Overnight Temperatures in the Central Rockies

Overnight Temperatures in the Central Rockies

Page Type Page Type: Fact Sheet

Note

This is an object to be attached to an articles and messages that I write and is meant to be a simple reference.

Coldest Camps

Below are the coldest temperatures I've personally recorded in specific months while camping (or staying in huts) in the Central Rocky Mountain Region.  I have spent more time in Utah and Colorado than I have in Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho, thus most readings are from Utah and Colorado.

Coldest Nights (Including Mountain Huts)

The below temperatures with an * were recorded at mountain huts.

MONTH TEMP (F) LOCATION DATE RANGE STATE ELEVATION
JAN -26 Little Brush Creek 1/14/1989 Uinta Utah 8510
FEB -20* Shrine Mountain 2/5/2016 Gore Colorado 11,209
MAR -22 East Fork Bear River 3/5/1999 Uinta Utah 8800
APR 0* Slide Lake 4/7/2012 Sawatch Colorado 11,370
MAY 10 Yampa River 5/2/2008 n/a Colorado 6063
JUN 13 South Fork White River 6/9/2007 Flat Tops Colorado 7800
JUL 15 Amethyst Lake 7/24/1995 Uinta Utah 10,800
AUG 10 West Fork Rock Creek 8/28/2009 Beartooth Montana 8850
SEP 6 Twin Lakes 9/5/2021 Flat Tops Colorado 11,030
OCT -1 Hacking Lake 10/7/2012 Uinta Utah 10,625
NOV -26* Guller Creek Basin 11/26/2010 Gore Colorado 11,630
DEC -24* Guller Creek Basin 12/26/2015 Gore Colorado 11,630

Coldest Camps (Tent or Under Sky Only)

MONTH TEMP (F) LOCATION DATE RANGE STATE ELEVATION
JAN -26 Little Brush Creek 1/14/1989 Uinta Utah 8510
FEB -15 Mount Columbia 2/28/2021 Sawatch Colorado 10,256
MAR -22 East Fork Bear River 3/5/1999 Uinta Utah 8800
APR 5 La Sal Flats 4/18/2021 La Sal Utah 6500
MAY 10 Yampa River 5/2/2008 n/a Colorado 6063
JUN 13 South Fork White River 6/9/2007 Flat Tops Colorado 7800
JUL 15 Amethyst Lake 7/24/1995 Uinta Utah 10,800
AUG 10 West Fork Rock Creek 8/28/2009 Beartooth Montana 8850
SEP 6 Twin Lakes 9/5/2021 Flat Tops Colorado 11,030
OCT -1 Hacking Lake 10/7/2012 Uinta Utah 10,625
NOV -15 Yellow Pine Creek 11/15/1997 Uinta Utah 9330
DEC -14 Hoosier Pass 12/10/2005 Mosquito Colorado 11,540
 

Sources

Readings before November 1997 were only taken occasionally. Since that date, I’ve almost always carried a thermometer on overnight trips.

The July 1995 reading was taken from simple REI zipper gauge bulb type thermometer.

Readings between November 1997 and June 2005 were taken with a Springfield spring-coil type thermometer.

With the exception of the November 2010 and September 2011 values (both of which were recorded on zipper gauges), readings from July 2005 to present were taken with one of three Acurite digital recording thermometers, supposedly accurate to 0.1F degrees.

Notes and Comments on Each Event

Note 1:  The above chart is for coldest camps only. I have recorded colder temperatures on day climbs.

On February 11 2006, it was at least as cold as -29°F on our climb of Nipple Peak (Elkhead Mountains, CO), but it was a day climb only. It was probably the coldest non-windchill temperature that I have climbed in. Luckily there wasn’t much wind on that particular day.

The coldest wind chill I’ve climbed in while in the Central Rockies was probably around -64°F (-93°F on the old windchill chart!) on Jacque Peak (Gore Range, CO) on December 26 2015.  There were very high winds and a temperature of -24°.  Nearby Dillon recorded -13°F and Antero Reservoir recorded a -40°F (actual temps, not windchill) during that time period.  I estimated that some of the wind gust were at least 50 mph on that day.

Note 2: Most of the above temperatures were recorded under mostly calm conditions at night, which is usually ideal for cold temperatures. The only exception is the reading from Hoosier Pass on December 11 2005. That night was the surely the windiest night I’ve ever spent while sleeping.

Notes on Specific Events

The January 14 1989 reading of -26°F at Little Brush Creek was pulled off the nearest SNOTEL site.  Since we were at the sink where Little Brush Creek enters the cave, it probably was at least that cold.  On the other hand we did sleep in a shelter which shielded us from the coldest temperatures.  The nearby town of Jensen at an elevation of only 4760 feet elevation (almost 4000 feet lower than where we were camped) recorded a -20F on that night so there is no reason to doubt the -26 reading.

The February 5 2016 reading of -20°F was recorded at Shrine Mountain during a fairly routine cold snap (Craig was -21F that same morning) and I imagine that similar temperatures are recorded there at least a few times a year.

The February 28 2021 reading of -15°F on Mt. Columbia was recorded during a routine cold snap.  The temperature in Leadville that morning was -12°F.

The March 5 1999 reading of -22°F at the East Fork Bear River is colder than normally might be expected. On calm nights, the cool air really pools into the valley bottom next to the river.

The April 7 2012 reading of 0°F near Slide Lake was highly unusual because Leadville only got down to 20°F that night. There were some weird temperature differentials going on around the state. For example, Craig at only 6200 feet elevation recorded a 9°F and many other mountain locations in the vicinity of Slide Lake were much colder than Leadville. It was a very windy night, but around Slide Lake it was calm by morning. If it was still very windy in Leadville, it could explain the huge temperature differential.

The April 18 2021 reading of 5°F at La Sal Flats was incredibly cold and unusual for the elevation.  There was a cold snap in the region, but this reading was much colder than the other official readings in the region.  Since it was in a bowl like location at the base of the mountains, perhaps it was an extreme example of a cold air sink and cold dense air descending off the mountains and into the low areas.  The thermometer was new, but seemed to be functioning properly.

The May 2 2008 reading of 10°F may seem a bit cold for the altitude, but the nearby town of Maybell recorded a reading of 11F that same night.  Cold air tends to pool along the Yampa River making it a colder location at night than many much higher elevation places in Colorado.  In fact, Maybell recorded the coldest temperature in Colorado on February 1 1985 with an incredible reading of -61°F.

The June 9 2007 reading of 13°F at the South Fork White River was another unusually cold night for 7800 feet. It was also during a record breaking cold snap the day after a snowstorm. Denver had its latest frost ever during the cold snap and several locations around Colorado had record lows on the 8th and 9th. Like the East Fork Bear River, cold air pools along the South Fork Yampa River as well.

The July 24 1995 reading of 15°F at Amethyst Lake was remarkably cold for July. In fact it was a slightly colder reading than any official weather station has recorded anywhere in Utah during July. 1995 was a heavy snow year and the area around the lake was still buried under deep snow. Amethyst Lake itself was mostly frozen over, but the adjacent shallow pond to the south was ice free in the evening. In the morning the small pond was frozen over with over an inch thick of new ice.

The August 28 2009 reading of 10°F was the most incredibly cold summer night I had ever spent and all of our water bottles froze solid. Since our elevation was lower than previous nights, I presume that the cold air sinks off the mountains and pools into this meadow. In fact, this night at least tied the coldest temperature at a camp I have ever recorded anytime between April 18 and September 5. To be fair though, the thermometer was sitting near the ground, so an official temperature would likely be a few degrees warmer.

The September 5 2021 reading of 6°F was incredibly cold for the time of year.  I set up the tent in a sink just east of Twin Lakes in the Flat Tops and at 11,030 feet.  The 6F was not recorded during a cold snap (Craig was 31F), but the place we set up the tent must have been in a cold air sink similar to Peters Sink in Utah.  The thermometer is fairly new and seemed to be working properly.

The October 7 2012 reading of -1°F was recorded during a cold snap near timberline during the thus far hot and dry year of 2012. It was 13F at the official station at Craig (6200 feet) where I live.

The November 15 1997 reading of -15°F was recorded during an early season cold snap.  The temperature in Brighton in the Wasatch that morning was -2F, but the basins in the Uinta Mountains are usually colder at night that Brighton.  This trip was my first overnight snowshoe trip.  It was actually colder when we went to bed than it was by morning.

The November 25 2010 reading of -26°F was taken during a rather severe cold snap over Thanksgiving Weekend. Even the lower valleys of Colorado recorded below zero temperatures. Craig Colorado, where I live for example, recorded a -15F at only 6200 feet elevation.

-20°F was actually the recorded value since the thermometer we had only went down to -20°F! -26°F was an estimate based on nearby weather stations and the fact that on December 26 2015, I recorded a -24°F at the same location. The readings at the nearby weather stations were about 2F colder on November 25 2010 then they were on December 26 2010, so -26F should be about right.

The December 10 2005 reading of -14°F on Hoosier Pass was the only one of these temperatures recorded in extremely windy conditions. It was extremely windy all night. It was colder in other nearby locations; in fact Denver (5280 feet) was officially -17°F and Craig (6300 feet) was officially -25°F.    
 
The December 26 2015 reading of -24°F at Guller Creek/Janets Cabin taken was under clear skies after a snowstorm.

Colorado Only (Including Mountain Huts)

Below are the coldest temperatures I've personally recorded in specific months while camping or staying at huts in Colorado.  The below temperatures with an * were recorded at mountain huts.

MONTH TEMP (F) LOCATION DATE RANGE ELEVATION
JAN -12* Charles Peak 1/9/2016 Sawatch 11,200
FEB -20* Shrine Mountain 2/5/2016 Gore 11,209
MAR -15* Triangle Creek 3/10/2013 Sawatch 11,040
APR 0* Slide Lake 4/7/2012 Sawatch 11,370
MAY 10 Yampa River 5/2/2008 n/a 6063
JUN 13 South Fork White River 6/9/2007 Flat Tops 7800
JUL 21 Missouri Basin 7/4/2005 Sawatch 11,700
AUG 19 Newcomb Creek 8/10/2014 Park 10,720
SEP 6 Twin Lakes 9/5/2021 Flat Tops 11,060
OCT 1* Second Creek 10/12/2013 Vasquez 11,350
NOV -26* Guller Creek Basin 11/26/2010 Gore 11,630
DEC -24* Guller Creek Basin 12/26/2015 Gore 11,630

Colorado Only (Tent or Under Sky)

MONTH TEMP (F) LOCATION DATE RANGE ELEVATION
JAN 4 Pacific Creek 1/8/2011 Tenmile 11,750
FEB -15 Mount Columbia 2/28/2021 Sawatch 10,256
MAR -2 Mount Elbert 3/9/2014 Sawatch 9620
APR 9 Montezuma Basin 4/16/2006 Elk 11,430
MAY 10 Yampa River 5/2/2008 n/a 6063
JUN 13 South Fork White River 6/9/2007 Flat Tops 7800
JUL 21 Missouri Basin 7/4/2005 Sawatch 11,700
AUG 19 Newcomb Creek 8/10/2014 Park 10,720
SEP 6 Twin Lakes 9/5/2021 Flat Tops 11,060
OCT 1 Box Canyon 10/26/2003 n/a 5800
NOV 7 Deerlodge 11/14/2019 n/a 5600
DEC -14 Hoosier Pass 12/10/2005 Mosquito 11,540

Utah Only 

Below are the coldest temperatures I've personally recorded in specific months while camping in Utah.  All were recorded while sleeping in a tent or under the sky.

MONTH TEMP (F) LOCATION DATE RANGE ELEVATION
JAN -26 Little Brush Creek 1/14/1989 Uinta 8510
FEB -10 Lake Cathrine 2/28/1998 Wasatch 9940
MAR -22 East Fork Bear River 3/5/1999 Uinta 8800
APR 5 La Sal Flats 4/18/2021 La Sal 6500
MAY 17 Medicine Lake 5/16/2021 La Sal 10,000
JUN 20 Elkhorn 6/11/2021 Thousand Lake 9820
JUL 15 Amethyst Lake 7/24/1995 Uinta 10,800
AUG 18 Shaler Lake 8/13/2000 Uinta 11,000
SEP 10 Ashley Twin Lakes 9/30/2005 Uinta 10,000
OCT -1 Hacking Lake 10/7/2012 Uinta 10,625
NOV -15 Yellow Pine Creek 11/15/1997 Uinta 9330
DEC -11 Henrys Fork 12/30/2001 Uinta 9800