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:
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.
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.
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.
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.