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RMNP - North Inlet / Tonahutu Loop
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Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
RMNP - North Inlet / Tonahutu Loop on 08/05/2007 08:18:46 MDT Print View

My friend and I are planning a backpacking trip (with a bit of fishing if it’s not too late in the season) in Rocky Mountain National Park in early September. I know there are a few who frequent this park and was hoping to get some sage advice.

Average lows appear to be in the 30’s and highs in the 50’s (with records at 20’s / 70’s). Sunrise is apparently at 6:30 am and sunset is around 7:30.

I wanted to run by our trip plan (it’s a bit long – sorry!) to get some feedback from those with more experience with this park. I’m particular interested in if you think we are squeezing in too many miles per day or if our miles/hour estimates are off. Also we are looking for recommendations for places to stay in Grand Lake the first night and where to eat dinner. We’d also like to shower in the Grand Lake area before we fly home - are there any available?

First, about us: We are both in our early 30’s and not terribly out of shape, but not cross country runners either. I have a few years of experience backpacking – though most of it is local and not in the mountains. This will be my friend’s first time out. We’re lightweight (but not ultra-light) backpackers, expecting our total pack weight to be around 30 pounds for this trip.

Given the planned event in Estes Park that weekend (Scottish / Irish Highland Festival) I thought it would be nice to spend our time on the opposite (west) side of the park. I’m a new fly fisherman so I was hoping to fish a bit. After searching this forum and others I’ve come up with a tentative trip plan. Let me know what you think:

Day 1
Arrive in Denver. Drive through the park via HWY 36 (Trail Ridge Road) to get a flavor for the park. I believe it remains passable this time of year. Arrive in the Grand Lake area that afternoon. Pick up our backcountry car and campsites permits (before 5 pm at the Kawuneeche location) and find a place to purchase a 5 day out of state fishing license. Catch some dinner (any suggestions???) and spend the night in a hotel (any recommendations for a cheap but clean place to stay???) to acclimate to the altitude.

Day 2
Depart at 6 am and drive to the Tonahutu/North Inlet trailhead. Hike along the north inlet trail (stopping at Cascade and War Dance falls) to the Lake Nanita Trail junction (7.5 miles, ~5 hours, arrive at ~12:00). Eat lunch and then take the Lake Nanita Trail to Lakes Nokoni and Nanita to fish that afternoon (~6 miles round trip, ~3.5 hours hiking, 2 hours fishing). Hike back to either the North Inlet Junction or Pine Martin campsites (arrive at ~ 6:00pm). Setup camp, eat dinner, and sleep.

Day 3
Depart at 7 am and hike the remaining North Inlet trail along Hallett Creek toward the Flattop Mountain Trail junction near Ptarmigan Point (4.6 miles, ~4.5 hours, arriving at ~11:30). Briefly take the Flattop Mountain Trail to catch a glimpse of the Odessa Gorge and eat lunch. Then continue northwest on the Tonahutu Trail until we reach the Haynach Lakes Trail (3.8 miles, ~2 hours, arrive at ~2:30). Hike up the Haynach Lakes Trail for some fishing in Haynach Lake (2.4 miles roundtrip, ~1.5 hour hiking and 2 hours fishing). Continue down the Tonahutu Trial for another ~2 miles and camp at either Granite Falls or the Lower Granite Falls campsite (1 hour hiking, arrive in camp by 7:00pm) Setup camp, eat dinner, and sleep.

Day 4
Depart at 7-8 am and hike from our campsite (hopefully the Granite Falls area) back to the North Inlet / Tonahutu Trail head (7 miles, 4.5 hours, arrive around 12:30). Drive to Grand Lake and find a place to shower (any recommendations???) and eat lunch. Then (by 2:00 pm at the latest) drive from Grand Lake to Denver International Airport (via a route south of RMNP – US 34 to US 40 to US 70 to DEN). Google maps indicates it’s a 2.5 hour long trip. Hopefully we’ll arrive by no later than 4:30 to drop off our rental car and make our 7:10 pm flight back to Kansas City.

Well, there you have it! Let me know if you think this is reasonable.


Edited by brianjbarnes on 08/07/2007 21:08:46 MDT.

Luke Ochsenbein
(LukeOchsen) - F

Locale: Ozarks
A thought... on 08/05/2007 11:00:13 MDT Print View

You might want to schedule at least an extra day to get used to the elevation. I read alot of guide books and such that recommend spending a night at elevation to acclimate but that seems like a bare minimum. It usually takes me about 3 days before I can even think about backpacking, maybe I'm a wuss. Maybe it would help to hang out somewhere up top for a few hours when you are on 34 (12000 ft. range). Just a thought.

Edited by LukeOchsen on 08/05/2007 11:01:16 MDT.

Douglas Johnson
(Sponge) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Acclimate on 08/05/2007 12:49:33 MDT Print View

I definitely would recommend taking a day to acclimate. It's a pretty big elevation change for you: ~1,000 ft. to between 7,500 and 14,000 ft. (depending on where you are). You'll be shocked at how quickly you run out of breath up there, you'll feel like a 2,000 lb. hippo!

I've been there twice, once to climb Longs Peak, and another just sight seeing with the family. It's an incredible place, but it will be pretty cold up there in September.

Look forward to the trip report!

Scott White
(sdwhitey) - F

Locale: Smoky Mountains
RMNP - North Inlet / Tonahutu Loop on 08/05/2007 14:25:50 MDT Print View


I did a similiar trip last summer with my wife and a friend. We enjoyed it so much we are going back again next week.

Unfortunately we are also from the midwest (st. louis area) and do not get to spend enough time in the mountains. We are all in our late 20's. My wife and I are in decent shape but like you are not cross country runners. My friend was not really in shape. We carried heavy packs (me: 40+ lbs, my wife: 30+ lbs, my friend: 50+ lbs). Incidently, after this trip we decided to convert to ultralight backpacking.

We did our trip in July. Here is a quick summary:

Day 1: drive to Denver
Day 2: drive to and through RMNP, stay at YMCA near Fraser.
Day 3: Hike to North Inlet Junction campsite via North Inlet trailhead.
Day 4: Hike to Lake Nakoni and Lake Nanita and play around all day, return to North Inlet Junction.
Day 5: Hike to Tonahutu Meadows (We ate lunch on Flattop Mountain. We wanted to bag Hallett Peak but decided not to because of cloud conditions).
Day 6: Hike back to trailhead. Rented a log cabin at Elk Creek Campground.

So, like I said we did a similar trip but without the fishing.

Lakes Nakoni and Nanita were spectacular. We ran into a family that had set up a base camp at North Inlet Junction and did some fishing up at the lakes and in the creek.

The hike from North Inlet Junction up to Flattop Mountain is the killer. But based on your time estimates it looks like you've taken that into consideration. We did not have any altitude related problems but we were wishing our packs were lighter. However, we spent our entire Day 2 up in the mountains before we started hiking in Day 3.

I would recommend the Sagebrush BBQ and Grill for dinner and the Grand Lake Lodge for breakfast. Elk Creek campground in Grand Lake rents small one room cabins for about $50. They come with one double bed and bunked single beds. They were nice and clean. But,they have community showers/bathrooms and you have to bring you own bedding (sheets/pillows/blankets/sleeping bag). If they don't change the security code to the community bathrooms on a daily basis you may be able to sneak back in there for a shower after your hike.

So, all that to say, I think your plans, times, and mileages are all very reasonable.

Edited by sdwhitey on 08/05/2007 14:32:13 MDT.

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: RMNP - North Inlet / Tonahutu Loop on 08/05/2007 21:51:40 MDT Print View


I did this loop a few years ago, also in early September. It's a nice time to go; the bugs are gone and the crowds have thinned out. Three days is reasonable. Have a great trip.

Edited by Dondo on 08/06/2007 17:50:45 MDT.

Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
Thanks! on 08/07/2007 21:07:20 MDT Print View

We plan to be at or above 8000 ft by mid-morning the day before we head out on the trial. Hopefully acclimating that day and overnight will be sufficient. We don't plan too push ourselves to hard given the short acclimation period.

It sounds like it's possible to do the North Inlet / Tonahutu loop in 3 days. However, we may not have much time to fish and take the photographs I'm after.

After further research I found many recommend the East Inlet Trail for fishing and photo opportunities. So were leaning towards hiking to the Lake Verna campsite, setting up camp, and then fish/explore that afternoon. The following day we'll wake up early and walk over the Continental Divide (via Boulder-Grand pass) to Thunder lake or summit the non-technical route of Mt. Alice. Hopefully we'll get back before any afternoon lightning. Then on the last day, we'll fish various spots on the way out.

Again, thanks for the feedback!

Edited by brianjbarnes on 08/08/2007 08:24:16 MDT.