In many parts of the country right now spring is in full bloom. Grasses are greening up, trees are budding out or already have leaves and freezing temperatures and snow are quickly becoming a distant memory. What does this portend for landscape photographers?. Maybe you want to take a trip out to the desert, find some wildflowers or warm weather. I’d be right there with you but if you want to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park in it’s winter glory, April is just about one of the best months of the year to do it.
After a feast or famine week or so with no new snow, mild weather and really not a whole lot of interesting subjects to photograph in RMNP as we transition between seasons, the weather this week into next week has shifted decidedly wintry. We seem to have put the weather machine in reverse and entered late February or early March based on the current weather in Rocky Mountain National Park but in reality, this is quite normal. April is typically the 2nd or 3rd snowiest month of the year in RMNP so its a good time if one is looking for winter images of Rocky.
It’s hard to believe that Trail Ridge Road is likely to open in another four to six weeks which signals the unofficial start of summer in Rocky Mountain National Park, but judging by this weeks weather it’s hard to picture oneself driving at 12,000 ft on Trail Ridge in just over a month or so.
April not only see’s a lot of snow in Rocky, but its a good month to photograph the landscape covered in fresh powder for a couple of reasons. First off, April tends to be more mild temperature wise than the middle winter months. This makes it more manageable to get out in the elements without feeling like you will loose fingers and toes to the gold. Dont get me wrong, April can be plenty cold, especially at or near timberline but often it is more mild with temperatures moderating much more quickly during the day.
Secondly, the high moisture content of the snow in April means that it sticks to just about everything. Like cake batter, the heavy wet snow of April with cover the trees, pine needles and ground making for dramatic and clean looking photographs. High winds, which are common as weather systems exit the park tend to blow the dry and light snow right off the trees and landscape in the middle of winter.
Speaking of wind, this is a third reason why photographing winter landscapes in RMNP is great in April. These springs storm tend to move more slowly and hang over the region for longer periods during the spring months. This means not only larger amounts of snow, but it also means less violent swings in the weather and much calmer winds in between the ebbs and lows of these springs storms.
Water is also starting to flow again come April. Moderating temperatures means that streams and ponds below 9500 ft will start to break free from ice. Small openings may start to form in some of the higher alpine lakes, though I would only really expect this is we have a really warm streak. Even still, waterfalls at lower elevations as well as streams will allow for reflections or strong composition lines in one’s photographs. This is a good time to remind people to be careful around all water this time of year as the ice can be both unstable, and water that is moving is not only frigid, but moving very fast. A simple mistake around water this time of year can be fatal.
Traveling around the park is a little easier as well. Snow tends to melt on the roads during the day and pull offs and parking lots with the exception of monster blizzards tend to be clear and free of snow sooner than the middle of winter when the radiant effect of the sun is not nearly as powerful as it is now.
Lastly, the most important part of all photography is light. The light in Rocky Mountain National Park in April is some of the most conducive to photography on the east side of RMNP as it is all year. As the sun swings farther and farther to the north as we approach the summer solstice the lighting becomes optimal for some of Rocky’s best locations. The northeast facing peaks around Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge are now getting beautiful lighting again. These are popular locations all year, but for photographers, the lighting will be best in the Bear Lake corridor between now and September.
So there is a quick run down of the current status of Rocky Mountain National Park in the middle of April. If you love snow and you love to photograph in winter, April is as good a time as any to come visit Estes Park and RMNP.