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The official CDT route bypasses this park--the National Park Service, concerned about hiker traffic, insisted--and that's a shame, because RMNP features one of the Divide's most breathtaking stretches. But a little-known alternate route on the Tonahutu Creek and North Inlet Trails creates a stunning loop of about 25 miles on the park's less-traveled west side. Starting at Grand Lake, it leads through quiet lodgepole pine and meadows along Tonahutu Creek, climbs past waterfalls, then crests a broad alpine plateau above 11,000 feet. Here, the trail crosses a stark tundra of rock and wildflowers, with views of 14,255-foot Longs Peak and the long chain of mountains along the Divide. It reaches the continent's spine at 12,363-foot Ptarmigan Point and 12,324-foot Flattop Mountain, overlooking the deep, cliff-flanked glacial cirques on the Divide's east side. The trail then drops steeply into North Inlet's rugged canyon, crossing a bridge over the gorge at North Inlet Falls on its way back to your car.
Don't Miss: The side hike off the North Inlet Trail to photogenic Lake Nanita, which reflects 12,000-footers Ptarmigan Mountain and Andrews Peak.
The Way: From US 34, head toward Grand Lake on CO 278. Within .3 mile, take the left fork. Go .8 mile; turn left onto a dirt road. Tonahutu Creek (start) parking is a short distance; North Inlet (end) is 1.2 miles ahead.