    Tips for Visiting Rocky Mountain During Springtime

    Here are our best tips for a visit to Rocky during spring.

    Lake surrounded by mountains with white snow

    Pack snacks & a lunch

    With 415 square miles of meadows, forests, and tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t exactly small. You can easily spend a full day here just driving around, so make sure to pack food and drinks. If you want to do a hike, bring plenty of water and high-energy foods like nuts, jerky, or protein bars.

    Traveling from out of town? Head to downtown Estes Park to grab some food before heading into the park. Worst comes to worst, Alpine Visitor Center does have a restaurant and cafe area open through the summer only.

    Start your day early

    Though you won’t be contending with the dense crowds of summer, it never hurts to get an early start to beat the rush. This is especially true if you plan to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park—always allow yourself extra time for water breaks and photo ops.

    Green grassy pasture with mountains in the background under a blue sky

    Wear layers

    This tip holds true all year, but especially in spring. Even if the weather is hot and sunny at your hotel in Estes Park, it’ll get colder and windier as you climb into the Rocky Mountains.

    Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park can get downright frigid in the morning and evening, and rain (or even snow) is always a possibility. Bring warm layers, a hat, and gloves so you’ll be ready for whatever the weather throws at you.

    Pack microspikes & hiking poles, just in case!

    This high up, there will still be plenty of snow on the ground throughout spring. Hiking trails can get dangerously slick as the snow melts, refreezes, and gets packed down by hiking boots.

    When going on a spring hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, microspikes over your boots will greatly improve your traction, and trekking poles will provide added stability.

    Blue clouds float in the sky over a pasture with mountains

    Get your timed entry pass reserved in advance (if visiting in late spring)

    Rocky Mountain National Park is currently piloting a high-season timed-entry permit reservation system—meaning if you visit in late spring, after Memorial Day, you’ll need to choose a day and time and reserve your spot online in advance.

    There are two types of permits, depending on where in the park you want to go: the Bear Lake Road Corridor and the rest of the park. Each permit gives you a two-hour window to enter the park, with no set departure time. Permits from May 26 – June 30 will open here on May 1.

    Best Springtime Hotels Near Rocky Mountain National Park

    Wondering where to stay? Here are our top recommendations.

    Girl in a blue hoodie stands on a rock looking out at a lake with mountains with snow in the background.

    Budget: Coyote Mountain Lodge

    Coyote Mountain Lodge near Lake Estes offers free breakfast, an outdoor pool, and mountain views. The grounds are beautifully green in spring, with family-friendly activities like a picnic area and nine holes of golf. You can also bring your furry family members along.

    This is a very affordable place to stay if you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in spring, with rooms ranging from $80 to $120 per night.

    Click here to check current rates & book!

    Moderate: Streamside on Fall River

    This option is a little more luxurious, with a kitchen, fireplace, and spa tub in every room. The grounds are perfect for a stroll in springtime, or you can fish in the river right outside your door. You may even spot some elk or deer in your backyard!

    Rates start at $150 per night in spring, and they offer a 10% discount on stays over 7 nights.

    Click here to check current rates & book!

    Luxury: The Landing at Estes Park

    This gorgeous lodge has the mountain-chic style Estes Park is known for, minus the kitsch factor. Outside you’ll find Adirondack chairs for relaxing in the sun, tables for a family picnic, and a shared firepit overlooking the river.

    Rooms start at $180 per night in spring, with cozy amenities like fireplaces, balconies, or patios—one even has a private sauna. Note that the Landing requires a minimum stay of 2 nights.

    Click here to check current rates & book!

    Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park is a beautiful season, with vivid green meadows, wildflowers just starting to open, and animals become more active after a long, cold winter.

    Crowds are also thinner, and lodging is cheaper than in summer. Hopefully, these tips helped you plan your perfect visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in spring!

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