This 19-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, 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-junction heading northwest toward Baker Gulch. Climb 2,500 feet on the 5.4-mile hike to camp, passing under mixed conifers before reaching open glades. 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). Bring a rod to cast for dinner.
The next morning, get moving by 8 a.m. to conquer the day’s Continental Divide ridgewalk 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. You’ll pass fields of knee-high wildflowers (July) for about a mile before reaching Bowen Pass.
From here, drop 1,000 feet over 1.4 miles to a junction with Bowen Lake Trail. Got an extra day? Turn down the path and hike 1.4 miles to hit a secluded site at Bowen Lake (11,019 feet). See route on map. Otherwise, continue southeast down the gulch, through thick spruce and lodgepole, steering left at its end to reach your car in 2.7 miles.
-Mapped by Kim Phillips, Kris Wagner, and Scott Gates
>> Rocky Mountain National Park ($12, natgeomaps.com)
>> Order the USGS topo quads listed above at store.usgs.gov.
>> Order a custom map of this route by selecting the “Print MyTopo” option in the left-hand menu bar.
CONDITIONS: Trail Ridge Road is closed from November to April. Check conditions at (970) 586-1206. Check weather at Grand Lake, CO (80447) Weather
PERMIT: $20 for entry to Rocky Mountain National Park; (970) 586-1242, nps.gov/romo
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK INFO:
Visitor Information: (970) 586-1206 (daily, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time; recorded information after hours)
Trail Ridge Road Information: Recorded Message 970-586-1222 (available 24 hours a day, updated when conditions and/or road status change)
Visitor Information for the Hearing Impaired (TTY): 970-586-1319 (daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Time)
Backcountry Office: (970) 586-1242
NEVER SUMMER WILDERNESS INFO:
Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests
860 Moraine Ave.
Estes Park, CO
Grab supplies or gear rentals (packs, bags, pads, and fishing gear) at Estes Park Mountain Shop, 2050 Big Thompson Ave., Estes Park, CO; (866) 303-6548.
The Country Market
National Park Village
900 Moraine Ave.
Estes Park, Colorado
Try a Mountain Mai Tai and the buffalo-and-bacon meatloaf at Peak-to-Peak American Grille, 451 South Saint Vrain Ave., Estes Park, CO; (970) 577-0577