Flattop Mountain Trailhead
- Flattop Mountain
- Hallett Peak
- Otis Peak
- Taylor Peak
- Notchtop Mountain
- Andrews Glacier
This trail starts at the Flattop Mountain Trailhead. See the Lake Helene description of where the trailhead is located. Stay on the Flattop Mountain trail until you come to the trail split that goes to Odessa and Fern Lakes. Take the Flattop Mountain trail that goes South (left) up Flattop Mountain. On your way up Flattop Mountain you will pass the Dream Lake overlook and the Emerald Lake overlook, which provide a great view of these lakes. Continue up the Flattop Mountain trail until you reach the top of Flattop Mountain. The trail up Flattop Mountain is about 4.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,874 feet. Once on the top of Flattop Mountain you can hike across the tundra and climb to any of the peaks listed. Hallett Peak, Otis Peak and Taylor Peak are South (left) of Flattop Mountain. Notchtop Mountain is North (right) of Flattop Mountain. Hallett Peak is another 7/10 of a mile from Flattop Mountain with an additional elevation gain of 389 feet. Otis Peak is another 1.5 miles from Flattop Mountain with an additional elevation gain of 506 feet. Taylor Peak is another 2.6 miles from Flattop Mountain with an additional elevation gain of 1,173 feet. Notchtop Mountain is another 1.6 miles from Flattop Mountain with an elevation loss of 164 feet. The return trip is the same way you came up to the mountain or peak, unless you choose to go down Andrews Glacier.
Andrews Glacier lies between Otis Peak and Taylor Peak. You should always check with the rangers to see if it is safe to descend down the glacier. In low snow years the glacier is too dangerous to descend. I would also recommend ice cleats for your hiking boots which will make descending the glacier easier to accomplish. If you decide to descend down Andrews Glacier stay to the right side of the glacier, since there are usually deep crevices on the left side of the glacier. Descending Andrews Glacier will eventually bring you to the trail that leads to Timberline Falls and the Loch. You want to turn North (left) at the trail junction unless you want to go to Timberline Falls, then turn right. Andrews Glacier is another 1.5 miles from Flattop Mountain with an elevation loss of 74 feet. The descent down Andrews Glacier and down the Loch Trail to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead is an additional 5.1 miles.
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park requires you to be prepared for many types of contingencies that might occur, especially if you will be hiking above tree line. When our kids were about 7 and 10 years old, we decided to hike as a family starting at Bear Lake up the Flattop Mountain Trail and then on to Hallett Peak with the intention of then going over to Andrews Glacier and going down the glacier and returning to Bear Lake via the Lock Trail. Once on top of Hallett Peak, I noticed a storm coming from the Northwest moving Southeast towards us. I calculated that with 2 small children, we would not be able to beat the storm to Andrews Glacier.
So, we hiked part way down Hallett Peak until I found a small rock cave on the south side of Hallett Peak that would have enough room for my wife, the 2 kids and me blocking the entrance to the small rock cave. The storm hit us about 20 minutes later with cloud to ground lightning, rain, hail and sleet. After the storm passed, I looked to the Northwest and saw another storm coming. The second storm hit us about 20 minutes later with cloud to ground lightning, rain, hail and sleet. After the second storm passed, I looked to the Northwest and saw another storm coming. The third storm hit us about 20 minutes later with cloud to ground lightning, rain, hail and sleet. After the third storm passed, I looked to the Northwest and saw nothing but clear sky.
We had been stuck in the small rock cave for at least 1 ½ hours and the temperature had fallen to around freezing during that time. We were well prepared with food, water, heavy clothing, gloves and jackets to be able to survive above tree line during the storms. However, when we started hiking again to Andrews Glacier, my son was so cold that he could not walk very well right away, so I had to carry him for a while until the sun came out and warmed us up. There was a lot of complaining about the hike on the tundra walk to Andrews Glacier, but that quickly went away as we slid and walked down the glacier. When we finally got down to the Glacier Gorge Parking Area, we discovered that we had missed the last shuttle bus back to Bear Lake and I had to convince a nice couple to give me a ride to bear lake to get our car. The moral of this story is that you cannot be overprepared when hiking above tree line for long periods of time.
Odessa and Fern Lakes
This trail starts at the Flattop Mountain Trailhead. See the Lake Helene description of where the trailhead is located. Stay on the Flattop Mountain trail until you come to the trail split that goes to Odessa and Fern Lakes. Take the Odessa and Fern Lake Trail that goes West (straight). Continue on the trail until you come to the head of the Odessa Gorge where Lake Helene is located. The trail goes around the bend to the right and heads down the Odessa Gorge to Odessa Lake and then Fern Lake. As you head down the trail from Fern Lake, you will come to Fern Falls and the trail junction with the Cub Lake trail. You can either continue to go down the Fern Lake trail to the Pool and Arch Rock to the Fern Lake Trailhead or go down via the Cub Lake trail to the Cub Lake Trailhead. If you have two vehicles you can park one at the Fern Lake Trailhead and then drive to Bear Lake to start the hike, which will climb 1,130 feet up to Lake Helene and then descend 2,430 feet to the Fern Lake Trailhead. The total length of this hike is about 8.9 miles. If you don’t have two vehicles you can use the shuttle system. However, if you end up at the Fern Lake Trailhead, you will have to walk another mile to get to the shuttle bus stop at the Cub Lake Trailhead.
This trail runs from the Alpine Visitor Center down to Milner Pass and the Continental Divide. However, you do not have to hike all the way down to Milner Pass. You can hike to Forest Canyon Pass which is about 2.3 miles downhill from the Alpine Visitor Center. At this point you will see a mountain to the South with snow on the East and North sides. I like to hike off trail and climb this mountain by angling up to the North snowfield through the trees and bushes to the tundra leading to the North snowfield. When hiking off trail, you should hike at a 45-degree angle constantly switching back and forth as you climb the mountain. Once you climb above the snowfield there is a vast amount of tundra that is fairly flat that you can walk on and there is a plateau on the back side of the mountain where you will be the only hikers and can walk around at your leisure. If you don’t want to hike off trail you can also hike all the way down to Milner Pass and the Continental Divide which is about 4.5 miles long with the total elevation loss of 1,038 feet. If you have not parked a second vehicle at Milner Pass you will have to hike back up to the Alpine Visitor Center which is about 4.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,038 feet. I have seen large herds of Elk and Ptarmigan on this hike when I hike off trail. If you like tundra hiking this is a great way to do it with having to hike up to the tundra. I usually drive up the Old Fall River Road trying to get to the Alpine Visitor Center by 8:00 a.m. and then drive down Trail Ridge Road on the way back.
This trail starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. See the Mills Lake hike description to follow the trail to Mills Lake. After Mills Lake the trail continues South past Jewel Lake to Black Lake. The trail to Black Lake is about 4.9 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,440 feet. If you still have energy left you can continue on to Blue Lake or Frozen Lake which sits on a granite shelf above Black Lake. Blue Lake is about 6/10 of a mile above Black Lake with an elevation gain of another 520 feet. Frozen Lake is about 1.2 miles above Black Lake with an elevation gain of another 960 feet. The return trip is the same way you came up to the lake.
Shelf Lake & Solitude Lake
This trail starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. See the Mills Lake hike description to follow the trail to Mills Lake. From Mills Lake hike about 1.5 miles past Mills Lake on the Black Lake trail to a meadow at 10, 240 feet. The meadow is immediately north of the point where Shelf Creek empties into Glacier Creek. At this point you leave the Black Lake trail and hike along the north end of the meadow to Glacier Creek. A huge flat rock provides an uncomplicated way of crossing Glacier Creek. Shelf and Solitude Lakes are hidden on a rock shelf on Thatchtop Mountain high above the Black Lake trail. Once across Glacier Creek you should notice a climber’s trail that starts on the other side of the Glacier Creek. Rock cairns intermittently mark the trail. The trail climbs steadily through the stunted trees to boulder fields along the north side of Shelf Creek for .5 miles to a rocky ledge system below the two lakes. Cross Shelf Creek and proceed to Shelf Lake. The trail to Shelf Lake is 4.7 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,460 feet. There is a cascade between Solitude Lake and Shelf Lake. From Shelf Lake you can ascend over the rock slabs southwest for .3 miles to Solitude Lake with an elevation gain of another 200 feet. The summit of Thatchtop Mountain is another .6 miles north from Solitude Lake with an elevation gain of another 1,268 feet. From these two lakes you get a nice view of the summit of Thatchtop Mountain and a great view of Longs Peak. The return trip is the same way you came up the to the lakes.
Lake of Glass & Sky Pond
This trail starts at the Glacier Gorge Trail Head. See the Loch hike description to follow the trail to Timberline Falls. To reach the Lake of Glass or Sky Pond you must climb up the rocks to the right of the Timberline Falls. This is not easy due to the wet rocks from the mist from the falls. The trail to the Lake of Glass is about 4.2 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,640 feet. Sky Pond is about .2 miles from the Lake of Glass, with an additional elevation gain of 80 feet. The return trip is the same way you came up to the lakes.
This trail starts at the Colorado River Trail Head on Trail Ridge Road on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. You need to get an early start to drive over Trail Ridge Road and down to the Colorado River Trail Head. This area is called Little Yellowstone because of the steep canyon walls and yellow volcanic rocks. The trail to Little Yellowstone is about 5.9 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,060 feet. The return trip is the same way you came to Little Yellowstone.
This trail starts at the Lawn Lake Trailhead in Horseshoe Park. Lawn Lake is in the Mummy Range surrounded by Fairchild Mountain on the West, Hagues Peak on the North and Mummy Mountain on the Northeast. The trail follows the scared Roaring River for 6.3 miles with an elevation gain of 2,447 feet to Lawn Lake. The return trip is the same way you came to Lawn Lake.
The lake was enlarged by an earthen dam built in the early 1900s before the National Park was established. The additional water stored by the dam was used for irrigation on the eastern plains of Colorado. The water from Lawn Lake eventually flows into Fall River, which flows through Del Lienemann, Sr.’s Fall River Estates Subdivision and on into downtown Estes Park where it joins the Thompson River to create the Big Thompson River.
Over time the lake water began to leak through the earthen dam. The irrigation company that owned the dam wanted to repair the dam. However, the Park Superintendent would not allow the irrigation company to helicopter their equipment to the lake because it would disturb the wildlife. The irrigation company then proposed to lower the water level in the lake so the dam would not fail. However, the Park Superintendent would not allow the water level in the lake to be lowered, because it would leave a ring around the lake. We discovered the actions of the Park Superintendent through the Freedom of Information Act during the legal action that followed the dam’s collapse on July 15, 1982.
Due to the shortsightedness of the Park Superintendent, 3 people were killed and millions of dollars of damage was done along Fall River and in the Town of Estes Park. Lake Estes had to be drained in order to remove all the mud, sand, rocks, trees and other debris that was washed into the lake by the dam’s collapse and Lawn Lake ended up with a ring around the lake after the dam’s collapse anyway. The Park Service has turned the alluvial fan created by the flood into a tourist attraction.
When Del Lienemann Sr. developed the Fall River Estates Subdivision, he built the bridges over Fall River to Nebraska flash flood standards. Everyone in Estes Park told him that the river never gets high enough to justify the cost of building the bridges to Nebraska flash flood standards. However, after the Lawn Lake flood, the only bridges left standing between the National Park and Estes Park, were the bridges in Fall River Estates. Most of the bridges that were rebuilt, used the Nebraska flash flood standard used in Fall River Estates.
This trail starts at Milner Pass at the Continental Divide. The trail proceeds through the forest until you come to a trail split with the UTE trail to the Alpine Visitors Center going North (left) and the Mount Ida trail going South (right). The trail to Mount Ida is about 4.9 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,122 feet. You get tremendous views of the Gorge Lakes from Mount Ida. The return trip is the same way you came to Mount Ida.
The trail to Mount Ida is largely above tree line and most of the afternoon storms move from the Northwest to the Southeast along the front range. I hiked to Mount Ida with my father while I was in high school along with several of my high school friends. While hiking South to Mount Ida no one was looking behind us to see the storm that was moving in our direction. As soon as we reached Mount Ida we saw the storm approaching and immediately began our hike back across the tundra. The storm hit us just as we were crossing a narrow ridge about 20 yards wide with rock walls to our right and a 1,000 foot drop off on our left. The storm hit us with rain, hail, sleet and cloud to ground lightning. We started running to try and get off of the narrow ridge as quick as we could. As we were running our hair would stand up from the static electricity and we would dive to the ground and a lightning bolt would land on the narrow ridge within 10 to 15 feet of our position. I will never forget the sound of the thunder from the lightning bolts. We all felt lucky to get back from the hike alive and in one piece. I have never taken mountain thunderstorms lightly ever sense.
The Six Lake Hike
This hike starts at Bear Lake. Drive to the Bear Lake Parking Area and proceed from the Bear Lake Parking Area to Bear Lake. After viewing Bear Lake proceed back to the Bear Lake Trailhead and take the trail that goes to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Hike to each of these lakes in sequence as described in the short hikes “Tyndall Gorge Lakes”. After viewing Emerald Lake hike back to Dream Lake and take the trail South (right) to Lake Haiyaha. After viewing Lake Haiyaha start back on the trail to Dream Lake. As you approach the water flowing out of Lake Haiyaha you should notice a trail the goes East (right) that follows the water downhill. Take this trail and follow it to the Mills Lake and the Loch trail junction. At the junction, follow the Mills Lake trail South (left) to Mills Lake. I usually each lunch at Mills Lake. After viewing Mills Lake proceed back down the Mills Lake trail past Alberta Falls to the Glacier Gorge Parking Area. This hike is
about 8.2 miles long with an elevation gain of 970 feet and an elevation loss of 1,240 feet. You can catch the shuttle bus at the Glacier Gorge Parking Area to take you back to the Bear Lake Parking Area.
Longs Peak, Chasm Lake, Mount Lady Washington, Storm Peak
This trail starts at the Longs Peak Trail Head, which is South of Estes Park on highway 7. This hike is very strenuous and difficult. If you are afraid of heights or narrow paths with steep drop offs of thousands of feet, this hike is not for you. The hike up Longs Peak is about 7.4 miles long with an elevation gain of 4,859 feet. When I hiked Longs Peak, we started at 3:00 am and hiked by flashlight for several hours. You should be at tree line by 6:00 am to watch the sunrise over Twin Sisters. You should be at the Boulder Field by 8:00 am and using the Keyhole Route, you should be on top by 10:00 am. You need to be in excellent physical condition, properly acclimated and know how to set a good hiking pace if you want to climb this peak. I would recommend that you read “Longs Peak its story and climbing guide” before you try and climb this peak.
If you want to get a taste of climbing this peak, I would recommend that you hike to Chasm Lake at the base of the 1,500-foot East Face of Longs Peak. The trail to Chasm Lake is about 4.2 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,380 feet. The return trip is the same way you came up the mountain.
From the Longs Peak Trail Head, the trail to the Boulder Field is 5.9 miles long with an elevation gain of 3,400 feet. Once you reach the Boulder Field at the base of the North Face of Longs Peak you can climb either Mount Lady Washington, Storm Peak or Longs Peak. The trail up Mount Lady Washington is .5 miles long with an elevation gain of 481 feet. The trail up Storm Peak is .4 miles long with an elevation gain of 526 feet. The trail up Longs Peak is 1.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,459 feet. The return trip is the same way you came up the mountain.
I hiked Longs Peak when I was in college with a friend of mine. We prepared to hike Longs Peak by hiking Hallett Peak and Taylor Peak first. We started hiking at 3:00 am by flashlight. At about 4:30 am we were passed by 2 hikers that were hiking way too fast to maintain their pace for very long. We reached tree line around 6:00 am and watched the sunrise over Twin Sisters Mountain.
We also found the 2 hikers that that had passed us, sitting on the side of the trail gasping for air. We continued up the trail to the Boulder Field. As we approached the Boulder Field, we noticed a hiker dressed in a Swiss Alpine Outfit hiking straight up the .9 miles and the 1,200-foot gain on the East side of Mount Lady Washington, we were very impressed with his stamina. We got to the Boulder Field around 8:00 am.
The Boulder Field is immense in size and can only be appreciated when viewed from the top of Longs Peak. The following picture of the Boulder Field was taken from the top of Longs Peak.
We hiked over to the base of the North Face of Longs Peak through the Boulder Field. When we got to the base of the North Face of Longs Peak, the hiker in the Swiss Alpine Outfit was waiting for us. He told us that he had climbed in the Swiss Alps and many of the tall peaks in the Rocky Mountains, including Longs Peak several times.
While at the base of the North Face of Longs Peak, we noticed 2 men doing a technical climb on the East Face of Longs Peak and they were about 2/3 of the way up the 1,500-foot-high East Face of Longs Peak.
The 2 men doing the technical climb on Longs Peak gave a talk at the YMCA of the Rockies about their experience doing the technical climb. The one thing they said that stood out to me was sleeping during the climb. They would drive pitons into the rock and hook a hammock with a zipper to the pitons, crawl in and go to sleep. During the night they would roll over and wake up looking down 1,000 feet to Chasm Lake below, which they said would freak them out. This could be why I never took up technical climbing.
We decided to walk over to the edge of the mountain to get a better look at them. However, before we could even take a step, the hiker in the Swiss Alpine Outfit told us it was too dangerous for us to do that. We asked him why and he showed us a small hole in the rocks about 25 feet from the edge of the mountain and when we looked down through the small hole, we could see down 1,000 feet to Chasm Lake below us. That meant that the rocks had fallen off below the edge of the mountain and if we had walked out to the edge of the mountain, we would have been standing on a rock ledge hanging 1,000 feet in the air with very little support left.
At the time we hiked Longs Peak there were steel cables on the North Face of Longs Peak that allowed non-technical climbers to go over the 60° plus sheer rock on the North Face of Longs Peak. The steel cables were removed by the Park Service a few years later. The hiker in the Swiss Alpine Outfit told us he knew where the steel cables on the North Face of Longs Peak were located, so we hiked up the North Face of Longs Peak with him to the top of Longs Peak.
We got to the top of Longs Peak around 10:00 am. The top of Longs Peak is very flat and rectangularly shaped, just as it appears from a distance. It looks like someone took a knife and sliced off the top of the mountain.
We spent 20 to 30 minutes on top admiring the view.
Then we started to hike down the South Face of Longs Peak. The sheer rock on the South Face of Longs Peak is at about a 45° angle and you can walk down it, but only if you lean forward to become perpendicular to the rock. This is not so easy to do when you could fall several thousand feet if you lose your balance. I walked down the slope, but my friend slid down the slope.
Once down the South Face of Longs Peak, we hiked over to the West face of Longs Peak. The trail on the West Face of Longs Peak sits at the base of a sheer wall of rock at least 500 feet high and the trail is about 1 foot to 1 ½ foot wide with rock falling very steeply away from the base of the West Face of Longs Peak for several thousand feet. This visual image can cause some people to trigger a fear of heights that they did not know they had because of the narrow path and steeply descending rocks from the path.
Once we got across the narrow path on the West Face of Longs Peak, we descended through the trough that runs down towards Storm Peak to the Keyhole on the West side of Longs Peak. We then went through the Keyhole on the West side of Longs Peak and started hiking down to the Boulder Field. There is a rock storm shelter that has been constructed close to the Keyhole to protect hikers from lightning during thunderstorms.
We proceeded to hike down from the Boulder Field to the Longs Peak trail and at about tree line we found the 2 hikers that had passed us on the way up. They had moved about 100 yards from where we saw them at 6:00 am and they were completely exhausted. They should have read my general hiking guidelines before they started hiking.
We reached the Longs Peak Parking Area at around 2:30 pm. There is a sign in sheet at the trail head to let the Park Rangers know if you are hiking Longs Peak that day and you need to fill in the sign in sheet when you return, so they won’t think you got lost and start looking for you. Hiking Longs Peak is a thrilling and unforgettable experience for those who can handle all that the hike entails.