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.
The Way From Estes Park, take US 36 seven miles west to RMNP's Beaver Meadows entrance. Veer left onto US 34/Trail Ridge Rd. and drive 30 miles to the Bowen-Baker trailhead.
Permit $20 for entry to Rocky Mountain National Park; (970) 586-1242, nps.gov/romo
Gear up 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.
Conditions Trail Ridge Rd. is closed from November to April. Check conditions at (970) 586-1206.
Clean and cook a trout
The Never Summer's cutthroats could convert a vegetarian. You'll have to catch one to find out (Locals Know, below). But plan for success by packing a sharp knife, and following these tips.
1) Remove the hook, then rinse the fish to remove its natural layer of slime. Don't worry about descaling or filleting–small trout (less than 12'') are best cooked whole.
2) Grasp the fish by the head and cut the flesh from the anus (vent) to the gills. (A)
3) Pull out the entrails from the head toward the tail. (B)
4) Cut out the bloodline along the backbone with your knife (or scrape out with a spoon).
5) Clean out the inside with water. (C)
6) Pan-fry with olive oil and seasonings or poach for 10-12 minutes, then remove the bones and skin.
Double-bag the entrails and bones to pack them out or bury them at least .5 mile from camp.
Area fly-fishing guides envy you. According to Jeff Ehlert, co-owner of Grand County Fishing Company, Bowen, Blue, and Parika Lakes (the last of which you'll be camping by) offer some of the best early-season cutthroat trout fishing in the Never Summers. "These lakes are less crowded for a really simple reason: Most fishermen don't want to hike in that far," he says. Pack a 6-weight rod (see the Trip Planner for rental info) and use little ant and beetle patterns in spring. Toward late summer, when the fish turn into finicky eaters, use scud patterns–they look like the small freshwater shrimp on which the fish naturally feed. During the initial thaw, though, "The fish will eat a bare hook if you throw it in," Ehlert says. Pick up a fishing license ($9 for a one-day permit) at Estes Park Mountain Shop.
The verdant Kawuneeche Valley stretches along the border of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Never Summer Wilderness. Glacial ice measuring more than 20 miles long carved out this marshy lowland, creating a U-shaped homestead for megafauna. Kawuneeche means "coyote creek" in the language of native Arapaho, but today moose reign supreme. Rangers estimate that the local moose population tops 700. You'll see the most from mid-July to late August, when it's warm and grasses are abundant. Moose tracks are larger and pointier than those of elk, which also live here.
Notice those brown pines? The mountain pine beetle has infested more than 1.5 million acres of Colorado forest since 1996. In a healthy ecosystem, beetles are kept in check by long stretches of subzero temps, but a warming trend has both enabled the bugs to mature faster and weakened trees. Experts say Colorado could lose its lodgepole pines by 2050. Discuss: Should we intervene in protected areas, by thinning trees or spraying, though by definition a wilderness is to remain untouched by human hands?
On The Menu
On the road
Lunches 1 and 2
Peanut butter, bagels, honey
Parika pasta (w/trout if you got lucky)
Never Summer oatmeal
Never Summer Oatmeal
Add pizzazz to instant oats with this crazy twist.
1 package instant oatmeal
1 handful Craisins
1 banana, quartered and sliced
1/2 Snickers bar (optional)
Heat water and add to instant oatmeal. Throw in banana pieces, craisins, and hunks of Snickers. Stir, serve.
A carb-tastic dinner so good you'll make it at home.
8 ounces spinach
16 ounces penne pasta
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
Boil water. Add the greens and cook until tender. Spoon out and place in a bowl. Return the water to a boil. Add the pasta; cook until done. Drain water, stir in greens, olives, garlic, and feta.
The Grocery List(Aisle #) In Nearest Store Below 1 pack oatmeal raisin cookies (3)
2 bagels (bakery)
1 bag jerky (checkout)
2 Snickers bars (3)
1 jar peanut butter (1)
1 banana (1)
1 bag raisins or dried cranberries (3)
Instant brown sugar and cinnamon oatmeal (3)
16 oz. penne pasta (2)
8 oz. spinach (1)
1 clove garlic (1)
8 oz. Kalamata olives (1)
3 oz. feta cheese (4)
4 oz. honey (1)
NEAREST GROCERY STORE:
The Country Market
At National Park Village
900 Moraine Ave., Estes Park, Colorado; (970) 586-2702
THE PIT STOP
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.