ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK • At the trailheads on the west side of this national treasure, Henry David Thoreau is honored. His quote is posted: “In wilderness is the preservation of the world ...”
With the crowds smaller here than on the east side, wilderness does seem more at hand. Here are five hikes to consider for your visit:
Colorado River Trail
This is a favorite of locals, spoiled as they are to walk along the mighty river in the serenity of a dense forest. Rachel Balduzzi, with the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Conservancy, goes for the fishing.
“And the potential to see moose,” she says. “It’s just so quiet and beautiful.”
Most start at La Poudre Pass, following the river for about 3½ miles to the ghost town of LuLu City.
Green Mountain Trail
Arriving from Grand Lake’s main entrance, this trailhead is the first on the right. It offers all of the variety that can be expected on this side of the park: woodlands, meadows, waterfalls, alpine lakes and mountain vistas. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can get it all from here.
The popular trek is to Big Meadows, where wildlife lounge. That’s reached in a moderate 1.8 miles. From the meadow, the Tonahutu Creek Trail goes another 3 miles to Granite Falls. And from there, it’s another 3½ miles to Haynach Lakes, a series of pools that must be seen to be believed.
Coyote Valley Trail
The Arapaho knew the glacier-cut valley as Kawuneeche, meaning coyote. So this ADA-accessible trail gets its name, showcasing the area’s scenery to visitors of all abilities.
The flat, gravel path starts through the trees before they clear in a grassy meadow where butterflies dance and otters make homes on the river. Baker Mountain, soaring near 12,400 feet, is captivating in view.
The ADA portion of the trail ends in about a mile at singletrack that loops back to the parking lot.
For the challenge and breathtaking panoramas, Jeff Doran of the web guide rockymountainhikingtrails.com recommends this summit close to 13,000 feet.
“It’s my favorite hike in the whole park,” he says. That’s for the views: rugged peaks as far as the eye can see, blue lakes in between.
But Doran’s recommendation comes with a warning. Along most of the 9½-mile round trip, travelers are exposed to sun, wind and potential storms. “Additionally,” his site reads, “the last 1.2 miles to the summit traverses over fairly rugged terrain that requires off-trail trekking, as well as some route finding.”
Be prepared as you start from Milner Pass.
East Inlet Trail
This trailhead is similar to Green Mountain: a popular, choose-your-own adventure launchpad with plenty of variety. The difference? It’s closer to town, and no park entrance fee is required.
The first stop along the trail is Adams Falls in less than a mile. East Meadow isn’t far from there. Then decide how badly you want the reward of Lake Verna and Spirit Lake, waiting amid great, granite walls. To reach them, it’s a hard 7 miles through the backcountry.