RMNP is very high in altitude and the weather can change on a dime.
You can have a beautiful spring day.. 75 degrees sunny.. and an hour later have snow.
Although this is true in the entire park, be especially cautious on trail ridge road and the higher elevations... driving, hiking or just enjoying the sights.
Wind can also be fierce and don't forget about the lightning. Many people don't think about the danger of lightning until they see a thunderstorm approaching them. Again this is an even bigger issue above the tree line (where the trees stop growing as you go up the mountain) as you will be much more exposed to the storms.
Temperature swings are common. Just because it is 80 in Denver does not mean there could not be snow in the mountain (yes I have witnessed this). I have seen snow every month of the year, as well as weather in the 50s in January.
One more note is day and night temps can be drastically different... a high of 80 in the summer but a low of.. 35 is not unheard of.
Be ready for absolutely anything in the mountain.
RMNP is known for abundant wildlife, especially elk, mule deer and some moose. The park is also home to black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and many other smaller species.
Year after year I watch tourists flock into the park amazed not only by the views but by the herds of elk, or the moose on the side of the road... also I watch numerous people get charged by elk or an angry moose making threatening gestures to a visitor who is way too close and doesn't realize it... or maybe that guy who thinks its cool to rev his car next to some bighorns and get a nice dent where it decides to ram the car.
Though there is a list of scary animals like bears and mountain lions, there are far more injuries and deaths to people in Colorado from the deer species (that includes elk and moose) than all of the others combined. Do not approach any wildlife, if the animal you are wanting to see, also sees you.. it lifts its head and looks at you, turns, puts its head in a down position and facing you (and is not eating), or just somehow acknowledges it knows you are there... you are too close. There are several other warning signs for each animal, you should use common sense.
Elk are very populous in the park I have seen people literally get out of the car and walk within a few feet of an elk. It happens all the time. I have also seen an average size elk charge and ram a car and literally tear it to shreds, could you imagine those pointy antlers coming through your car door? A lady in Estes Park was badly injured by a female elk (that is.. no antlers) in her own yard for getting too close. These animals can weigh up to 1,300lbs (about 590kg). Moose are even less predictable and just as deadly. Even though you may find it common sense to stay away from babies, there are those who seem to think that since babies are cute it's fine to get really close to snap a quick picture, that could be your biggest and last mistake if the mom is nearby. Not only are you putting yourself at risk, you are stressing out the animals getting so close.
During the fall is the elk rut (mating season)... They can and will get extremely aggressive with anything (people, other animals, each other), unfortunately there are flocks of people there doing the same senseless acts getting as close as they can, getting charged, kicked or injured some way. If you visit in the fall, I strongly urge you to keep your distance from all elk, but especially bulls.
Don't feed wildlife either, but that is another article.
It is sad I have to write an article about this, so many people do not have any common sense, and have a lack of respect for wildlife and the parks that it is ridiculous!
Snow is not the real nemesis in winter hiking. The constantly near freezing temperatures in this region create icy conditions which are far more difficult to traverse than a blanket of powder. Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures in January, all trails along Bear Lake Road were icy. If you're planning to visit the park in the winter, snowshoes are a must.
It's going to be a bad Summer. I will tell you this already. Late April and the winter has been very dry, adding to a series of drought years over Colorado. It gives myself - a child of the western US an uneasy feeling in my stomach when I think about it.
It's going to be like the Summer of 2002 I say. That's the year when a fire close to Denver created ash that started falling on the city, dusting the cars. Things don't look any better for this summer. If you are coming out to Colorado this year and have your heart set on visiting Rocky Mountain NP be prepared for the chance that it might be closed during your stay due to a forest fire.
The only way you could get in is if you are a firefighter. Trust me - you don't want to spend your vacation time searching for hotspots and building firelines for 20 hours a day.
Those men and women are tough in a way few of us know.
Please obey all warning signs. They are posted for your safety and to help preserve the area for the wildlife that lives here, your fellow visitors and future visitors.
Please stay on the trails.
Remember that the wildlife in the park is just that wild. Keep your distance from the moose, elk and other wildlife. Do not feed them it attracts more wildlife and may make them sick or even kill them.
The high altitude combined with the sometimes drier conditions make it very easy to dehydrate so drink lots of water. Also make sure you eat well to give you the energy required for touring the park and any hiking you do. Do not drink water from the streams or lakes as they can cause sickness.
If hiking in the backcountry give someone your itenerary so they can report to the ranger if you do not return as scheduled.
If you are not used to the altitude be aware of altitude sickness. If you begin to feel sick from the altitude, get to a lower level. Consult your doctor prior to the trip if you have heart problems or other illnesses.
Watch for wildlife while driving on the roads and hiking on the trails.
No matter how well places post signs warning about the dangers of going of the trails and climbing on the rocks, no matter how they plead to stay of the tundra to preserve it for future generations, there will be people who ignore these signs. Please do not be a part of them!
It's imperative that you remain alert while driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to narrow, winding roads with occasional limited visibility, there is always the risk that wildlife will suddenly emerge from the brush and disrupt traffic.
When driving around Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to be alert and heed speed limits. Not only are the roads generally winding with many blind curves, there is ample wildlife using road corridors for easy travel themselves. Though the park is not as noted a wildlife park as say Yellowstone in Wyoming, depending on the time of year, you may see a lot more than you anticipated.
We were there in late September 2008 and the sizeable elk population was gearing up for the mating season. Males were bugling, females scurrying, and all of them crossing roads at all hours. It was tough to go on a drive anywhere without seeing elk. Not that we were complaining. Just watch where you are going and remember, you're not late for work, you're there to enjoy yourself and relax.
I've heard this many times, but never experienced it, and certainly not at a relatively low elevation. Flurries came down while we were hiking to Cub Lake. It was late May. One minute, the weather was perfect as it can only be in Colorado. The next, the Colorado blue sky turned grayish and down came the flurries. Several minutes later, we were back to blue, but it was awful cold for a bit.
Hwy 34 or Trail Ridge Road does not connect to Grand Lake in the winter. It is only open from the end of May to the end of September. Of course this depends on the weather and these dates could be shorter or longer.
Old Fall River Road (another way to get to the Trail Ridge) is also closed during this time and actually might close earlier.
Check with the Park Ranger at the entrance.
Although Bear Lake and the surrounding trails are some of my favorite spots, be forewarned that almost everyone else feels the same way. This is a very crowded area year-round. The good news is most of the people aren't really serious hikers. The further you get from the parking lot, the more it clears out. Still, it's best to avoid holidays and weekends.
Always make sure you drink plenty of water at these higher elevations, even if you aren't doing anything physically exerting. You can easily get altitude sickness which can just give you a headache or give you serious breathing problems.
With roads that reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park is a place where visitors from lower altitudes occasionally get altitude sickness. The symptoms are headaches and nausea. The best cure is to get down to lower altitudes as soon as possible. If that doesn't work, then see a doctor.
Serious accidents can and do occur on snow and ice fields even in summer. Stay back from the edge of steep snow slopes or cornices and avoid sliding on snow and ice outside of designated snow play areas.
Mountain climbing is a technical sport requiring extensive training, skill, and conditioning, as well as proper equipment. Do not attempt rock climbs or "scrambling " up steep slopes beyond your ability and experience. Registration with the park is not required for day-long technical climbs.
Trail Ridge Road is one of the highest roads in the United States peaking at over fourteen thousand feet.
Weather is created in the Rockies and can change with short notice. Be prepared for anything. I've been in shorts with temperatures in the seventies on minute, within minutes the temperature drops 30 degrees and it's snowing. Take warm clothes, waterproof shell and plenty of water.