Peak performance: Conquering your calendar and the Great Divide
The Rocky Mountains are beautiful, but they can also be unforgiving. No matter what time of year you visit, keep in mind that the weather makes its own plans with no consideration for ours. Luckily the weather in Colorado is pretty darn good more often than not. The best time to visit depends almost entirely on your reason for visiting, whether you're heading up the mountain to ski or checking out the nightlife in Denver.
Planning around the seasons
Geography is everything when it comes to Colorado's weather. No matter the season, you can count on the mountain town of Aspen being a solid 10 degrees colder than Denver, which lies just east of the Rockies. Summers are generally pleasant across the board, but if you're planning a trip into the mountains, be sure to pack a jacket even in July. Overnight temperatures in Aspen can dip down to 40 F. even in July.
Winters are cold throughout the state, but again, location makes a big difference. The heaviest snow comes to the mountains west of the Continental Divide, where 300 inches can fall over the course of the winter. The good news is that Colorado also gets 300 days of sunshine a year, so even when it's cold, at least the sun is shining.
Dealing with the crowds
Summer is the busy season in Colorado. This is equally true in Rocky Mountain National Park as it is in Denver, where warm days mean bustling farmers markets and outdoor seating at the city's bars and restaurants. If you're heading to the city and don't mind the crowds, summer is a great time to go.
The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are worth keeping in mind to avoid the crowds without shivering too much, especially if you're heading to Denver, where the climate is a bit warmer overall than it is in the Rockies. Keep in mind that changing leaves can keep some of the national parks in the mountains quite crowded well into fall.
Best time to hike
If you're headed to Colorado during the warmer months, chances are you're planning an outdoor adventure. Rocky Mountain National Park alone offers more than 350 miles of hiking trails, and summer is arguably the best season to explore them. For the best hiking weather in the mountains, plan your visit in mid-July or September to skip the brief rainy season that takes place mid-summer. You'll also want to steer clear of holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day and the 4th of July, when parks in the mountains can get crowded, to say the least.
Best time to ski or snowboard
At Colorado's 26 ski and snowboard resorts, the season for winter sports kicks off as early as October and lasts all the way into April. The earliest and latest parts of that range may not necessarily offer the best ski conditions, but they are the best times to go if you want to book a cheaper room and have the slopes more or less to yourself. Overall, the best time to ski is any time between mid-January and early March. By this time, the big crowds and high prices of the holiday season have come and gone, but the slopes are still guaranteed to be snow-covered.