Rocky Mountain National Park: Timber Lake and Mount Ida

Summit a lesser-traveled 13,000-foot peak, then catch some summer alpine fishing at Timber Lake on this 13.4-mile out-and-back.
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Summit a lesser-traveled 13,000-foot peak, then catch some summer alpine fishing at Timber Lake on this 13.4-mile out-and-back.

Forget the 14er crowds. Mount Ida, one of the least-visited peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, falls just shy of 13,000 feet and offers a real chance to experience backcountry seclusion. What this overnight trip lacks in extra altitude it makes up for in sheer strenuousness and stunning scenery.

Take the Timber Creek Trail southeast. Follow the well-maintained, dirt path for 9 miles, climbing more than 2,000 feet, to the Rockslide Campsite near Timber Lake. Be sure to pack light and warm. Summer temperatures can drop below freezing at night.

If you remember to bring your fishing pole, wake up early to catch (and release) some trout before scrambling up the saddle. Aside from the unprecedented workout you’ll get along the way, massive views await at the summit. The Continental Divide stretches beneath your feet. Never Summers sit to the west. Gorge Lakes lie in the valley below. Grand Lake and Big Meadows are visible to the southwest.

Retrace your steps down the mountain, through the saddle, and back onto the Timber Creek Trail. Make sure to save energy when you bag this peak. Otherwise your quads might hurt more from the long descent back than from the climb up!

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 Patrick Digmann

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 21.5

Waypoints

MTI001

Location: 40.399767, -105.847263

Parking lot is across the street from the Colorado River Trailhead. Take the Timber Creek Trail south through an aspen grove. Enjoy this short, flat section because it is the only one you'll have on the entire trip.

MTI002

Location: 40.394459, -105.841675

Marked by a group of small boulders, the first lookout on the Timber Lake Trail doesn't offer much in terms of scenery. You can only see forest and more forest through a tiny clearing, but this spot does give you a chance to catch your breath.

MTI003

Location: 40.378737, -105.834024

First small bridge. Timber Creek runs alongside the trail (thus the name) and decreases in size and speed as you get closer to Timber Lake.

MTI004

Location: 40.370991, -105.823479

Second small bridge over Timber Creek.

MTI005

Location: 40.370663, -105.821899

In case you started late on a Friday, this is the first backcountry campsite on the trail.

MTI006

Location: 40.374928, -105.810914

Bear left at the Y-junction. Long Meadows Trail veers off to the right.

MTI007

Location: 40.374994, -105.810227

Third small bridge over Timber Creek.

MTI008

Location: 40.376628, -105.807867

Jackstraw Campsite is the second available backcountry campground on the trail. It is more crowded than Rockslide, which is further ahead near Timber Lake.

MTI009

Location: 40.379489, -105.804434

Fourth bridge over Timber Creek. If you bushwhack a few feet off trail, you'll notice why the upcoming campsite is called Rockslide. A waterfall cascades down slippery rocks, looking a lot like a rock slide.

MTI010

Location: 40.379562, -105.801613

Rockslide Campsite: Don't forget your backcountry permit because you likely will encounter a ranger who'll ask to see it. Also, bring a bear box or hang a bear bag here. Wildlife abound.

MTI011

Location: 40.375795, -105.798211

Timber Lake (11,200 ft.): The water is too cold to swim in no matter how much of a sweat you worked up. Bear left and follow the trail along the east side of the lake. Scramble up the rocky route to the saddle southeast of the lake.

MTI012

Location: 40.368406, -105.79098

The Saddle. Southeast of Timber Lake, you have scrambled and likely clawed your way to this 11,500-foot ridge. An unnamed peak is directly to your right. Look southeast to view Julian Lake and Nakai Peak (12,216 ft.) behind it. Mount Ida is to your left--and still a good, long climb away.

MTI013

Location: 40.371494, -105.7845

False summit. Just when you think the scrambling and climbing is over, there is yet another crest to climb. Continue east, gaining 300 more feet, before reaching the true summit of Mount Ida.

MTI014

Location: 40.372057, -105.778725

The Mount Ida (12,880 feet): You are now standing on top of the Continental Divide. To the east, Gorge Lakes lie in the valley beneath you. Mount Julian and Terra Tomah Mountain form an eastbound ridge to your right. If you look south, you can see all the way to Grand Lake--and the destruction the bark beetle has caused on the west side of the park.

West Side of Timber Lake

Location: 40.37352, -105.795799

©MacKenzie Ryan

Small Bridge

Location: 40.37877, -105.833788

©Patrick Digmann

Hiking along Timber Creek

Location: 40.372829, -105.827843

The climbing seems never-ending on this trail. ©Patrick Digmann

Long Meadows

Location: 40.370613, -105.82057

©MacKenzie Ryan

Jackstraw Campsite

Location: 40.376596, -105.807652

©Patrick Digmann

Great view of the Continental Divide

Location: 40.378786, -105.800722

©MacKenzie Ryan

Rock on Timber Lake

Location: 40.374821, -105.797508

©MacKenzie Ryan

Saddle Behind Timber Lake

Location: 40.374035, -105.796989

As you stand at the northeastern-most point on Timber Lake, take a good, long look at the saddle behind the lake. Though Mount Ida's summit is not visible, this extends to the right of it. You'll need to scramble to the top of the saddle in order to access the summit. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Mountains

Location: 40.373155, -105.795293

Mountains surround Timber Lake, creating almost a complete circle. This mountain is on your far right behind the lake. Likely the result of some serious snowmelt, two smaller, unnamed lakes are directly west and southwest of Timber Lake. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Timber Lake

Location: 40.37304, -105.795186

This unnamed peak connects with Mount Ida, forming a saddle. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Timber Lake

Location: 40.37249, -105.79512

©MacKenzie Ryan

Lake View

Location: 40.370083, -105.792809

During one of your necessary breathers, take a moment to look back at Timber Lake. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Columbine

Location: 40.369309, -105.792084

As you scramble up to Mt. Ida's saddle, you'll pass gorgeous mountain flowers such as these columbine. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Mount Ida Summit

Location: 40.372073, -105.778732

©MacKenzie Ryan

Big Meadows and Grand Lake

Location: 40.372085, -105.77874

Truly one of the most breathtaking views you'll ever see. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Chief Cheley Peak

Location: 40.3721, -105.778752

©MacKenzie Ryan

Azure Lake

Location: 40.372113, -105.77876

One of the Gorge Lakes. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Never Summer Mountains

Location: 40.372129, -105.778772

One of the few times a year you'll see the aptly-named Never Summer Mountains without snow cover is mid to late summer. Their granite peaks become exposed, showing off their pinkish color. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Continental Divide

Location: 40.372142, -105.778783

Sundance Mountain and Iceberg Pass can be seen in the distance. ©MacKenzie Ryan

Impressive Rock Formations

Location: 40.374248, -105.79541

©MacKenzie Ryan

Continental Divide

Location: 40.374814, -105.79613

©MacKenzie Ryan