Explore the most popular camping trails near Grand Lake with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

Went during Thanksgiving week with a few inches of snow. Only did the water front. Winter wonderland!!

Great day hike, not too challenging and a nice steady incline. A good amount of snow was on the trail but it was packed down well, no spikes or poles necessary. Saw no other people and the view at the top was incredible. Very cold and windy at the top.

Amazing views, worth every step.

This trail is a must do. We camped at the unnamed lake below parika lake and then near the junction to Bowen lake. Would rate as strenuous, and there is a lot of exposure on the ridge lines past parika lake. We had wind gusts of probably 60 mph or so. We took our rain flies off our packs, because they were acting like parachutes and sometimes the wind was so strong you had to stop before you could move again. Definitely worth it though. Vertical drop offs on the ridge are more gradual than straight down, so not bad IMHO, and I’m not a heights fan! The views at the peak of 12300 feet or so are absolutely breathtaking.

off road driving
2 months ago

The main trail is not a 4x4 trail. The side roads/waypoints are what make it fun. We did this in a 2015 JKUR lifted with all the right stuff.
There are narrow spots and you will endure Colorado pin striping on the trails we went down.
Plus side- we saw 6 moose. 2 bulls and 4 females up close and personal.

Fantastic hike, exhausting but totally worth it. We got lucky and saw 4 moose at the lake. Also Aspens along the trail were gorgeous and the views of Grand lake were really pretty. It took us 4 hours to get to the lake and about 2 and change to come down. Highly recommend during fall season (we hiked this at the end of September)

My 12 year old daughter and I did this in 8 hours. Be aware of switch backs and stairs! beautiful and rewarding.

We hiked this trail 2 days ago, it took us 6 hours round trip. Beautiful scenery, good elevation, light traffic and Lone lake was beautiful, worth the distance. We saw a female Moose and was able to video tape ( a bit to close for me) she was on our trail. Best hiking trail we visited!

Absolutely stunning and quite the hidden gem. Hardly anyone on the trails with us. Great time to go is in late September. The birch wood were golden and beautiful.

awesome! tough in the winter in March. lots of ice and snow. can't wait to do in summer again.

We tried the perimeter trail from the trailhead st the dam of Shadow Mountain Lake. The views of the lake and surrounding peaks are incredible! The devastation of the pine forest by pine beetles is regrettable and mars the beauty of this area. The lake was also being used by fishermen and boaters (loud outboard motors and the smell of their exhaust also detracted from an otherwise beautiful location.

The perimeter trail is mostly flat with a few downed trees and some end-of-summer growth beginning to encroach. We did not attempt the steeper climb up to the viewpoint.

Very challenging but rewarding with views. My wife and I saw 2 cows and one calf moose.

We hiked this to flattop mountain on a day hike. A little longer then we expected and then further got delayed by having a bull moose on the trail who would run at us when we tried to pass, ended up waiting 30 minutes for him to move on. Lots of wildlife 2 bull moose, elk, mule deer, beautiful views and lots of water. 22 miles total for us in 10 hours. Not to bad

Spectacular Lakes! I have hiked the world's mountain ranges- easy for the distance. What a pay-off!

Spectacular!

hiking
3 months ago

Awesome hike! Beautiful views, was near a lake or river for most of the time. Saw 2 big bull moose in one of the meadows and lots of deer. There was some fallen down trees across the trail but not difficult to manage.

on Shadow Mountain Trail

3 months ago

Great hike! Definitely worth the view!

Headed out at 9am on the trail and spotted a few moose with their babies. well maintained trail.

Lone Pine Lake was worth the trek. The hike took us 5.5 hours plus 30 min relaxing on the mini island in the lake. Definitely gets your heart pumping on the way there.

Fantastic hike, beautiful tundras and landscape. I don’t think this would be as challenging if you did it in 3 days but I only had 2 securing a last minute spot at camp porcupine splitting my trip into 13 & 18miles. Completed this counter clockwise. With all side trips, water gathering, setting up camp, and putting away the bearvault logged about 31 miles on this loop.

Yes a permit is required here for overnight backcountry but if you just show up to the ranger office or call day before they said they reserve spots for walk-ins so dont let that deter you.

You can camp for free down the road in Arapaho National Forest which is about 15min away.

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!!

Nice view of the lakes below

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.

hiking
3 months ago

Ok, I feel like I need to "normalize" all the reviews here for this particular trail. It was a great trail and spectacular views, but even if you are in good shape this may be a workout and a half for you. Granted, we are from NY and not used to exercising at 10,000ft... you will notice the slight reduction in oxygen going up this hill. It took us a good 5 hours out and back with several stops to look at the views and a 30 min stop at the top for lunch. We met several other hikers that were having a tough time and one group quit just 30 min from the top. If you are not used to Colorado hiking, bring 2x the water you think you will need and snacks to get you through. Don't get me wrong, it was a great hike but the reviews here make it sound a lot easier than it is :)

Go to 5th lake. Its well worth it. Trail kinda disappears but its pretty obvious still.

Well. First off it was an accident that my wife and I went to lone pine lake, but we are glad we did. Even tho we did end up going through snow and it was chilly closer to the lake, we had fun. We saw a moose. And some amazing sights.

Amazing views, beautiful lakes and low traffic after leaving the Adams Falls area. Difficult hike with many steps. But we’ll worth the trek!!

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, but that's just me.

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 poo in the woods and NOT feed the bears! As a result, the IF never fails to scare the jeepers out of the resident authorities (and we don't blame them), leading to an excess of 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, 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, this trail, with its stunning meadows, majestic wildlife and sweeping alpine pass, may not always be with us.

Cheers,

JG

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