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Feature Articles for 2014


OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park
By Mark Daniel / Photos by Carter Photographics

Rocky Mountain National Park averages about 3 million visitors per year. Only 0.01% are backcountry overnight users. Needless to say, this national park’s wilderness gets comparatively little use. By setting out into the backcountry, visitors reap the rewards of what most will never see. From the Kawuneeche Valley in the Colorado River District, all points lead up and out of this valley where the headwaters of the Colorado River are born. From the beginner to the experienced, there are many special places to be discovered.

BEGINNER LEVEL – NORTH INLET TRAIL
For the novice backpacker, a short hike of less than two miles from the North Inlet Trailhead leads to Summerland Park. Two sites – an individual site and a group site – are situated near excellent moose habitat and are a short distance from the North Inlet Creek which flows into Grand Lake. Setting up base camp here allows for exploration up the drainage to North Inlet Falls, with excellent trout fishing in nearby Big Pool.

Access to the North Inlet Trailhead is reached by driving in to the Town of Grand Lake from US Highway 34. As you drive 1.1 miles from this intersection by the Chamber of Commerce, take the left fork of the “Y” on to West Portal Road. Look for the North Inlet Trailhead sign on the left. Turn left on to a dirt road, County Road 663, and drive 0.3 miles to the Trailhead.

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL – HAGUE CREEK AREA
The Hague Creek area of the Colorado River District is accessed off of CO Highway 14 between Gould and Fort Collins. After getting your backcountry permit at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, take US Highway 34 south to Granby, then turn right on to US Highway 40 and drive two miles north to CO Highway 125. Turn right on CO 125 and drive north to Walden. In Walden, turn east on CO 14 and drive 35 miles to Long Draw Reservoir Road. Follow this south for about twelve miles. You will come to Corral Creek Station on the right. Directly across from the station is Corral Creek Trailhead.

From this launch point, the trail descends for about a mile to the confluence of Corral and Hague Creeks that feed the Cache La Poudre River. Several backcountry sites are easily reached near this junction, but the effort of a six-mile hike with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet treats the trekker to Mirror Lake at 11,000 feet. Three individual campsites afford the backcountry user access to superb fishing for brook trout in this high mountain lake tucked into a cirque adjacent to Comanche Peak to the east. A spectacular view to the south of Desolation Peaks and Flatiron Mountain is well worth this moderately strenuous backpacking trip.

ADVANCED LEVEL - TIMBER LAKE TRAIL
For those travelers who are up for a more challenging experience, the Timber Lake Trail grants that request. The Timber Lake Trailhead starts a gradual ascent out of Kawuneeche Valley through habitat frequented by elk. The trail turns east and starts to climb through some heavily wooded terrain at the base of Jackstraw Mountain and ascends to the first available campsite, Timber Creek, at 10,400 feet (three miles in).

Venturing on across a high-alpine meadow sprinkled with wildflowers in summer, hikers have their choice of three additional campsites nestled around Timber Lake. The highest site, Snowbird, sits at 11,010 feet and 4.6 miles from the trailhead. The lake lies below Mount Ida in an area that offers the backcountry solace most backpackers seek.

To get there from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, follow Trail Ridge Road ten miles north. Timber Creek Trailhead will be on the right, directly across from the Colorado River Trailhead.

OVERNIGHT USE PERMIT
All backcountry overnight use in Rocky Mountain National Park requires a permit which can be obtained at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (970-627-3471) on the west side of the park or the Bear Valley Visitor Center Backcountry Office (970-586-1242) on the east side.

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RESOURCES:

Rocky Mountain National Park
nps.gov/romo

Backcountry Office
970.586.1242

Trail Ridge Road Information
970.586.1222 

Visitor Information
970.586.1206

 

 

 

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