Snotel Snow Water Equivalent maps

There is a particular pattern to every spring.

The opening day of baseball happens. The first pasque flowers are spotted. And people start planning their Colorado vacations.

Pasque flowers. My favorite spring wildflower.

I start getting emails along these lines.

“You say to wait for three-season conditions for backpacking in the high country. And the suggestions you suggested do not appeal to me. Can’t I backpack in April or May?”

There are excellent resources to gauge the snow depth throughout the American West.   Quite a few depending on how deep you want to go down the rabbit hole.

But sometimes a quick and dirty way of seeing these numbers is more impactful.

I present the Colorado Snotel equivalent map for April 18th:

And nearby New Mexico:

What do these handy maps tell me? 

The overall snowpack in Colorado is at average overall. The San Juans are slightly high. Nearby New Mexico (Cumbres Pass area) is about a third higher than normal.  And the snowpack around the Santa Fe ski areas is about a quarter below average.

July 15th in the Indian Peaks.

What does all this mean for Colorado backpacking *** Assuming no spring snow dumps in April or May *** ?  That the general rules of thumb for the Colorado high country  are going to be pretty spot on:

  • Lost Creek Wilderness?  Roughly in late May for the higher altitude areas and passes.
  • Indians Peaks, Maroon Bells, RMNP, etc. roughly July 1st +/-.
  • And the San Juans and nearby? Call it around July 10th or so. This area gets the most snow in Colorado after all.

June 10th in the Lost Creek Wilderness in a slightly higher snow year.

So make use of these handy resources.

Mother Nature does not care if you bought a plane ticket and really want to go backpacking in May in the Colorado Rockies at the higher elevations. 😀  And if the suggestions I linked earlier don’t work? Grab an atlas, find a green spot on the map at lower elevations, and go. It is how I find these sites in the first place. 🙂

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7 years ago

We’re getting tons of these questions out on the west coast, where the Pacific NW snowpack is not only far above normal but is still getting dumped on as the unusually cool, soggy weather continues. And then there’s California, with snowpack 200% or more of normal. I checked Wyoming, and the Wind Rivers are also around 200%. This is the year to go east, young man/woman (with apologies to Horace Greeley).