Snowpack Melt Dates 2021

Posted April 1, 2021 –

SNOWPACK MELT DATES are unpredictable. A frequently asked question is, “When is the snowpack going to be melted off The Colorado Trail?” There is no simple answer. The widely varying elevations, 5522 to 13271 feet above sea level, play a huge role as does the hillside aspect and tree shading. Other factors that loom large are the depth of Winter and Spring snows and warm temperatures (particularly at night) in late Spring weeks. Below are some generalities that CT users have found helpful.

JULY 1 IS AN APPROXIMATION for most of the CT. By July 1 in an average year, much of the snowpack has typically melted enough and most of the CT will have become “passable.” We use the term “passable” to mean not overly arduous or hazardous due to the post-holing, slipping, and navigation challenges that often haunt users when encountering remaining Colorado snowpack. This July 1 date is an average. Some years melt-off comes a bit earlier and sometimes a bit later. High passes and the high elevation hillsides with north facing trees will hold snowpack the longest and can make for exhausting and dangerous travel.

STARTING A THRU-TRIP ON OR AFTER JULY 1 has, in most years, worked well for travelers starting in Denver. Because it will take several days to reach the high elevation passes, particularly those in Segments 6, 7 and 8, this start date allows additional days for the remaining snowpack to melt. Those that leave much earlier than July 1 often find that negotiating the remaining snowpack through these high areas is more like mountaineering (slower and more arduous) than it is like distance travel (speedier and easier).

THE CT COLLEGIATE WEST (CW) IS USUALLY THE LAST TO MELT AND BECOME “PASSABLE.” At the CTF, we’ve learned this as the CW has been part of The Colorado Trail for nearly a decade. JULY 15 is the best gauge of the CW melt-off date. For those thru-hikers planning to travel the CW and leaving Denver on or after July 1st, this July 15th melt-off date is no problem because it will take them almost 2 weeks to reach the CW. But for CT Collegiate Loop hikers, we recommend they not start until mid-July.

JUNE IS WHEN EACH YEAR’S SNOWPACK MELT DATES BECOME EVIDENT. It would be great to know now about this summer’s snowpack along The Colorado Trail. Then one could start making firm, start date plans and not worry about it during the coming weeks. Right now snowpack is generally around average and many are trying to second-guess this summer. Here at the CTF, we are adopting a wait and see attitude because coming weeks might bring more snow and the night-time temperatures are unpredictable. If your schedule will remain flexible and you can adjust your start date anytime, your near-term strategy might be to monitor conditions in coming weeks and finalize your plans in June. However, if you’re like most CT travelers and you need to plan your start date ahead of time, we think you should consider a start on or after July 1.