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My wife and I did this as a counter- clockwise overnight backpacking loop on August 14th. Amazing trail. The hike up to Parika was pretty strenuous but we did it in about 5 hours. 3 groups camped at the smaller unnamed lake just below Parika so we had Parika lake to ourselves. We didn't see any moose that day but had one running and grunting right outside of our tent at about 9pm so we didn't get much sleep! The stretch over Parika pass and Bowen Pass was amazing! The exposure isn't too bad and we could have sat on the other side of Bowen Pass all day. Saw two bull moose on the way down and made it to the car in about 7 hours. Loved this loop and definitely recommend going counter-clockwise!!

I consider this trail to be strenuous, and I typically only seek out strenous trail. 2nd time to Parika Lake on a day hike, and since I had my head lamp with decided to do the whole trail instead of walk the same trail. Past Parika Lake is some pretty heavy exposure to me. Your essentially hiking a narrow ridge with dramatic vertical dropoffs and the wind along those ridges is steady and huge. Glad I made it down safely because I didn't expect the trail to keep climbing like that. Like another hiker said two continental divide crossing past Parika Lake. Cake walk down hill after that. My legs were just noodles. I wouldn't want to hike it clockwise, because I feel going downhill,on those exposed areas would be shady. I rate it strenuous.

Due to the length of this hike, I’m splitting the review into two parts

Part One: Big Meadow and Ptarmigan Pass Loop Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

This trail should be on every backcountry hiker’s short list. At around 30 miles (not 25) it can be done in two days (pushing it) or over the course 3 to 4 days (recommended). Let me tell you about it, including its meadows, wildlife and commanding views from Ptarmigan Pass.

The Hike:

I strongly recommend that you hike this trail clockwise. Get yourself the Nat. Geo. Trails Illustrated topo map (#200, Rocky Mountain National Park) and use it to plan your trip. This trail is well marked but you should always have a map and compass before heading into the back-country.

To hike this loop, you must reserve your campsites in advance. Go to the RMNP “Wilderness Camping” registration page, fill out the forms, give them your money ($26.00 USD as of 2018), and pray. When you do get your sites, you must stop at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center to pick up your permit the day of your hike - so plan ahead.

To begin the hike (going clockwise), drive to the Tonahutu/North Inlet trailheads just north of Grand Lake, CO. Park at the North Inlet trailhead (this is where you will exit the loop) and walk the couple of yards back to the Tonahutu trailhead to start the hike.

Day One - Jumping In

Going clockwise, try to reserve one of the following campsites on the West side of this loop: Paint Brush or Green Mountain or South Meadows. Each of these sites borders a BEAUTIFUL meadow with Moose and Elk, as well as a good water source close by.

If you cannot get one of these sites, try for Upper Onahu, Onahu Bridge or Onahu Creek, just North and West of the loop. Of these three Onahu Creek is by far the nicest, though getting to it from the Tonahutu trailhead makes for a 7 to 8 mile first day - a long hoof if you start late.

Day Two - Heading Up

For day two, try to get a site that is as far up the North side of this loop as you can, for example Renegade or Haynach or Timberline. If you cannot get one of these, try for Granite Falls or Lower Granite Falls, both nice, but BEWARE, these sites have had issues with bear activity in 2018.


Day Three - Summit

What makes this trail worthwhile is summiting Ptarmigan Pass. Plan on packing up about 2 liters of H20 (or so), because while this trail is well-watered throughout, the summit has a nearly 5 mile stretch without any water.

This summit is not, especially going clockwise, a tremendously strenuous hike. It is however, a bit of a psychological beat-down. Running nearly six miles from treeline to treeline, it is the pass that seems to never end. Just after Ptarmigan Pass, watch for the sign marking the junction with the Flattop Mountain Trail and turn right to the North Inlet Trail. Down this section of the trail you will see a row of double cairns stretching off and over the horizon - cool but weird.

There is a large, resident herd of Elk that loves this summit. If you are lucky, they will cut the trail in font or in back of you, giving you a “caught in a herd of creatures” Jurassic Park movie type feelings. Again, just cool.

Plan to get above treeline early and watch the skies closely. This section of the trail may take you some two to three hours, and that’s a long time to be exposed above 12,000 feet, especially in bad weather.

On the way down, try to get reservations at July or North Inlet Junction campsites. If these are full, Ptarmigan is OK as well.

Day Four - Getting Out

On the way out plan to stop at Big Pool (shortly after the campsite of the same name) for a killer swim, and Cascade Fall for an awesome view.

Once off trail, but before you leave RMNP and Grand Lake, plan to make a stop at Sloopy’s Grill for great burgers, fries and even fried chicken. It's a bit of a biker joint, but the staff is friendly to smelly hikers and the service is fast - just the ticket!

(Due to the length of this hike, I’m splitting the review into two parts)

PART TWO: Big Meadow and Ptarmigan Pass Loop Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

This is a great hike, but as with any wander-through-the-woods, this trail has its ups and downs. Here are some of the pro’s and con’s.

Pro’s:

This trail is located in Rocky Mountain National Park: If most of your backpacking has been two to three day excursions and you are looking to make the transition to longer trips with more time on the trail - this is the hike for you. The trail is well marked and well maintained, and even without a map, you might have to work at getting lost. Since it is in a NP (no hunting) the wildlife is used to us two-legged creature, and will, if left unharassed, allow you to watch them for as long as you like.

This trail is popular: While I love remote treks, I also like the company of other hikers, and this trail has plenty of that. You are likely to meet some interesting people on this loop, some of them even hiking the whole CDT which overlaps a long stretch of this trail.

Con’s:

This trail is located in Rocky Mountain National Park: I have a love/hate relationship with hiking in National Parks. While they are well maintained, they are also well regulated, requiring that you walk here and not there, sleep there and not here and so on. If I want to be told where I can and cannot walk/stand/sleep, I’ll check into a hotel. Having to reserve camping sites, carry a BearVault and get checked two or three times for each by a ranger tends to rub me the wrong way.

This trail is popular: This trail is so popular that it suffers (IMHO) from an excess of what I call the “Idiot Factor,” or IF, and the resulting IF-driven regulations. The IF is that small percentage of people who, wherever they go, just cannot keep their damn hands inside the ride, stay the hell away from the lip of the canyon or, in the case of RMNP, figure out how to sh*t in the woods and NOT feed the bears! As a result, the IF never fails to scare the jeepers out of the resident authorities, leading to an excess of knee-jerk regulations that must be suffered by the rest of us. In RMNP, the scenario has gone something like this:

“What this!” Some people cannot figure out how to dig a hole and bury their crap? Well, we’ll just have to require that everyone pack-out their toilet paper AND, coming soon, all human waste!”

“Whoa, hold on, hold on!” “Some hikers just gave their dinner to a bear!? Pass the regulations, and quick! Two to three pounds of useless, freak’n dead weight in the form of a BearVault must be carried by everyone!”

Concerning the requirement of a BearVault, I asked the nice ranger folks why they did not allow hikers to hang their food in bear bags, notably in PCT style. They responded that they tried that, but after some hikers pulled trees down on themselves (yes, I know, loud facepalm “smack!”), it was BearVaults for all.

And there you have it. All pro’s and con’s considered, should you hike this loop? Absolutely. Why? First and foremost, it is a beautiful hike. Second, and this could be true of many hikes, while the idiots, like the poor, will always be with us, this trail, with its stunning meadows, majestic wildlife and sweeping alpine pass, may not be.

Cheers,

JG

Great backpacking trail. Amazing views on the divide, and some of the best wildflowers I’ve ever seen (columbines, Indian paintbrush in vivid reds and pinks, elephants head, shooting stars, daisies, sunflowers, etc). We actually camped by a small lake before reaching Parika Lake, which I think was more in the trees and less in the wind. Saw a moose leaving Bowen Lake, and lost of moose prints wherever we went. We were a little misled on the mileage for each day (based on other sites’ descriptions), for example the last day is closer to 7 miles than the 4 we thought it would be, although it is almost all downhill. Going up to Bowen Lake does have some decent uphill, so be ready for that. Also the signage could have been better leaving Bowen Lake to return to the trailhead, as after meeting back up with the trail there were two forks without signs that we needed to consult maps to figure out which way to go. Overall a great hike that I highly recommend!

Great loop with lots of vertical. One night at bowen lake was plenty for the entire loop.

A lot of moose. both lakes were very crowded, for a reason. it is beautiful.

This route is not dog friendly. It starts inside the national Park, there are signs everywhere Prohibiting you to take your dog past the gate. I’m sure it’s a nice hike, but I spent two hours getting here and now can’t take my dog and I don’t trust the app.

Insanely beautiful. Felt very wild. I would agree that this is very strenuous, but if you take your time it's fine. Heres a video of my trip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zezQ7E2FbA

backpacking
3 months ago

Attempted this loop 5/19. Saw 7 moose and signs of bears. Went counterclockwise with the intent of camping near Bowen lake. Made it to Bowen lake trail junction and decided not to continue due to waist deep snow. Will be back later in the summer.

Amazing trail, really beautiful and scenic. Just wanted to note that All Trails rates this as moderate. This is definitely hard/strenuous. We did go the opposite direction as All Trails has listed and ran into a ranger who told us that we were hiking the "harder" direction...but I can't imagine the other way being much easier. No permits made it much nicer to plan than backpacking in RMNP.

Awesome 3 day hike!

backpacking
Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Don't be fooled. This is pretty darn strenuous, but very worth it. Hiked to Parika Lake to camp 1 night. Started to rain the last mile. There were 3 groups already there when we arrived, but there is plenty of spots to tent. A male moose showed up at dusk to survey our campsite and we saw a mama and her baby on the trail. Beautiful in the morning and well worth the trip. So many wildflowers on the trail, larkspur, columbine, etc. There is a pretty significant rock slide area and when ran into horseback riders who had to turn around there. Not sure why they thought they could ride through there!

Tons of clean water, so I wished I had carried less. We crossed 28 streams. Some mud as well.

A really beautiful hike, particularly around Parika Lake and the trail to Bowen Lake. It took us about four hours each day and we saw a bunch of moose along the way, including a couple swimming in Parika Lake. The wild flowers were out in full force too. There were a fair number of mosquitoes at both lakes and we got drizzled on a couple times but really not much to complain about. Highly recommend this loop!

backpacking
Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Didn't find any solitude on this trip. Of course it could have been because yesterday was the 4th of July! Left Colorado Springs about 2am Sunday morning. Got to the trailhead about 5 am. Started hiking around 5:40 am up to Bowen Lake. Didn't see anyone on the trail. Got to Bowen lake shortly before 10 and found about 4 tents set up. Found a spot in some trees towards the back of the lake. The trail was wet and muddy. My Suunto ambit 3 clocked it about 8.39 miles from the parking lot. There are A LOT of downed trees on the trail cutoff to Bowen Lake. We wound up doing some bush whacking to get to the lake. By the end of the day there were about 5 more tents set up around us. People were pretty cool, some had dogs that were well behaved. But no solitude here.
****But allow me to digress. The hike starts out in RMNP and goes into The Never Summer Wilderness. If you get there before the gates are manned you don't have to pay to get in. You don't need an overnight parking permit for the Bowen/Baker TH as you will leave RMNP about 3/4's to 1 mile in.
We were planning to spend 2 nights but saw signs about roads being closed due to Independence Day parades so we decided to hump it out on day 2.
Day 2 fun! Started hiking around 7am on Monday. To head to Bowen Pass. Saw a very friendly bunny on the way and a few people. Didn't see any moose or elk. (Saw elk by the parking lot!) there was still snow just below the pass you had to climb up. Dropped down the other side to head toward Fairview mountain and over to Parika Lake. Saw about 3 groups of 2-6 people on this part and maybe a solo hiker. Dropped down about 10 ft of snow at the Pass above Parika. Had lunch by the lake and filtered some water. Was pretty warm once we dropped below the lake but was all downhill back to the car. On this section we passed quite a few people. Mostly day hikers heading up to the lake. And some coming down.
Was beautiful but should have kept to 2 nights. Disappointed because didn't see any moose outside our tent! LOL. And there were A LOT of people. We clocked from Bowen lake back to the car passing Parika Lake at about 13 miles. So close to 22 miles for us. We did go off trail a bit. I did speak to a guy who was up there backpacking a couples weeks before whilst I was soaking in the stream by the TH who said when he was up there he ran into 2 people at the TH and that was it. So if you're looking for solitude don't do it in a holiday or a weekend.

backpacking
Monday, July 03, 2017

Make sure you get an early start above tree line. Storms stack up early on this range.

Great 4 day hike into the back country with awesome primitively camping sites

backpacking
Sunday, September 11, 2016

A group of friends and I do this loop as kind of an "annual" trip every September and it never disappoints! We hiked the loop counter clockwise, making it up to Parika Lake in about 4 hours on Day 1. Fishing is solid at the lake, and every year we always manage to see a few moose there. Day 2 consisted of about a 5 hour hike to Bowen Lake, the regaining of the altitude on the divide can be frustrating but the views more then make up for it! Bowen Lake is plentiful with camp sites and fire rings from previous backpackers. Also you'll more then likely see moose coming to or from Bowen Lake on that small trail. Day 3 is about a 4 hour hike back to the car from Bowen Lake, trail is decently rocky in spots and fairly muddy as well. However 2 of the 4 of us made it just fine in low top trail shoes. All in all its a great loop for a wide range of backpackers, however those new to backpacking or with excessively heavy packs may find it a bit fatiguing!

backpacking
Wednesday, August 31, 2016

amazing hike with option to get on the Continental Divide trail. 3 days 2 nights -- hiked clockwise from trail head. 1st night at Bowen Lake and 2nd at Parika Lake.

Saw a cow moose and her offspring 1 mile below bowen lake off the trail and 3 bull moose at Parika. Storms come quick! I almost got caught in a storm hiking the CD trail from Bowen to Parika.

backpacking
Monday, July 25, 2016

This was my first backpacking trip and it was amazing. Great 3 day 2 night trip with tons to see. I highly recommend this trail to backpackers of all experience levels.

hiking
Monday, August 04, 2014

Solid 3 day 2 night backpacking trip. The first day is spent getting up to Parika lake. Camp at the lake just above timber line. Be sure to get up early day two has two continental divide crossings. You also want to be up and down quickly to avoid any storms that can come up quick. The second night will be spent at Bowen lake. Get up the morning of day three and you are on your back down. Parking is in Rocky Mountain National Park. You can pay for a day pass a leave your vehicle at the trail head for the time you are out and back. This trip is difficult but the rewards are worth it.

hiking
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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