Spring comes later to Rocky Mountain National Park than in most other places around the U.S. This is due, in part, to the altitude of the park- it ranges from 7,624 ft. to 14,259 ft. above sea level, and has 114 named peaks above 10,000 ft. Mountains can also "make" their own weather, by redirecting air masses in the atmosphere in a very complex manner. As a result, snowstorms can occur in the park any month of the year, and wind is to be expected, especially in the winter.
Nonetheless, hints of spring are clearly to be seen by the astute observer. The first mountain bluebirds of the season are usually reported by mid_March by several park staff. Red-tailed hawks and other raptors are perform their magnificent aerial courtship displays. You can look for them flying over open fields near rocky cliffs for the best viewing. Closures are put into place for several climbing areas to protect raptor nesting sites. Many small non-woody (herbaceous) plants, like potentilla, start to green up for a growth spurt when temperatures allow. The aspen buds swell, and catkins burst out. A chorus of birds can be heard singing around sunrise, while only a few weeks before, only owls were likely to be heard. Magpies begin to court. If you watch carefully, you can often see them carrying sticks to spruce up old stick nests (they prefer to use existing nests) or constructing new ones.
March and April are high snowfall months, especially for the eastern side of the park. In March 2003, parts of the park received up to eight feet of snow. A few more snow storms are still welcome, given that the snow water equivalent in the snowpack in the South Platte River basin, the headwaters of which are located in the east central part of the park, are often below normal.
While the signs of the approach of spring are subtle in the high country, they are also welcome. They tell us the cycle of seasons continues unabated even as so many things in the world around us change.
Last updated: March 31, 2012