Lake Isabelle (10,910′), Front Range

Lake Isabelle (10,910′), Front Range

Lake Isabelle (10,910′), Front Range

Lake Isabelle lies hidden in a high, isolated bowl-shaped basin at the top of the South St. Vrain drainage in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It lies at tree-line in a stunning alpine valley surrounded by Navajo (13,409′), Apache (13,441′) and Shoshoni (12,967′) peaks. The Continental Divide is located just west of the lake, running along the high peaks above the valley.

Mitchell & Blue Lake and Mt Audubon, are also located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area and also offer beautiful views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

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Trail Directions

From the Long Lake Trailhead, the trail begins its relatively gentle ascent up to Long Lake. After a quarter-mile of trekking, the trail intersects the Jean Lunning Trail, which will take you to and around Long Lake.  This area is known for moose sightings. Avoid the Jean Lunning Trail and continue to the right uphill to Lake Isabelle.

After approximately 1 more mile, the trail intersects the Jean Lunning Trail for the second time.  Again, continue towards Lake Isabelle and Pawnee Pass, bypassing the Jean Lunning Trail.  Lake Isabelle is just another .9 miles beyond this trail junction. From the lake you have the option of continuing further up the trail to reach Isabelle Glacier.

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Hallett Peak (12,713′), Front Range

Hallett Peak (12,713′), Front Range

Hallett Peak (12,713′), Front Range

Hallett Peak, viewed from east Rocky Mountain National Park, is distinctive with it’s slanted square structure towering over the landscape. As you near the summit however, the square melts away and you are left looking at a more traditional mountain silhouette. Rising along the Continental Divide, Hallett Peak divides Chaos Canyon to the south and Tyndall Gorge to the north.

The route to the summit first traverses the summit of Flattop Mountain on a well maintained trail. The Arapaho Indians called the Flattop Mountain corridor “The Big Trail”. The trail was formally constructed in 1925, was rehabilitated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940, and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Trail Directions

From Bear Lake take the well maintained Flattop mountain trail to the summit of Flattop Mountain. No maintained trail reaches Hallett Peak, so cross the saddle above Tyndall Glacier and scramble up steep talus to the summit.

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Lake Helene (10,630′), Front Range

Lake Helene (10,630′), Front Range

Lake Helene (10,630′), Front Range

There is no signage and you must follow a social trail to get to the lake, but despite it’s obscurity, Lake Helene is a spectacular destination inside Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is situated at treeline, between Flattop Mountain (12,324′) and Notchtop Mountain (12,129′).

Even lesser known Two Rivers Lake is a short walk from Lake Helene, and also worth the visit while in the alpine valley.

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Trail Directions

Follow the Bear Lake trail for less than 1/2 mile to the Odessa Lake Trail Junction and take the trail to the right. The trail climbs above Bear Lake to the Flattop Mountain trail junction. Continue towards Odessa Lake, climbing through forests and meadows. After approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead you will see social trails on your left for Lake Helene. The lake is partially concealed from the trail and spurs are fairly easy to miss. If you make a sharp hairpin turn north (right) and begin descending, you’ve passed it.

Two Rivers Lake is near treeline just downstream of Lake Helene. A thick forest and boulder field stand between the main trail and lake, making it easier to walk east from Lake Helene through the forest and meadows.

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West Spanish Peak (13,625′), Sangre de Cristo Range

West Spanish Peak (13,625′), Sangre de Cristo Range

West Spanish Peak (13,625′), Sangre de Cristo Range

West Spanish Peak (13,625′) and East Spanish Peak (12,684′) have world class geological features that made the two peaks a National Natural Landmark in 1976 and designated as a Wilderness Area in 2000. The peaks rise 6,000 ft from the edge of the eastern plains, and were used as a navigation aid for centuries for people heading west.

The Spanish Peaks are world class examples of “stocks” and “dikes”. Stocks are large masses of igneous (molten) rock which forced their way into seams of the sedimentary rock which eroded more quickly over time. East Peak is a nearly circular stock about 5.5 miles long by 3 miles wide while West Peak is a stock about 2.75 miles long by 1.75 miles wide.

The other structures, hundreds of dikes which radiate out from the two mountains, were formed in the same way, but instead of a large pool of molten rock, the magma filled cracks in the soft sedimentary layer. Erosion wore away the softer sedimentary rock leaving dikes (walls) of granite rock up to 100′ high, 100′ wide, and 14 miles long. This scenic combination of two stocks (West Spanish Peak and East Spanish Peak) and hundreds of unique dikes is second to none with it’s size, diversity and beauty.

While in the area, just a short drive west on Hwy 160, is another geological wonder, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Zapata Falls, which lies just outside the park, is also a favorite.

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While the Spanish Peaks are categorized as belonging to the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, the are not geologically part of a chain of mountains, having been formed independently by different processes.

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Trail Directions

The trail is fairly level as it meanders through forests and meadows for about 2 miles (3.2 km) to treeline. At treeline there is a massive cairn signaling the beginning of the steep section of the trail. There is a rough path on talus (scree) up the southwest ridge of the peak for the 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of steep climbing. When in doubt stay to the left and close to the ridge, the climbing is on more solid footing.

Gaining the false summit, the actual summit comes into view, not far away and on much more even terrain. There is a cairn and large branch on the summit.

Trailhead Directions

La Plata Peak (14,336′), Sawatch Range

La Plata Peak (14,336′), Sawatch Range

La Plata Peak (14,336′), Sawatch Range

La Plata Peak is known for it’s distinctive Ellingwood Ridge, and is one of the highest 14,000′ peaks in Colorado. Traverseing the Southwest Ridge route, with Huron Peak and the Three Apostles providing a backdrop, makes for stunning scenery. 

“La Plata” is Spanish for “The Silver”, a reference to the many silver deposits in the area. You can find remnants of old mines along the trail.

The Sawatch Mountain Range is home to fourteen other 14,000′ peaks, such as Huron Peak, Mt Antero, Missouri Mountain, and the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, Mt Elbert.

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Trail Directions

Note: The West Winfield trailhead is small and very hard to reach, even during dry conditions due to the rough 4X4 road.

Once at the trailhead head directly north and cross a small creek and turn west for a bit. Following the steep trail you reach treeline at about 12,000′. Here the elevation levels out and you navigate through a large bog overgrown with willows. Expect to get your boots muddy here. Past the bog, you can see the steep trail which climbs to the ridge. Be careful here because of the loose rock and lack of traction, especially on the way down. Once on the ridge, the trail turns northeast and traverses the cliffs you viewed all morning. The trail steepens considerably again and gains 1,000′ in a very short distance, boulder hopping all the way to the top of the ridge. Once on the ridge, continue climbing over two false summits. The trail joins the Northwest Slopes standard route (#1474) for the last 20 feet to the summit of La Plata Peak.

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American Basin to Sloan Lake (12,920′), San Juan Range

American Basin to Sloan Lake (12,920′), San Juan Range

American Basin to Sloan Lake (12,920′), San Juan Range

The Handies Peak trail to Sloan Lake meanders through American Basin, one of the most scenic basins in the San Juan Mountains. The destination, Sloan Lake, is a high alpine lake above treeline near the base of American Peak in the basin. The trail continues past the lake and up to Handies Peak, one of five l4,000′ peaks in the area.

Other destinations worth visiting while in the area along the Alpine Loop include Wager Gulch, California Pass, Hurricane Pass, Stony Pass, and Mt Sneffels in Yankee Boy basin.

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Trail Directions

The Handies Peak trail leaves the southeast end of the trailhead parking area and ascends the hillside on the left (east) side of the valley, heading south into the basin. At 3/4 miles the path crosses a stream and then continues the moderate ascent toward the head of the basin.

The path to the Lake turns left (southeast), leaving the valley floor and climbs 325-ft up a moderately steep hillside. At the top of hill the path descends into a shallow basin, crosses the outlet stream for Sloan Lake and then follows a gently ascending grade across rocky meadows. Eventually the path turns south, climbing steep switchbacks 200-ft up to a junction with the trail to Sloan Lake. At the junction a short spur trail drops south to the shore (12,930-ft.) while the trail to Handies Peak veers left. The trip to the lake is well worth your time. The aquamarine lake lies cradled in a rugged cirque, anchored to the southeast by American Peak (13,806-ft.). An imposing jagged ridge rises above the lake’s south shoreline.

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Missouri Mountain (14,067′), Sawatch Range

Missouri Mountain (14,067′), Sawatch Range

Missouri Mountain (14,067′), Sawatch Range

At 14,067 feet, Missouri Mountain is the 36th highest peak in Colorado. It is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains, and is part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. With eight “14ers” (peaks exceeding 14,000′ in elevation), the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness has the highest average elevation of any Wilderness Area outside of Alaska.

The other Collegiate 14ers include Huron Peak (14,003′), Mt. Columbia (14,073′), Mt. Oxford (14,153′ ), Mt Yale (14,196′), Mt Belford (14,197′), La Plata Peak (14,336′), and Mt Harvard (14,420′).

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Trail Directions

The first 3.5 miles is strenuous, with an elevation gain of 3,740 feet. The next 3.3 miles has an elevation loss of 1,670 feet. Follow the Missouri Gulch Trail into upper Missouri Gulch (approx. 2.5 miles). As the trail ascends to 12,600 feet, it turns abruptly east to climb up to Elkhead Pass.

A cairn marks the turn off here for the ascent of Missouri Mountain. Turn west and climb the grassy slopes and a loose talus slope toward the low point on Missouri’s northwest ridge. From the ridge, hike southeast to Missouri’s summit.

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Alberta Falls (9,400′), Front Range

Alberta Falls (9,400′), Front Range

Alberta Falls (9,400′), Front Range

Alberta Falls, located in Glacier Gorge, is one of the more popular hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenic 30-foot waterfall thunders down a small gorge along Glacier Creek, with the short trail following Glacier Creek to the falls. The falls are fed by snow melt year around, being most dramatic in the late spring and early summer. The water from the falls feeds Bear Lake, the most popular lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Trail Directions

The trail starts at Glacier Gorge trailhead and heads south, paralleling the creek. At about 0.3 miles, the trail intersects with two others, one branching back toward the north to Sprague Lake. Continue on to the Bear Lake junction turning left.

The trail passes several aspen groves, and into a pine forest. The trail parallels Glacier Creek to the falls, a short .6 mile walk on an excellent path. On arrival you will see Alberta Falls roar through a granite chute just off the trail.

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