Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in May
Learn all about what to expect visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in May (Written by Erin McCarthy)
May is arguably one of the best months to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. The temperatures are mild, the montane meadows are lush, the elk are grazing with their young, and the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide contrast against the bright blue spring sky. The visitor numbers are relatively low in May. In June, the visitor numbers will double, and then some. There are a few drawbacks to visiting in May, depending on your desired activities. Read on for our complete guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in May.
benefits of visiting in may
The biggest benefit of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in May is the relatively low visitation numbers. While the numbers in May double that of the previous month, it is still significantly lower than the high season (June-September). It’s a sweet spot before the crowds arrive in June, when the trails are less crowded, the weather is mild, and there is plenty to do and see.
The snowpack begins to melt in April and continues through May. The montane meadows are a lush emerald green and rushing rivers and streams can be found throughout. Beautiful, vibrant wildflowers dot the landscape. Elk are often spotted with their young on the valley floor, a beautiful and unique sight to be seen.
drawbacks of visiting in may
Unfortunately, the hiking accessibility to higher elevations is difficult through the month of May. A lingering snowpack and treacherous conditions present a situation only the experienced backpacker should attempt. In higher subalpine and alpine elevations, snow is guaranteed until June. It is recommended to stick to hikes in the lower montane ecosystem through the month of May. Make sure to plan accordingly as the popular Trail Ridge Road is closed until Memorial Day when the snowplows can safely clear it.
things to do in may
Springtime in Rocky Mountain National Park offers several options of activities to fit all fitness levels and timeframes. Below are some recommendations for things to do in May:
Hiking: In May, stick to the lower elevation hikes in the montane ecosystem. Our top three are: Upper Beaver Meadow Loop, Deer Mountain or Little Horseshoe Park Trail (more on hiking below).
Tour the famous Stanley Hotel: The Stanley Hotel, located in Estes Park, is over one hundred years old, with lots of stories to tell. During select evenings, a 60 minute walking tour is offered to learn about the ghosts of the past. Most notably, this is the hotel that Stephen King based his film, The Shining on. Sign up if you dare.
Walk amongst the wildflowers: Springtime in Rocky Mountain National Park means the wildflowers awake from their slumber and dot the landscape with bright colors. In May you can expect Indian Paintbrush, Forget-Me-Nots, and Alpine Avens. Keep your eyes peeled for the fleeting Alpine Sunflower, found only in Rocky Mountain National Park. Check out Tundra Communities Trail for an especially beautiful trail this time of year.
Wildlife watching: Animals in the Rocky Mountains give birth in April and visitors can spot elk with their babies in May. They are commonly found grazing in the montane meadows. With over 1,000 elk in the Park, the likelihood of spotting a cow and her calves is high.
Fishing: though the peak season for catching trout is Mid-June to Mid-October, there is still a possibility of catching trout at the pools in Moraine Park in May.
hiking in may
The lower elevations in the montane ecosystem of Rocky National Park are clear of snow in May. Higher elevations will still have snow through through June. The popular trails in this area will be much less crowded than in the summer months. Below are a few recommendations for hiking in May:
1. Upper Beaver Meadows Loop
- Mileage: 5.0 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 935 ft
- Trailhead: Upper Beaver Meadows
This hike can be completed in either direction, but most choose a clockwise direction that promises breathtaking views of Longs Peak and the mountains along the Continental Divide. Shortly after the trail begins, there is a “loop within a loop” so don’t get tripped up. Take the left fork at the junction. This trail is quite open at the beginning and then meanders through ponderosa pines. After that, the trail then climbs steeply to reach the highest elevation of the entire route. During the next half-mile you’ll enjoy fantastic views of Moraine Park, Longs Peak, and the surrounding mountains. This trail is both challenging and rewarding as you’ll have incredible views and wildlife sightings, especially in May. The final destination is a stunning panoramic view of the peaks of the Continental Divide.
2. Little Horseshoe Park Trail
- Mileage: 6.3 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 748 ft
- Trailhead: Lawn Lake
From the Fall River entrance, travel west on Route 34 until you reach the Lawn Lake trailhead. In the first mile of this trail, you’ll have views of the three beautiful alpine lakes known collectively as Sheep Lakes. Travel on to cross Hidden River and Valley Creek, and continue through Little Horseshoe Park up until the ridge at Deer Mountain.
3. Deer Mountain
- Mileage: 6.2 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 1,210 feet
- Trailhead: Deer Ridge Junction
This is one of the most popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park with good reason. In the off season, it will be much less crowded and all the more breathtaking. You’ll hit a trail junction about a tenth of a mile in. Continue straight along the ponderosa pines and open meadows for the first mile, keeping an eye out for deer and elk. You’ll have views of Little Horseshoe Park and the Mummy Range on your left as you travel east. On the right you’ll have views of Moraine Park, Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and the Continental Divide. The next mile climbs up the western slopes of Deer Mountain along switchbacks. The trail then flattens out and drops a bit before reaching the summit trail junction. After the third mile, you’ll arrive at the summit trail junction. Turn right where a steep climb to the summit and stunning 360° views await you.
weather in may
May is mostly mild with the potential of temperatures at or below freezing. The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park at Estes Park (7,500 feet) has less snow but still has cold temperatures even at lower elevations. The west side of the park at Grand Lake (8,300 feet) has more snow, but less wind. In Estes Park in May, you can expect a high of 60ºF (15ºC) and low of 35ºF (1ºC) and an average snowfall of 0.5 inches. At Grand Lake in May, there is a high of 58ºF (14ºC) and 27ºF (-2ºC) and an average snowfall of 2.3 inches.
JOIN A GUIDED COLORADO HIKING ADVENTURE
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to some of the most epic and amazing hiking vacations in the world. Wildland Trekking offers trips with the best of Rocky Mountain: waterfalls, mountains, views, wildlife, solitude, adventure and fascinating natural and cultural interpretation.
Guided Rocky Mountain treks are all-inclusive which covers permits; local transportation (excluded on certain tours); meals; equipment; safety systems and professional hiking/wilderness guides; all of which allows visitors to maximize their time in Rocky Mountain and focus entirely on enjoying the Park.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE TOURS
- GUIDED BACKPACKING ADVENTURES: these are for people interested in an authentic Rocky Mountain adventure away from the roads and crowds.
- PORTERED & LLAMA TRIPS: on these innovative trips, guests hike with light day packs and camp near in stunning backcountry locations.
- INN-BASED PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
- CAMPING-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of Rocky Mountain on wonderful outdoor vacations.
- DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Rocky Mountain on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour on one of the Park’s best trails.
About the Author
Erin McCarthy is a freelance writer and former Colgate University Outdoor Education Leader. When Erin isn’t writing, she is exploring the mountains and rivers of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. You can view her complete portfolio at www.erinannmccarthy.com.