Weekend Backpacker: Denver

Flattop Mountain
  |  Gorp.com

With 355 miles of trails, it's no wonder this park is one of Colorado's most popular hiking destinations.

Located about 65 miles from Denver, 265,727-acre Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses 17 mountain peaks above 13,000 feet. The highest peak is Longs Peak at 14,255.

Because of its high elevation, much of Rocky Mountain National Park is above treeline. While this is a fascinating environment to explore, it also poses some dangers. Rangers advise hikers to allow several days to acclimate to the altitude before attempting a rigorous hike. Although the park is open all year, the best hiking conditions occur June through October. Hikers should be prepared for changeable weather at any time of the year.

Recommended hike: Bear Lake to Grand Lake. This hike takes you over the Continental Divide along alpine forests and above the treeline. The trail to the summit of Flattop Mountain climbs at a steady, moderate grade for 4.5 miles. Gentle or not, the total elevation gain is a lung-busting 3,075 feet. The final 1.5 miles are above timberline, and you will have views to the east over Bierstadt Moraine and to the highest sections of Trail Ridge Road to the northwest. From the summit (12,324 feet), you can continue south a few hundred yards to the Tyndall Glacier.

From the top of Flattop Mountain, pick up the North Inlet Trail (#1). Head down the switchbacks to a small stream. Next you will see a pond and meadow. From here it is about 6.1 miles to Grand Lake.

This linear trail is about 18 miles one way and can be completed by very strong hikers in one day. For an overnight experience, reserve a backcountry site on the west side of Flattop Mountain and then continue on the trail the next day or turn around and head back to your vehicle.

If you plan to take this linear trail one way, you must arrange for transportation at the other end. By car it is 46 miles on Trail Ridge Road from one end to the other.

Camping: Allowed in designated sites. Reservations are required. Call the backcountry office at (970) 586-1242.

Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 north and go west on Colorado Highway 66 to Lyons. Merge with US Highway 36 and head toward Estes Park. Follow Highway 36 through Estes Park and follow the signs to the main entrance.

Permits and fees: Park admission is $10 per week per vehicle or $25 for an annual pass. Backcountry permits are required for overnight hikes. They are available from the park headquarters for $15 a night from May through October and $10 from November through April.

Maps: Maps are available at the park office.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO 80517
(970) 586-1206

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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