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Rip & Go: Bowen-Baker Loop – Never Summer Wilderness, CO

Get national park scenery without the crowds on an alpine overnight with lakeside camping.
may 09 may 09 may 09 rip bowen 445x260Fairview Mountain (Kim Phillips)

Do it
This 16.3-mile loop two hours northwest of Denver delivers national park-caliber scenery–clutches of 13,000-foot peaks amid trout-laden alpine lakes–with a dose of wilderness-grade solitude. From the Bowen-Baker trailhead (1, see below), set off through a mile of Rocky Mountain National Park forest before crossing into the 21,090-acre Never Summer Wilderness. Bear right at the Y heading northwest toward Baker Gulch (2). Climb 2,500 feet on the 5.4-mile hike to camp, passing under mixed conifers before reaching open glades (3). Look left for moose (they hang here), then cross Baker Gulch at mile 4.2. From here, it’s 1.3 switchbacking miles through Indian paintbrush and columbine to your camp at Parika Lake (11,380 feet) (4). Bring a rod to cast for dinner.

The next morning, get moving by 8 a.m. to conquer the day’s Continental Divide ridgewalk (5) before afternoon storms move in (usually 2 p.m. in summer months). You’ll reach the ridge in .6 mile, gaining 600 feet. Turn southwest onto the Divide for 360-degree views of the three "cloud mountains" of the Never Summer Range: Mts. Cumulus (12,725 feet), Nimbus (12,706 feet), and Stratus (12,461 feet). In 1.4 miles, turn left at the T-junction to link to the Continental Divide Trail (6). You’ll pass fields of knee-high wildflowers (July) for about a mile before reaching Bowen Pass (7). From here, drop 1,000 feet over 1.4 miles to a junction with Bowen Lake Trail (8). Got an extra day? Turn down the path and hike 1.4 miles to hit a secluded site (9) at Bowen Lake (11,019 feet). Otherwise, continue southeast down the gulch, through thick spruce and lodgepole, steering left at its end (10) to reach your car in 2.7 miles.


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