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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Insider's Guide Rocky Mountain National Park

From the top day hike to the key skills you'll need, we'll have you ready for the Rockies in no time.

by: Dougald MacDonald

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Sky Pond via Lake Haiyaha (Mike Amfahr)
Sky Pond via Lake Haiyaha (Mike Amfahr)
Moraine Park (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Moraine Park (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Continental Divide Loop II (Jesse Speer)
Continental Divide Loop II (Jesse Speer)

Top Trails

Sky Pond via Lake Haiyaha

Seven alpine lakes, two gorgeous waterfalls, and acres of knee-high columbine–this 10-mile reverse lollipop packs in the best of Rocky's east-of-the-Divide delights. From Bear Lake, hike 1.1 miles to Dream Lake; follow the Lake Haiyaha Trail to Glacier Knobs. Take the Loch Vale Trail past the windswept Loch and Glass Lake to Sky Pond, nestled below the Sharkstooth and Petit Grepon spires. Return to Glacier Knobs and continue down the winding Loch Vale Trail for two miles, past Alberta Falls, to reach a short traverse back to Bear Lake.

Moraine Park to Bear Lake Loop

A wildlife-rich route with lakeside camping below glacial cirques, this trip follows the gentle Fern Lake Trail 1.8 miles to The Pool, then climbs south to campsites at Fern or Odessa Lakes (mile 4.8). Next morning, after admiring the sunrise lighting up Notchtop Mountain's broad east face, continue south and east to a junction near Bear Lake. Head back northward past Mill Creek Basin and Steep Mountain for 3.9 miles, then bear right on Cub Lake Trail to return to Moraine Park, passing meadows where elk, mule deer, and coyote hang out.

Continental Divide Loop II: Tonahutu Creek–North Inlet Loop

Do an abbreviated version of the author's loop over the Continental Divide by following the Tonahutu Creek Trail to Grand Lake and returning over Flattop Mountain via the North Inlet Trail, following creeks to a long alpine tundra traverse. In autumn, the forest floor beside the trail is covered with a golden carpet of bearberry and other ground cover. Allow three to four days to make the most of this superb, 34-mile tour of the west side. Get an early start over Flattop in both directions–you're exposed to severe weather for several miles above treeline.
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