Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments. Over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers and wildlife.
Sweet spot months in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) without the heavy summer crowds, open Trail Ridge Road and a good chance of nice weather are late May until early June or September after Labor Day (mid-week) until mid-October. However, snow is possible at both times. September is also great for wildlife because of the elk rutting season (peak mid-September to mid-October). In fall the air is clear and crisp and the skies are blue. Please make sure to read our full season guide below (including monthly weather), seasonal crowd tips, hotel suggestions as well as more useful tips at the end of this article (scroll down!)
Top Tip (Very Easy Hikes)
Tip: Venture off Trail Ridge Road to experience the real beauty of RMNP. If you can't do any strenuous hikes but still want to be awed, then take a look this guide on Amazon: Best Easy Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park. It covers amazing hikes for everyone, even suitable if you visit with small children (like 0.5 miles or 2 miles round-trips). But also hikes which are slightly more challenging. Like John Muir said 'Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.'
Highlight (Trail Ridge Road & Tours)
The stunning Trail Ridge Road is open from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) until mid-October. The official closing date is October 23, but they often close it a few days before that date. Even in June or September, it’s possible that it’s closed for hours or a day due to snow, often between 8 PM and 10 AM. Make sure to check more tips for the Trail Ridge Road in our section below the season guide (scroll down).
Special Tour Tip (from Denver or Boulder): If you're staying in Denver or Boulder and would like to experience the Trail Ridge Road as well as the most stunning viewpoints hassle-free, we suggest the Unique Rocky Mountain National Park Tour (from Denver and Boulder). It's an 8 hour day tour which includes driving the amazing Trail Ridge Road as well as other mesmerizing parts of RMNP. The views you'll get to see on this trip are just spectacular. Everything is taken care of, including pick-up service from Denver and Boulder (In case you need a hotel in Denver, check these deals: Denver Hotels)
Regardless of the season: The higher into the mountains you go, the colder it gets. In general, RMNP is known for its extreme weather patterns which can change very quickly, as well as wide variations between day and nighttime temperatures. Find detailed weather data here: Climate Estes Park - Colorado
Spring | April - May
Early Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park
The weather in spring is unpredictable: Up to 70°F (21°C) on one day and a temperature drop together with blizzards on the next day. It varies between warm and cold, wet and dry. Many trails are still snow-covered well into May, often even at the end of May. After a warm April, trails can be snow free in May, but are very muddy. This means you either have to deal with snow or with muddy trails. In general, snowfall is not uncommon in spring. Temperature ranges between 70°F (21°C) and 60°F (16°C).
Summer | June - July - August
Cub Lake in RMNP at Dawn
The most comfortable weather is in the summer months from July to August: The temperature climbs up to 75°F (24°C). However, afternoon thunderstorms can occur and wind is normal. Always prepare for temperature drops of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that the highest elevation trails are snow covered well into June. Wildflowers are in bloom from late June to early August. What to wear in the summer? Always bring layers of clothes, even if you don't plan to hike at higher elevations. A morning can be mild and in the afternoon temps can drop remarkably. Always bring a rain jacket, as well as a warmer long sleeve shirt in your pack. Usually you can start with a short sleeve shirt for hikes or walks.
Fall | September - October - Early November
Autumn is usually a great time for a visit. September and October bring clear, crisp air, blue skies, and generally dry weather. Especially in September it's generally still mild and warm. However, mornings and evenings can be a lot chillier. Always bring a jacket! Early snow is already possible in October. Looking for fall foliage? Leaves start changing colors in late August at higher elevations, peak is around mid-September and the beautiful fall foliage lasts until October in most years at lower elevations. Early October is often still a good time for leaf peeping at lower elevations. At higher elevations the vibrant fall colores will be already gone in October. Elk rutting season begins in September as well and continues through mid-October at least. Like in spring you need to be flexible, check the forecast and bring gear and clothes for various conditions.
Winter | November - March
Winter in RMNP means snow and arctic conditions. However, lower elevations on the east slope of Rocky Mountain National Park are usually free of deep snow. The west side of the park experiences more snow, less wind, and clear cold days during these months. Most high country overnight trips require gear suitable for freezing temperatures. Skiing and snowshoeing conditions are best in January, February, and March. There are lots of other exciting activities in Winter: Sledding at Hidden Valley, Winter Wildlife Viewing, Ice Climbing and more. Visit NPS Rocky Mountain Winter Activities and 20 Things To Do in the Winter. Trail Ridge Road: While it's closed in the winter, keep in mind that you're allowed to drive the first 8 miles until Many Parks Curve overlook. Depending on weather conditions of course.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
With over 4 million visitors each year, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited Parks in the U.S. Expect the most crowds in summer and fall. The busiest months are June until August, with heavy crowds in July/August. During the week it starts to thin out after Labor Day in September (first Monday in September), but not on weekends. Also, try to avoid National Public Lands Day at the end of September. Entrance to to all National Parks is free then and RMNP will be extremely busy on this day/weekend!! Visiting mid-week in September means less crowds as well as enjoying elk rutting and pleasant fall temperatures at the same time.
In general from July through September: Avoid weekends and/or go early in the morning to beat the crowds. In the peak months arrive between 7 and 8 AM to get a parking spot. Usually, it starts to get busier after 9 AM. Especially popular entrances like Estes Park or trailheads like Bear Lake Trail are extremely busy. In general, the west side (Grand Lake) is less crowded than the Eastern side (Estes Park Entrance). Regardless of the month, season or entrance: Go as early as possible, head out on a trail, hike a few of miles from the busy areas and you won’t see too many others.
Six million acres of wild land: Taiga forest, alpine tundra, and snowy mountains and stunning wildlife. An amazing place year-round.
Welcome to our unique Denali guide (updated 2019) with tips for each month, hiking insights, and everything you should know about the bus transport service. When is the best time to visit? Denali is open year-round. However, main activities and tours are being offered in summer only. Shuttle busses will get you into the wilderness from May 20 until mid-September. Now, read our season guide below the quick navigation or jump directly to the top hiking and bus tips.
Quick Navigation (Selected Topics):
- The Best Denali Hotels (Avoid Glitter Gulch!)
- Shuttle Bus and Tour Bus (The Definitive Bus Guide)
- Hiking & Off-Trail Hiking (With Easy Hikes & Walks)
Special Tip: Don't forget to check out our unique Denali Bus FAQ at the end of this article. It's extremely helpful and answers all of your questions!
Stunning and Scenic Denali Flights from Talkeetna | Nearby Airport
These flights are expensive, we know. However, if you can afford, go on one of these once-in-a-lifetime plane ride adventures where you fly over Denali National Park. The views are just mesmerizing!
Season Guide | Weather and Monthly Tips
Weather overview? Find helpful weather details at: Denali Park Weather Monthly averages here: Climate Denali National Park (switch from C to F at the top right. Keep in mind that the temperatures vary depending on the elevation and the part of the park). Check the Denali Webcam at Wonder Lake and read on for more details about a summer, winter, spring or fall visit:
The best time to experience amazing fall foliage in Denali: Late August/early-September
Mid-May - late May (spring): May is the driest month and the weather starts to get warmer. Average high: 52°F (11°C). Most tours and the shuttle bus service start around mid-May. However, some snow has still to melt. As a result, the deeper parts of the park are often not fully accessible. Rates are low and there are no crowds.
June (late spring, summer): June is also a very dry month and temperatures climb. Average high: 66°F (19°). Flowers are in bloom and you get the most hours of daylight (Sunrise-Sunset Denali). After the first week of June, the park is usually fully accessible. Early June until mid-June is a great time before it starts to get crowded with tourists coming from cruise ships and everywhere else. Drawback: Mosquitoes are an issue from June until the end of July.
July (summer): July is the warmest months with temperatures climbing to 70°F (21°C) and still a lot of daylight (18-19 hours). There is slightly more precipitation than in June, but no need to worry about long periods of rain. July is the peak month in terms of visitation. Again, small drawback: Mosquitoes are still an issue.
August (late summer): It's still pleasant. However, temperatures already start to drop slightly but it's still a great month temperature wise. Average high: 62°F (17°C). Also, there are slightly fewer daylight hours in August (16-17 hours). August has the highest average precipitation of all months. However, nothing to worry about. You need to bring rain gear regardless of the month. In terms of visitors, it's still very crowded.
Early September - mid-September (early autumn): As temperatures drop it will be cooler in September and there is also less daylight (11-14 hours). Average high: 50°F (10°C). However, it's still a great month to visit as the temperature is still pleasant and all services are being offered until mid-September. After Labor Day Weekend (beginning of September) the crowds dissipate as well. You'll enjoy a much more peaceful park. Looking for the leaf color explosion? Fall foliage starts early in Denali. The peak time for the beautiful fall colors is usually the end of August and early September.
Mid-September - mid-October (autumn) and April - early May (spring): Most services are shut down, restaurants, hotels, and shops are closed from mid-September to mid-May. However, the shoulder season can be quite rewarding as you can experience the 'real' Alaska. In the fall temperatures can still be pleasant or already freezing cold in October. Always check the weather forecast. In fall and spring, you need to rent a car as the shuttle service is not available. More helpful details about visiting in shoulder season: Fall and Spring Visit
Late-October - March (winter): It gets freezing cold and it's time for Winter Activities. Including skiing, winter biking and snowshoeing. Temperatures are ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit and colder, to high 20s on warm days.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The summer months experience the highest visitation. Check out the visitation chart below, then our tips for enjoying a more peaceful visit to Denali National Park.
- Shoulder Weeks (late spring/early fall):
To avoid the most crowds at the popular spots (entrance areas, bus tours, visitor centers, famous spots) during peak season, still use the shuttle bus service and enjoy mostly pleasant weather: Visit during either in the very short late spring or early fall season: End of May until mid-June or early September (after Labor Day) until mid-September.
- Popular Tours in Shoulder Weeks:
The very popular day tours which do not include hiking like the Tundra Wilderness Tour or the Kantishna Experience Tour are usually fully booked during peak months. During shoulder weeks (see above) there is a good chance that a tour bus is less than half full. That means you can spread out. The tours usually run from mid-May until mid-September (Kantishna from early June until mid-September). Read below for more info on bus tours.
- Own Activities / Trail Hiking:
You can avoid crowds in peak season by planning your own activities. And even if you only drive to Savage River (by free bus shuttle or with your own car) for the short hike and to spend time there, you'll avoid tourist groups by starting early. Check the list of trails: Denali Trail Details. Always start early, and you'll avoid the crowds. If you take a shuttle bus: Make an online reservation and book the earliest departure.
- Off-Trail Hikes/Walks:
Even in the summer, it's quite easy to get away from every group of tourists and spend time in solitude: Book a transit shuttle bus early in the morning departing from the WAC (Wilderness Access Center). Get off the bus wherever you like and start hiking or walking. Regardless of your fitness level or age! If you feel intimidated, you can stay close to the park road the whole time and still experience stunning wilderness and wildlife. Get back on the bus to WAC whenever you like for free. Find more details about easy off-trail hikes (even short 1-2 hours hikes/walks) below in the hiking and shuttle text section.
- Stay at a Hotel Outside the Park:
The entrance area is always filled with thousands of people in the summer. The same applies to the hotels very close to the entrance (Princes Lodges, Bluffs Hotels, …). The easiest way to avoid those heavily crowded areas is to take advantage of the more quiet lodging alternatives in Healy (17 Minute Drive - Google Maps). You'd need a rental car in case the hotel doesn't offer a shuttle service (UBER is also available now), but the hotels there are also less expensive. Check the best prices and book well ahead: Healy - Recommended Hotels
Wildlife / Flora / Northern Lights
The best time of day to spot wildlife is in the morning or late afternoon/evening. Being on a bus long enough increases your chances. Best season is during the warmer summer months. There is not much wildlife in the winter due to hibernation. Denali also has a rich and amazing flora. Wildflowers begin to bloom in early June till late July. How to spot the Northern Lights? Since the Denali region is almost free light pollution, it's an excellent area to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). The sky must be dark enough and clear. With a partly clouded sky, it's less likely to experience it. Time of day? Usually, you can start looking after 1,5 hours after sunset. It's possible to see the Aurora here between mid-August and early-May. However, the highest chance to spot Northern Lights is in March/April and September/October.
'I was totally blown away by the natural beauty'
'Amazing and almost other-worldly, we enjoyed every second'
Read our detailed guide to find out the best time to visit Watkins Glen State Park and enjoy the spectacular views of the Gorge Trail without the massive crowds. Additionally, you'll find a great review and tips by a local as well as 10 Must-Know Tips (scroll down) you should read before your visit. This Watkins Glen State Park guide answers every one of your questions and has received a huge update in 2019/2020. Don't forget to check out our hotel tips below.
Winter 2019/2020 Tip: Thinking winter is a bad time to visit? Wrong! Even when the Gorge Trail is closed, you'll experience mesmerizing views of sometimes frozen waterfalls in an icy and narrow gorge. It's worth it in the colder season even without snow and ice. Tip: Book one night at a nearby hotel (within walking distance!) Staying in a hotel the night before your park visit in winter means you are at the park early and enjoy some time there in solitude. That's awesome for taking the best photos! Book in advance to save money. Check out our winter tips below.
Highlights (Gorge Trail - Flow - Fall Foliage)
Waktins Glen State Park - Autumn by Andy Arthur, CC BY
Gorge Trail: The Gorge Trail offers the most stunning experience and gorgeous views of the waterfalls and all the caves. The trail is open from mid-May until late October. It's usually closed from the beginning of November. Depending on the weather it could be a little earlier or later.
Flow: There are a total of 19 waterfalls in the park. The peak flow is usually in spring. Especially with a strong flow, you can feel the earth tremble even more while standing next to or behind a waterfall. The flow gets worse in summer and often better during the months of fall.
Autumn Foliage: In the fall Watkins Glen State Park offers a beautiful show of fall foliage with vibrant displays of gold, scarlet, and orange. The best time for the fall colors is usually early October until mid-October.
Avoiding the Crowds
Summer (mid-June until August) brings the most tourist crowds. It's ridiculously busy, especially on weekends. The trail itself is packed as well as the entrance area and the parking lot. Regardless of the season, you should go early in the morning and on a weekday. Be there after sunrise right before the gate opens at 8:30 AM: Official Website - Opening Hours. We highly recommend to stay at a nearby hotel (see below), hike the Gorge Trail first thing in the morning and then choose one of the nearby activities. Alternatively, you may dodge crowds when you arrive in the late afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. However, it's usually still busy later in the day on weekends during the peak months of July and August.
Spring and fall usually bring very pleasant weather conditions. A mild climate and often average temperatures up to 70°F (21°C) can be experienced in May and September. In the summer it doesn't get too hot with average highs of 82°F (28°C). However, the short but strenuous hike uphill can be a challenge for some visitors in the summer. The area also has some slightly muggy months. The least humid month is April and the most humid time is late August and early September. Winter brings the coldest conditions. In January temperatures range between 15°F and 33°F (-9°C and 1°C). The area can receive heavy snowfall, especially in January and February. Detailed Monthly overview: Watkins Glen Weather
Sweet Spot Months
Best months without the massive summer crowds, great views, open Gorge Trail and pleasant weather: mid-May until early-June or September (after Labor Day) until late October. But still, try to avoid weekends or go early. It's worth it!
Winter Months (Special)
The beautiful gorge trail is closed in the winter. However, the Indian Trail (read below for more details) is accessible and cuts across the gorge: From there you can see many of the waterfalls toward the bottom. One bridge, in particular, gives you an incredible view of a large part of the winding gorge down there. Even more stunning when the gorge is covered in snow and ice. Regardless of the closed gorge trail, we say it's definitely worth seeing this amazing landscape in the winter months. Either with everything frozen over and snow-covered cliffs or just be mesmerized by the falls and gorge without anyone else. It's true, sometimes you hardly see any other visitor in winter and have the park all to yourself. Especially when you visit in the morning! That's just perfect for taking unique photos.
Awed by its beauty and diversity people are drawn to Acadia National Park every year. It’s home to many plants, animals and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
The best time to visit Acadia National Park in terms of pleasant weather is between late spring and fall. However, it's often crowded. A less busy time with great weather is the two weeks after Labor Day in September until mid-September, just before the leaf-peeping crowds arrive.
Read our complete overview for every season below with many useful tips. Tip: If you'd like experience something special in Maine and get away from the crowds, check out these great tours: Lighthouse, Coastal & Sailing Tours in Maine. And one of the best guidebooks out there for Acadia N.P.: Acadia - The Complete Guide (via Amazon)
We also collected the the best tips for short hikes and walks, as well as insider tips on how to avoid the crowds during peak season and fall color tips (direct navigation):
Season Tips for Acadia National Park
May - June | Spring
Both months bring warmer and drier conditions. However, in May the trees aren't green yet and it might be too cold for water activities. Temperatures: Up to 51-75°F / 11-22°C in June. It’s pleasant weather for hiking and other outdoor activities. The downside is, depending on how rainy it has been before, there are biting bugs from mid-May until mid-June. Many facilities are open and May is still a quiet month, except for Memorial Day Weekend (end of May). In June it gets already busier but not as crowded as in July and August.
July - August | Summer
Warm, most pleasant temperatures. Peak season. It gets very busy, even more in August. Booked accommodations, waiting lines, crowded parking lots, congested Park Loop Road and busy view points. To avoid the crowds during peak season, get to the park early in the morning or in the late afternoon around dinner time. More tips on how to avoid the crowds can be found below.
September - October | Autumn - Fall Colors
Early September after Labor Day until mid-September is a nice time to visit the park: The weather is pleasant (49-68°F / 9-20°C), it's not super quiet, but the heavy summer crowds are gone and the 'leaf peeping' crowds haven't arrived yet. It gets very busy again from late September until mid-October as thousands want to see the leaf color explosion in fall. The best time to experience the amazing colors is usually mid-October. Tip: Read our '7 Must-Know Fall Color Tips' below in the main text. Book ahead of time if you need accommodation during the ‘leaf peeping’ weeks. After Columbus Day in mid-October crowds dissipate and rates drop. This is another sweet spot time without the heavy crowds. The last week of October ist often still ok for watching the fall colors, but it also gets cold and rainy.
November | Late Autumn
Even in early November, it's usually too late for spotting the beautiful fall colors. Temperatures drop (33-48°F / 1-9°C ), try to visit until mid-November. It’s colder, but still worth to visit the park without the crowds, almost in solitude. Many facilities are closed though. Definitely, drive the Loop Road which is usually still open in November.
December - March | Winter
It’s off season and very cold. Average temperature in January: 14-32 °F / 0-(-)10 °C . Time for snowmobiling and skiing. Most hotels, restaurants, campsites and attractions are closed. The scenic Park Loop Road is also closed from December until mid-April (weather dependant). More winter activity info: NPS Acadia Winter Activities
April | Early Spring
Many visitors would say that April ist is still not pleasant with melting snow and muddy ground. Average temperatures are between 25-41° F / 1-11° C. However, we'd definitely recommend this month. You might be wondering why? First of all, from mid-April the scenic Park Loop Road usually opens. Second, it's still quiet without any heavy crowds of other tourist. You'll have no issues with parking and can enjoy some places almost in solitude. While there are still signs of winter, the scenery is just breathtaking. Some say the views are even more amazing with no leaves on the trees. Bottom line: We think a visit between mid and late April is a great time!
Regardless of monthly temperatures we described above, you should know that in Maine the weather can change dramatically during the year. However, temperatures along the coast in Acadia N.P. are moderated by the ocean. In the graph below you'll find the average monthly highs. Least rainfall is in June, July and August. But still, keep in mind that the weather is often unpredictable and can change instantly. Be prepared for rain at any time.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
It gets crowded in Acadia National Park in summer and fall. A sweet spot time without the heavy crowds but mostly pleasant temperatures used to be those two weeks in September (after Labor Day until mid-September). However, it's not that quiet anymore during this time, especially in the recent years as visitation increased. Otherwise, there are two different sweet spots weeks with mostly pleasant weather and few visitors: A) The weeks after Columbus Day (mid-October) until early November. B) Early June until mid-June: Although it's already busy at places like Bar Harbor, visitors report that most hiking trails in the park are not crowded.
However, if you plan to visit during the summer and leaf peeping time in fall, we have three great tips to avoid crowds:
1. Be Early or Late:
The majority of people tend to visit Acadia from mid-morning to afternoon. Get up early and try to be at the most visited spots or trailheads before 9:00 AM. Usually, the crowds start to arrive around 10:00 AM. Incredibly popular spots like the summit of Cadillac Mountain can be crowded earlier. Be there at 8:00 A.M. and you'll dodge the heavy crowds at the top. Another advantage to visiting early is the great light for photos and the higher chance of spotting wildlife. Check out this great Ranger Early Bird Video. Alternatively, visit the favorite spots later around dinner time or head out on a short trail just before sunset. Just after 5 P.M. is a perfect time since most are heading back for dinner around that time. However, make sure to be back when there is still daylight. It's too dangerous to hike in the dark.
2. Visit Quieter Areas:
Head to the less traveled places and trails. On the 'quiet side' of Mount Desert Island west of Somes Sound, try out Acadia Mountain Loop or the Beech Cliff Trail (see below in the hiking section). Or you could head to Schoodic Peninsula (Google Maps) on the mainland, or the quietest side of Isle au Haut, accessible only by mail boat.
3. Use the Shuttle:
If you are visiting between late June and Columbus day, use the free Island Explorer Shuttle. It takes away all the worries of full parking lots at trailheads and congested parking areas at popular places like Cadillac Mountain or Bar Harbor. There are bus stops at all well-known places. They even added one for the trailhead of Caddilac North Ridge Trail (see below in the hiking section). Additionaly, you can always ask the bus driver to let you off, even if it’s not an official stop.