The top five wonders of springtime in the mountains
“Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoeful of slush.”
That’s particularly true of springtime in our mountain national parks, with their alpine flowers blooming, their creeks flowing noisily and the whole world smelling fresh and alive.
But spring is also a time for park visitors to be especially vigilant. Spring ecosystems are fragile. Weather is changeable. Animals are active and need their space.
So let the buds bud, the flowers bloom, the frogs croak… and let spring unfold inside you.
Even their names are enough to thaw you out after a long winter: mountain fireweed, river beauty, fringed grass-of-Parnassus, early blue violet, alpine forget-me-not.
Although the peak flowering time in mountain parks is from late June to mid-August, in some places you will find flowers blooming by the end of March. But please don’t pick them! Flowers are important to bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators.
To get the full experience of spring wildflowers: Stand in a low-altitude mountain valley and scan the slopes for the first bloom of prairie crocus (pictured above).
Ever wake up hungry? Now imagine how you would feel as a bear after sleeping for seven months!
At this time of year, the high country is still in the tight grasp of winter while the valley bottoms are experiencing spring. That’s why these low-altitude areas with their fresh vegetation are so important for wildlife like bears. (Yes, bears do eat grass in spring… along with leaf buds and insects.)
Remember to keep a clean campsite so that you don’t attract hungry wildlife. And please drive cautiously, since animals may be foraging roadside for spring vegetation. If you’re on the trails, stay alert and carry bear spray
To get the full experience of spring wildlife: Try to spot each of the year's babies—a bear cub, a deer fawn, an elk calf (from a safe distance of course!). Some babies won’t be visible until June; others will be around earlier.
There’s a saying in the mountains: if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.
Until late June, many passes are still snow-bound and may be subject to avalanches. Trails tend to be muddier at this time, and the best hiking is at lower elevations or on drier, south-facing slopes. Creeks are in the spring rush, and flooding can be a danger.
To get the full experience of spring weather: Stand outside in a gentle rain (maybe under your Parks Canada umbrella) and watch the raindrops dimple the surface of a mountain lake.
Over 270 species of birds have been recorded in our Rocky Mountain parks. Keep an eye (and ear) open for the earliest returning species such as song sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets and dark-eyed juncos.
To get the full experience of spring birds: Wander by a wetland and watch for that iconic spring species, the red-winged blackbird (pictured above), while humming David Francey’s iconic spring song, Red-Winged Blackbird.
With our tilted earth entering the spring phase of its orbit (for the northern hemisphere), mountain parks are receiving more sun—and the night sky is changing. Spring seems to refresh the landscapes overhead and underfoot.
But although fresh landscapes are being uncovered, remember that some mountain terrain can be unstable. Avalanche season can continue into spring. If you’re heading out on the mountain trails, check the avalanche bulletins and go prepared.
To get the full experience of fresh landscapes: At night, stand out in an alpine meadow and see what spring constellations you can find. During the day, stand out in the same alpine meadow… and fly a kite!