Big Meadow and Ptarmigan Pass Loop Trail

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Big Meadow and Ptarmigan Pass Loop Trail is a 25.3 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Grand Lake, Colorado that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October.

Distance: 25.3 miles Elevation Gain: 4,202 feet Route Type: Loop

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

nature trips

skiing

walking

bird watching

forest

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

fee

no dogs

Reservations to enter the park will go on sale through Recreation.gov at 8 a.m. Mountain Time on Thursday, May 28. Reservations will be available to enter the park from June 4 through July 31. The next release will be on July 1, for the month of August and any remaining days that have not been booked for July. On August 1, reservations will be available for the month of September and any remaining days that have not been booked for August. On September 1, reservations will be available for the month of October and any remaining days in September that have not been booked. Permits issued using the reservation system will allow park visitors to enter the park within two-hour windows of availability between 6 a.m. through 5 p.m. This process will facilitate advance payment of entrance fees, minimize contact between park entrance station staff and visitors and limit congestion in parking lots. The permit system will apply to all areas of the park. In the initial opening phase, the park will open approximately 60 percent of the park’s maximum parking capacity or 4,800 vehicles (13,500 visitors) per day. This is a beautiful multi-day loop through Rocky Mountain National Park. There are several wilderness campsites to choose from depending on the mileage you want to cover each day. It is great for a 3-day, 2-night trek if you are able to hike a little over 10 miles a day. There is a $35 wilderness permit required for all camping, which is available at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at the west entrance to the park.

running
9 months ago

Great option for trail runners looking for a long loop. I’d recommend running clockwise (unless you want to opt-in to running up the steeper switchbacks). From the TH there’s a long gradual gain that’s all shaded and very runnable, then a some steep-but-not-too-steep switchbacks to gain the ridge. The trail along the ridge is well marked and rocky-but-runnable. There are not many places to hide from the wind — exposed the whole stretch. You’re up there for awhile with epic views galore. As mentioned the switchbacks down are steeper, then you’re back into the trees and roll to the finish. The last few miles get a bit lame, and my GPS has this closer to 27 than 25. Note the temp diff between meadows/ridge was kinda enormous (felt like 80’s down low, then high 40’s up top). Pack accordingly — you’ll get sweaty in the meadow, and then ur shirt becomes a refrigerator on the roof! There are plenty of streams to refill water en route. Good restrooms at the TH.

hiking
10 months ago

Great trail for those hiking with kids. Our hike led us from the Green Mountain Trailhead to the South Meadow campground. Make backcountry reservations with RMNP at Beaver Meadow visitor center. Camp fee was $30. Our site was on the creek away from everything and everyone. Bridge crossings and a little mud, but overall a great trail.

hiking
off trail
10 months ago

hiking
Tue Aug 07 2018

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!

backpacking
Tue Sep 19 2017

Awesome 3 day hike!

Sat Jun 24 2017

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

hiking
8 months ago

hiking
8 months ago

hiking
8 months ago

hiking
8 months ago

backpacking
10 months ago

hiking
Sat Sep 22 2018

Mon Sep 18 2017

Thu May 25 2017

hiking
Sun Aug 04 2013