Rocky Mountain National Park: North Inlet Trail

This 18.8-miler follows the North Inlet through aspen groves, spruce stands, and marshland (feeding grounds of bugling elk) to a campground tucked beneath the Continental Divide.
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This 18.8-miler follows the North Inlet through aspen groves, spruce stands, and marshland (feeding grounds of bugling elk) to a campground tucked beneath the Continental Divide.

Tracing the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, this route features moose and elk viewing, the meandering North Inlet, ragged cliffs, pummeling cascades, and massive views of the Continental Divide. From the trailhead, hike through aspens to a small horse ranch on the right of the trail. Continue past the grazing horses and a red cabin, to a bend in the North Inlet that’s popular with fly fishermen and hungry moose.

Once the trail leaves the wetland area, it begins to slowly climb through evergreens toward the high country. Exposure increases as hikers reach the junction with Lake Nanita Trail. For the remainder of the route, Taylor Peak and the Sharkstooth are prominent figures to the right. Elk herds can be seen traveling across the base of these mountains even in autumn. Follow the switchbacks up the July Campground and take a break before the hike home.

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations accepted ($20 administrative fee for permits during peak season). nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcntry_guide.htm

CONTACT Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1206; nps.gov/romo

-Mapped by MacKenzie Ryan and Kristy Holland

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 30.3

Waypoints

NIT001

Location: 40.256558, -105.814764

From the parking lot and trailhead, hike east along the crushed granite path. The trail follows the North Inlet, so it's not uncommon to see fly fishermen during this stretch. Pass a ranch with grazing horses to the right and a red cabin to the left.

NIT002

Location: 40.258339, -105.798812

The North Inlet flows right next to the North Inlet Trail, providing excellent access to fishing.

NIT003

Location: 40.272339, -105.765445

Pass Cascade Falls on the right. A spur trail full of roots and rocks shoots off to the right and brings hikers to the base of the falls.

NIT004

Location: 40.281425, -105.721264

Reach the trail junction with the Lake Nanita Trail, which leads to Lakes Nonoki and Nanita. The side trip to both lakes will tack on 7 extra miles.

NIT005

Location: 40.279739, -105.716758

Begin climbing up exposed switchbacks. The Continental Divide and unrivaled mountain views are to the right.

NIT006

Location: 40.286892, -105.702553

Bear left to reach July Campsite. A bear box is available directly uphill. The creek runs due east of the site and makes for an excellent water source. After camping overnight, retrace steps back to the trailhead.

Aspens

Location: 40.256211, -105.806665

©MacKenzie Ryan

Horse

Location: 40.256178, -105.805292

©MacKenzie Ryan

Ranch

Location: 40.25608, -105.803876

©MacKenzie Ryan

North Inlet

Location: 40.258405, -105.798512

©MacKenzie Ryan

Campsites

Location: 40.260075, -105.796237

The first of many accessible campsites along North Inlet. ©MacKenzie Ryan

North Inlet

Location: 40.270292, -105.767484

©MacKenzie Ryan

Rock Wall

Location: 40.271537, -105.765832

©MacKenzie Ryan

Cascade Falls

Location: 40.27188, -105.765381

©MacKenzie Ryan

Headwaters for Big Pool

Location: 40.281883, -105.762634

©MacKenzie Ryan

Marshland

Location: 40.286974, -105.742013

©MacKenzie Ryan

Big Pool

Location: 40.285582, -105.738537

©MacKenzie Ryan

Storm on Grand Lake

Location: 40.285942, -105.737572

©MacKenzie Ryan

Exposed Trail

Location: 40.284142, -105.727186

©MacKenzie Ryan

Elk Herd

Location: 40.28077, -105.718753

©MacKenzie Ryan

Continental Divide

Location: 40.280164, -105.717359

©MacKenzie Ryan

View from Switchbacks

Location: 40.282538, -105.713239

©MacKenzie Ryan

More Switchback Views

Location: 40.283176, -105.710986

©MacKenzie Ryan

Switchback Vistas

Location: 40.2837, -105.709806

©MacKenzie Ryan

Mountains

Location: 40.285271, -105.706759

Views to the east. ©MacKenzie Ryan