Imagine walking over a frozen alpine lake as austere Mountains rise up all around you. Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park in April is one of the most incredible experiences you can have. Hike through the snow covered trails, watch bustling wildlife, and experience the serenity of the landscape. April is one of the snowiest months in Rocky Mountain and also one of the least crowded, so it’s an amazing time to visit!
I have been to over 38 of the National Parks and this is one of my all-time favorites. there is nothing quite like taking a hike through the stunning Rockies and feeling the wind on your face. You’ll be sure to make lasting memories in this incredible park!
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the shoulder season can be complicated and hard to plan. Below I have laid out a comprehensive guide so that you can take on this park and see all of the most incredible sights!
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Table of Contents
Rocky Mountain National Park Details
What is Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great park that sits in the Northwestern part of Colorado. There are over 100 peaks within the park and the Continental Divide runs directly through it. People go to this park to see the astounding mountains, the gorgeous valleys, and the abundant wildlife that roams the park.
What to do in Rocky Mountain National Park?
If you are an avid skier, then you will definitely want to hit the backcountry slopes in Rocky Mountain. April is one of the last months of the year where you can access the slopes. In the Hidden Valley area of the park, there are over 1200 acres of land to ski down and try to be the first to make your mark! Make sure to pack everything that you will need, take the proper safety precautions and watch out for avalanches!
Best Areas to Ski:
- Banana Bowl
- The Dragontail
- Hidden Valley
- Long’s Peak
If you don’t mind a little bit of snow, then gettin gout on the trails is one of the best ways to see Rocky Mountain National Park. April is a great time to see some of the beauty in the park with rushing waterfalls from snowmelt, frozen lakes, and warmer temperatures than winter.
In April, there are still some trails that are still too snow covered to see, but there are plenty of great options! For those who do not want to hike in snow, you can stick to the valley where many of the trails will be snow-free. However, if you don’t mind hiking on snow then you can travel to some of the higher peaks as long as you pack the proper gear. If you plan on going hiking pack hiking poles and microspikes so that you will be prepared for any snowy sections of trail.
Best Hikes in April:
- Cub Lake – If you enjoy seeing wildlife, then this is the best trail for you! People often see Elk and Mule Deer as they go on this 6 mile hike. Some have even reported seeing moose! In drier years, this path may be clear of snow in April.
- Gem Lake– Take this hike that is at a lower elevation to try to avoid the snow. It’s a 3 mile hike that climbs up 1,000 feet until you get to Gem Lake. You’ll get great views over Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains.
- Sky Pond – This is a hard hike that is more than 9 miles and gains over 2,000 feet of elevation. However, along the way you will see a stunning waterfall, a Loch, Lake of Glass, and finally, you’ll get to Sky Pond. It is one of the most scenic trails in the park, but you will need to hike on snow and frozen lakes in April.
- Emerald Lake (Snow covered, but easier)- One of the most popular trails in the park for a good reason! You can see four alpine lakes in a three mile round trip hike. You will need to walk over frozen lakes during April, so be careful!
- Bear Lake– Take a short .8 mile walk around this beautiful lake. It’s great for a stroll in the spring time.
- Sprague Lake– Another great trail for a casual stroll. This path is also .8 miles and wanders around this gorgeous lake.
Because April is one of the snowiest times of year, there are so many great snowshoe trails to take in the park. If you have never tried snowshoeing before, then this is one of the best places to test it out! You can rent snowshoes in Estes Park and then hit one of the many trails in the park.
Start out easy on a stroll around the lake or you can climb mountains and visit alpine lakes. There’s plenty to see as you walk on a pair of these cool contraptions.
Best Snowshoeing Trails in April:
- Nymph Lake – A beautiful half mile trail out to a lake and back.
- Bear Lake- Another great easy trail as it wanders around the lake and is only .8 miles long.
- The Pool- Take this 5 mile trail up 200 feet, past waterfalls and rivers to see this beautiful spot in the park.
- Chasm Falls- This is another great 5 mile trail, but it is a bit steeper than the others at 500 feet of elevation gain. Eventually, you will be able to see these magnificent falls.
- Black Lake- Only go on this trail if you are an experienced snowshoer! It is 10 miles long and takes the whole day to get there and back. However, it’s a beautiful trail.
Rocky Mountain National park is one of the very best places in the world to go rock climbing. With hundreds of peaks and tall granite walls, it is a rock climbers dream. Although the best times to climb are in the sunny seasons of Summer and Fall, there are still plenty of routes to take.
Before you go rock climbing, make sure you have all the proper equipment and that you are avalanche aware. Some routes get closed in March and April, because of the Raptors that nest along the walls of the mountains.
Best Climbing Routes
- Long’s Peak- This is the tallest mountain in the park at 14, 219 feet. You can hike six miles to the Diamond before getting to various climbing routes that ascend to the top.
- Hallet Peak- You have to take an hour and a half hike from Bear Lake to get to the Love Route. This route climbs 1,000 feet high to get to the top.
Where should I stay?
Most people that visit Rocky Mountain in the spring will choose to stay at lodging outside of the park in Estes Park. You can find a lot of options for lodges and hotels within a short drive from the park. This town has a lot to offer including delicious restaurants, great souvenir shops, and fun activities like mini golfing. Even if you don’t stay in Estes Park, you should make sure to explore the area, because it’s ton of fun. Dylan and I did a bit more shopping there than we went to do.
If you’d prefer to spend the weekend outside then you can stay at the Moraine Campground in the park. This is the only campground that is open during the winter season and it is first-come, first-served at this time of year. During the summer months you will need to make reservations on recreation.gov. The campsite was $20 a night during the winter and you can choose an open spot that will fit your camping gear whether that’s an RV or a tent.
How do I get there?
The closest airport to Rocky Mountain National Park is the Denver Airport. Luckily, this airport receives some of the most flights in the country, so you should be able to find a flight for a good price. You can either rent a car and drive the 80 miles into Estes Park or you can opt to take the $55 shuttle that makes frequent trips from Denver Airport to Estes Park. There are additional shuttles that leave from downtown Denver and Denver Union Station to get to the park.
If you’re driving, it’s fairly easy to figure out how to get to Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver. You will take I-25 North 34 miles, then turn left onto CO 66. Continue on that road for 14 miles until you get to US-36 West. You will take that road 22 miles until you arrive in Estes Park. Otherwise, you can take the scenic Peak to Peak Highway that runs from Idaho Springs to Estes Park and provides incredible views the entire time.
What is the weather like in April?
Although it’s the snowiest month of the year, there is still so much to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in April. Early spring is a wonderful time for activities like snowshoeing and skiing. These activities continue into the late spring and throughout the month of April. This is the shoulder season, so there are very few other people and it is not crowded. The Rocky Mountains are beautiful at all times of year and it’s a magical place to visit.
In the early spring, you will see a lot of snow and most trails will still be frozen over. You may experience warmer temperatures while hiking, but there are still snowpacks on the ground. So, be prepared to hike through snow and over frozen lakes. In some of the lower areas, the snow starts to melt and you may have to hike through slush and mud to get to your destination.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Rocky Mountain National Park has a fee of $30 to get in or you can use an Annual Pass including the America the Beautiful Pass for entry.
- The park is open 24/7 year round, so you can go into the park to watch the sunrise, see the sunset, camp in the park, or even observe the dark night sky.
- Parking lots fill up early even in April, so you will want to arrive in the park early in the morning to go on the trails. We got to a trailhead around 8 am and the lot was already almost full.
- There is only one campground that is open during the winter time and through the month of April, which is the Moraine Campground. It is first-come, first-served during the winter months. At all other times of year, you will need to make reservations for the campgrounds here.
- Road conditions and openings change frequently during the winter, so you can always stay updated by following @RockyNPS on twitter.
- Pets are allowing in the parking areas and in the campgrounds on a leash. However, dogs are prohibited on all trails to protect the natural areas and the wildlife that is found in the park.
- Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
Packing Guide for April
If you plan on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in April, then you should be prepared for every season. Some days will be warm and you may even get away with wearing a T-shirt, while other days you may see a snow storm in the mountains. It’s smart to pack a lot of layers and have things you could wear no matter what the weather decides to do. Even on our hikes we saw people wearing a myriad of things from full on winter jackets to shorts. So, it really depends on what you may need personally.
- Microspikes – We used these on every single hike that we did that weekend
- Hiking poles– Will help with balance and navigating the snow
- Lightweight Winter Jacket– I wore my Patagonia nano puff all weekend and it was the perfect layer for our hikes
- Winter Hat
- Hiking Socks
- Hiking boots/Waterproof Shoes
- Sunscreen– You’d be surprised at how sunburnt you can get in snowy conditions
- Merino Wool Base Layer
Although most people travel to the Rocky Mountains in summer or fall, I think that April is a fantastic time to go. If you’re willing to brave the snow, then you will get to have hikes all to yourself, stay at serene campsites, and you’ll see views that will blow your mind! You won’t regret taking a trip to this stunning park.
Let me know if you found this guide helpful in the comments!
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