Rocky Mountain NP: Grand Lake CDT Loop or something else?

AKay09

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Trip Planning for the season has begun and I am thinking Rocky Mountain will be my first backpacking trip of the season. I'm looking to do the CDT Loop that starts out of Grand Lake. I believe it's about 30miles, so I'm thinking of doing it over 3 days. I'm considering making this my first solo trip as well as I don't expect a lot of friends being able to join me this year. So I have a few questions:

1) Does this seem like a "safe" doable first time solo backpack? I'm thinking it is a pretty well traveled park with few bears so I should feel a bit more comfortable. I've done 25 miles in the Smokies, 50 miles in Glacier NP and hiked most of the Teton Crest Trail in the Tetons this past September so even if the nights are chilly I would be prepared, it's the snow that concerns me.

2) Would doing this hike in mid to late June be possible? I know there are some high elevation sections and a nice long 6mile hike above tree line so not sure how snow pack will be. Looking at the weather from the past 2 years it seems like it was pretty warm all month, temps hitting the 90s, and with global warming and all I kind of imagine it will be again.

Also I wouldn't mind hearing about some other options in the park. I would love to be near water and wildlife while in the park if possible. Looking for a 3 or 4 day hike.

Thanks!
 
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Outdoor_Fool

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This is a fine first-time solo trek. Keep track of the snow pack as spring progresses. By that time, above treeline should be snow-free aside from some deposition zones, but some of the higher elevation sections in the trees may still have snow. I'd shoot for late-June to decrease the likelihood of large swaths of snow. Be prepared for the effects of altitude and stay hydrated.

Don't worry about the black bears, a bigger problem may be the marmots on the alpine that love to chew on shoulder straps, etc. for the salt.

The views from up top along this stretch are phenomenal, especially towards Long's Peak.
 

Wanderlust073

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If you decide you don't want to solo it, hit me up. I live a couple hours away and should be available. We just moved out here from the Chicago area ourselves.
 

AKay09

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This is a fine first-time solo trek. Keep track of the snow pack as spring progresses. By that time, above treeline should be snow-free aside from some deposition zones, but some of the higher elevation sections in the trees may still have snow. I'd shoot for late-June to decrease the likelihood of large swaths of snow. Be prepared for the effects of altitude and stay hydrated.

Don't worry about the black bears, a bigger problem may be the marmots on the alpine that love to chew on shoulder straps, etc. for the salt.

The views from up top along this stretch are phenomenal, especially towards Long's Peak.

Awesome, good to hear about the snow. Looks like the area has got more snow this year than the last few years, but I imagine it shouldn't be too bad like you say. Yeah the effect altitude had on me in Yellowstone and the Tetons was pretty noticeable but didn't cause any issues. I also know all about animals going for my sweaty gear, had two bucks in Glacier destroy a T-Shirt and my trekking pole straps haha

I think I will put in for the permit on March 1st when it opens up. Thinking about campsite 88, Lower Granite Falls and then for night two site 81, July.

Any experience with those sites or any other sites along that trail?

If you decide you don't want to solo it, hit me up. I live a couple hours away and should be available. We just moved out here from the Chicago area ourselves.

Thanks for the offer! I actually have found two friends that want to join me, though at this point I sort of want to attempt it solo ha, we shall see.

Also if anyone has any other nice options for a 3 or 4 day hike in the park I would love to hear them! I would love to be able to camp on rivers or lakes.
 

AKay09

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What trails make up the CDT in RMNP (or at least the loop you are doing)?

Yeah I could be wrong on the name. I am going off what I saw a guy call it on YouTube. I am looking at starting at the Tonahutu/North Inlet Trailhead and then going up the Tonahutu Creek Trail to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and then going back down to the trailhead via the North Inlet Trail.

If I have friends join I would probably prefer to find a nice 4 day 3 night hike somewhere in the park. This loop is really only a 3 day hike.
 

Outdoor_Fool

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Sorry, I can't help you on the campsites, I was there along time ago and I have no idea what they are like today.

I am partial to the Never Summer Range so any combos of backpacking destinations in that area are awesome, although piecing together a 3-night trip there might be difficult as 2 nights may be enough to hike the area. Starting at Holzwarth Historic Site TH, you could make it a 3-night venture by climbing a few of the peaks along the crest, or day hiking into the alpine, and moving camp shorter distances each day; or you could eventually head to Poudre Pass camp site (112) and then hike out the 4th day. Hiking along the Grand Ditch is not a wilderness experience but the grade is almost flat and the scenery is great. The hike back to the original TH will take you along the headwaters of the Colorado River.

Another idea with your original plan is to camp at 76 or 77 rather than 81, to avoid camping at or above 10000 feet, then continue north to the Nakai Peak/Haynach Lake area, camping at 89 (below 10k feet), 91, 92, or 93 (above 10k feet); then continuing north to CS 100 and take the trails south through Long meadow and beyond to the starting TH.

FWIW, the Mummy Range area (Hagues Pk, Ypsilon, Mummy Pass) of the park is also awesome so putting together a trip there might be a bit more problematic but worth it.

Regardless, enjoy the trek!
 

Absarokanaut

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I would *NOT* expect this hike to *NOT* require snowshoes in your time frame. In Colorado there are some great earlier season destinations, this is *NOT* one of them. I would look at the Western Sangre de Cristo and get a loopsternitis shot, the best hiking is rarely found on a loop wherever you go. Googlethings like WIllow Lake and South Crestone Lake. A few out and backs at that time of year will be far more rewarding than what you're planning.

If you do go at a more appropriate time ealry-mid July onward you should know the Comanche Peaks and Never Summer offer far better backpacking than anywhere in RMNP. RMNP is an awesome day hiking park, *NOT* backpacking.

Snotel right now is showing up to 182% of normal snow-water equivalent ["snowpack" in the area. In a normal year it would be bad choice, worse as of now; but we could have a hot, dry spring, you never know.

https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/webma...ociations=true&lat=40.110&lon=-106.254&zoom=8
 
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mike_offerman

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Here is a good resource for snow free dates at different campsites:
https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/site_details.htm#CP_JUMP_1898581

I think that La Poudre Pass (112) is closed (based on the above doc). But all you would have to do is go just a hair farther to the North and be in the National Forest (plus then you could have a campfire).

North Inlet Creek (79) and Pine Marten (80) are nice sites that lets you explore the Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita areas. I agree with the Never Summer suggestions. Great area, and walking the ditch isn't too bad.
 

AKay09

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Sorry, I can't help you on the campsites, I was there along time ago and I have no idea what they are like today.

I am partial to the Never Summer Range so any combos of backpacking destinations in that area are awesome, although piecing together a 3-night trip there might be difficult as 2 nights may be enough to hike the area. Starting at Holzwarth Historic Site TH, you could make it a 3-night venture by climbing a few of the peaks along the crest, or day hiking into the alpine, and moving camp shorter distances each day; or you could eventually head to Poudre Pass camp site (112) and then hike out the 4th day. Hiking along the Grand Ditch is not a wilderness experience but the grade is almost flat and the scenery is great. The hike back to the original TH will take you along the headwaters of the Colorado River.

Another idea with your original plan is to camp at 76 or 77 rather than 81, to avoid camping at or above 10000 feet, then continue north to the Nakai Peak/Haynach Lake area, camping at 89 (below 10k feet), 91, 92, or 93 (above 10k feet); then continuing north to CS 100 and take the trails south through Long meadow and beyond to the starting TH.

FWIW, the Mummy Range area (Hagues Pk, Ypsilon, Mummy Pass) of the park is also awesome so putting together a trip there might be a bit more problematic but worth it.

Regardless, enjoy the trek!

No problem on the campsites. I like your idea about expanding the main loop out and then just back tracking a bit so that I can get more time out there and explore a bit more. I am going to look into those options. I also think I may be moving my trip back to Late August or early September. I originally wanted to make two trips this year with a trip to Yellowstone to backpack or Glacier again in September. I am moving in July this year though, sadly still in Chicagoland :( but I'm thinking it may be wise to just do one trip this year. I imagine September would be better snow pack wise but still have the same issue with planning a route. Thanks for the ideas and help!

I would *NOT* expect this hike to *NOT* require snowshoes in your time frame. In Colorado there are some great earlier season destinations, this is *NOT* one of them. I would look at the Western Sangre de Cristo and get a loopsternitis shot, the best hiking is rarely found on a loop wherever you go. Googlethings like WIllow Lake and South Crestone Lake. A few out and backs at that time of year will be far more rewarding than what you're planning.

If you do go at a more appropriate time ealry-mid July onward you should know the Comanche Peaks and Never Summer offer far better backpacking than anywhere in RMNP. RMNP is an awesome day hiking park, *NOT* backpacking.

Snotel right now is showing up to 182% of normal snow-water equivalent ["snowpack" in the area. In a normal year it would be bad choice, worse as of now; but we could have a hot, dry spring, you never know.

https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/webma...ociations=true&lat=40.110&lon=-106.254&zoom=8

Hmm yeah you make a pretty strong case against going in June haha so like I said above I may push my trip back to August/September and only do the one trip this season sadly. Sucks, living so far away from good backpacking. The reason I am looking at RMNP is because it is relatively close compared to other National Parks and I set myself a little goal when I first started out with this hobby. I wanted to make sure I backpacked in a new National Park every year for 5 years straight and then finish with a big one like the John Muir Trail. It may seem a bit silly to confine myself to National Parks but it's something I want to follow through with at least for these first 5 years, I've done 3 so far. I want to attempt Olympic NP next year or try the Wonderland Trail.

So if I do decide to pick only one trip this year for late August or early September I'm thinking my choices are RMNP, Yellowstone and Shenandoah. I am also looking to bring my girlfriend for the first time so am looking for something scenic and with good wildlife opportunities, so I think RMNP provides the best of those three options.

Here is a good resource for snow free dates at different campsites:
https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/site_details.htm#CP_JUMP_1898581

I think that La Poudre Pass (112) is closed (based on the above doc). But all you would have to do is go just a hair farther to the North and be in the National Forest (plus then you could have a campfire).

North Inlet Creek (79) and Pine Marten (80) are nice sites that lets you explore the Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita areas. I agree with the Never Summer suggestions. Great area, and walking the ditch isn't too bad.

Thanks for the link! I was looking at that site but didn't even notice the average snow free dates on there. Definitely very helpful!


Thanks for the help everyone I really really appreciate it!
 

Outdoor_Fool

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If you do go at a more appropriate time ealry-mid July onward you should know the Comanche Peaks and Never Summer offer far better backpacking than anywhere in RMNP. RMNP is an awesome day hiking park, *NOT* backpacking.
Having backpacked for over 50 nights in RMNP, I respectfully disagree that it is not a park for backpacking. Yes, it is a small park and there are many great day hikes in the park, but there's plenty of backpacking there too.
 

AKay09

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Awesome good to hear! That's what I was thinking from the number of videos I have found on YouTube. Sadly most don't really give good details on where their hikes were exactly in the park.

I think my plan will involve the 3 days around the loop and I will probably take your advice and try and camp below 10,000 feet. I think I will also look into expanding out towards 100 as you suggested and then coming back down and staying at 82 or 85 on night 4. The RMNP campsite map and Caltopo both don't show the trail extending all the way to campsite 100 through long meadow, does it?

Do you think it is necessary for me to put in for the permit right away tomorrow too or should waiting a bit be okay? I am looking now at early September.

Thanks!
 

Outdoor_Fool

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The trail through Long Meadow has apparently been abandoned. Looking at Google Earth, it appears that there are some visible remnants of it. Personally, I would skirt along the edge of the trees. It may be a great spot to hear and see elk bugling in early September so I would try and be as cryptic as possible when passing through.

I'm not sure on the waiting to put in. Back in the day, the park was pretty quiet in early September except for a few select spots to encounter rutting elk, but it seems like everyone has discovered the shoulder seasons now. I would recommend putting in for it as early as possible, I think.
 

AKay09

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The trail through Long Meadow has apparently been abandoned. Looking at Google Earth, it appears that there are some visible remnants of it. Personally, I would skirt along the edge of the trees. It may be a great spot to hear and see elk bugling in early September so I would try and be as cryptic as possible when passing through.

I'm not sure on the waiting to put in. Back in the day, the park was pretty quiet in early September except for a few select spots to encounter rutting elk, but it seems like everyone has discovered the shoulder seasons now. I would recommend putting in for it as early as possible, I think.

Hmm that's weird, it looks like a great spot for a trail to help keep those two areas connected. I'll keep that in mind though, I haven't done any off trail backpacking and would hate to get lost the first time I take my girlfriend out haha. Sure does look like a great place to see elk though and probably moose as well. The rut is part of the reason I think I would rather go in September anyway. Heard a few elk in Yellowstone last year at night and have in northern Wisconsin as well and it is an amazing sound. Right up there with loons and wolves for the sounds of the woods.

Sadly I called their office too late to ask them some questions and they won't taking phone calls again until Thursday apparently so not sure if I am going to try and put in or not. If I do it will probably be 77-88-100-83. Starting and ending at the North Inlet Trailhead. This would make for a rough second day of about 11miles going up and over the mountain but I think the rest of the days would be pretty mild so it would be alright. Hmmm decisions decisions.....
 

AKay09

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How does this look?

September 11-15th

Day 1: 6.8 miles
Day 2: 11 miles and the hardest day by far I believe
Day 3: 7.67 miles. Found some info on the Long Meadows Trail that says it's still pretty easy to follow, just downed trees.
Day 4: 6.5 miles
Day 5: 3.1 miles and out.

I'm also thinking I'm going to go with site 101 not 100 as it's closer to the lake and not much further than 100.

This leaves us with the option to leave a day early if we want and should give us time to explore and relax at our sites on most days.



This is kind of the quickest I have thrown a route together but I don't want to miss my chance. Hmmm
 
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Outdoor_Fool

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It looks like CS 83 (Paintbrush) is closed but CS 82 (Green Mountain) is fairly close and will shorten an already short day by a bit. The good news is that this will give you extra time to explore the basin surrounding Timber Lake or head back up to the alpine before needing to break camp and head to night 4 camp.
Day 2 will be a tough and long day but the most difficult part will be the climb up to the alpine. Once you are up there, it's a pretty easy hike along the divide and the views are awesome. It looks like an enjoyable loop.
 

AKay09

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Yeah I put in for site 82 not 83, must have been a typo. Yeah I am fine having some short days, never a bad thing to have to time to explore the area and enjoy the scenery. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for lots of elk and moose!

Day 2 will definitely be a rough one, but I've done a few rough passes before so I I'm not too worried about. I'm more worried about the weather up there. I am guessing in September the chances of a storm rolling through is a bit less than July or August. Overall though yeah, should be a good loop and a nice trip to get my girlfriend into backpacking.

Thanks again for your help!
 
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