Spending time at the front desk, we get asked a lot of questions about the area. Where to eat, where to find animals, questions about the park, about town, and, inevitably, where and what the best hikes are. This is a tricky question as everyone is after something different. Is the guest looking for waterfalls, wildlife, summits, or lakes? Do they want solitude or do they prefer to have more people around? When do they start, early in the morning or late in the day? What season is it? What is their physical condition? Sometimes I’ll recommend an evening hike around Sprague or Bear Lake to one guest, and the next guest an early morning start for Longs Peak.
It’s rare that I get to recommend my actual favorite hikes, but when I do the list goes something like this: Lion Lakes, McHenry’s Peak, Hallett Peak, Mt. Alice, and 5th Lake (with the occasional Lake Nakoni/Nanita thrown in for good measure). I’ll try to highlight most of these here on the blog to give you an idea of what these entail. They are all unique, stunning, and offer a pretty good dose of solitude as well.
Today, I want to give a little love to Lion Lake #1. This is, truly, one of the most beautiful settings in Rocky Mountain National Park, and possibly in the entire state of Colorado. To get there, head to down to the Wild Basin Trail Head south of Estes Park off of Highway 7. It’s about a 20-minute drive from the lodge here. Drive to the end of the narrow dirt road to the parking area right by the trail head. Load up your kit and hit the trail!
Follow the hike description to Ouzel Falls from this previous post. It’s about 2.6 miles up the trail. From there, continue up the Thunder Lake Trail for another 2 miles to the Lion Lake Trail junction. The trail is pretty mellow up to this point, 4.6 miles from the trail head. Once you turn right onto the Lion Lake Trail the going gets a bit tougher. The trail steepens here and you’ll almost instantly feel further removed from civilization and get to experience, first hand, how Wild Basin got its name.
Continue along the Lion Lake Trail as it winds deeper into the high country. Just under miles from the Thunder Lake Trail/Lion Lake Trail junction you’ll see Chiefs Head Peak through the trees and you’ll know you’re getting close. The trail begins to drop a touch and veers to the right when the scene unfolds before you. Mt. Alice stands high (13,310 feet) high above this pristine valley anchored by the perfection that is Lion Lake #1. Just soak it in as you meander down to the lake itself. Be sure to take a load off here. Pick a spot along the banks, there are a few good rocks, and just soak in your surroundings. Notice the high peaks, the flowers (if you’re there in August), look at the cliffs above the lake slightly to your right and find Trio Falls cascading from the higher reaches of this amazing valley. There is enough detail in the scene before you to capture your attention for hours.
If you have the time, and the energy (remember you have to hike the 7 miles back to the trail head), it’s definitely worth it to head up to toward the base of Trio Falls. Follow the shoreline around the lake to your right. Once you cross an inlet stream to the lake, the trail kind of peters out and you’ll need to follow cairns from here on, with only faint remnants of a trail that hikers have made of many years past. As you climb above the lake be sure to turn back occasionally and take in the scene behind you. I’m telling you, this is one of the most pristine and beautiful spots in the state, and that’s saying something, so be sure to keep your camera out and soak it all in. Continue up as far as you care to. You can scramble up beside the falls and visit Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake if you’re so inclined. Totally worth it if you have it in you.
When you feel you can tear yourself away from the scenery, simply retrace your steps enjoying all of the beauty once more as you return all the way to the Wild Basin Trail Head. These descriptions and the photos do no justice to the complete beauty you will see on this trail and in this high valley. You just have to see it for yourself. And that is why it’s one of my favorite hikes in the National Park and why I love when I can recommend this trek to our beloved guests. It’s a joy to hear their own descriptions of this magical place upon their return. This one needs to be at the top of your list, for sure.
Round Trip: 14 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2,580 Feet