August 25, 2018 · Rocky Mountain National Park
The hike to Blue Lake in the Never Summer Wilderness was originally intended to be part of a larger trek to Bowen Lake, Ruby Lake and then to Blue Lake. However, I got a really late start and wanted to make sure I made it to at least one of the lakes before the weather turned (which it didn't, it was great weather). These lakes are in the Never Summer Wilderness which are technically in the Arapaho National Forest, but the quickest access point is in Rocky Mountain National Park on the West side by Grand Lake.
The weather forecast for this day hike was calling for rain to start by noon-ish. So, I planned on getting an early start, though the place I stayed at in Winter Park, The Vintage Hotel. Which I would normally not stay at, but it was a super great bargain as there is lull in tourism right after school starts and before the ski season was basically a fancy room with a lot of night lights - so many night lights, so it was hard to get any sleep.
On the drive into RMNP you could see heavy low dark clouds with tailings of rain coming out of the clouds. So, I was expecting rain for some portion of the hike. Though by time I got on to the trail, most of the rain clouds had cleared and the cloud ceiling raised to make it a very nice day on the trail.
Since this trail is on the Grand Lake side of RMNP, which means you either must drive through the Park and over Trail Ridge Road or drive 40 over Berthoud Pass through Winter Park and onto Grand Lake, there is not much foot traffic on this trail. For about the first 4-5 miles of the trail it goes very fast as you are in a heavy canopy of conifers and for the most part the trail is flat with the occasional short, but steep incline to rise to the next plateau on the trail.
With the beginning of the change in seasons, hunting season has started, and it's bow season. I did come across a bow hunter on the trail, she was all geared up in woodland camo and had her face panted as well. What I've learned during this period of the hiking season where there are hikers and hunters on the same trail, is that if everyone respects each other's space then everybody will get the day they want in the mountains. I also thought it was a bit ironic, that just before the trailhead, which starts in RMNP (which means no hunting) there was a sea of Elk in a large meadow just before the park boundary. Seems like the Elk have learned (mostly) that "if we stay behind this line we're safe." I've never seen that many Elk in one group on the Grand Lake side of the park. Though I did see a Cow Moose and a Doe Deer and two Fawn Deer on the return trip.
As for the trail, the canopy begins to thin out at about 10,000 feet. You can always tell when you reach 10,000 feet as the pine needles on the conifers are shorter and a very bright green and the tree trunks are smoother and a lighter color. Since I decided not to try for Bowen Lake (which I am kicking myself for no pushing on to) I decided that I had to see at least one alpine lake on this hike. So, I opted for Blue Lake.
The cutoff for Blue Lake is super easy to miss. Many maps depict the cutoff for Blue Lake much earlier than it really is. So, if you try to cutoff where the maps say the cutoff is, you'll end up bushwhacking pretty much straight up the side of the mountain and eventually come across the trail to Blue Lake. Additionally, the actual cut off for Blue Lake is very easy to miss, it's a lightly used trail and the sign for the cutoff is old and on a hand-carved piece of wood. As such, that makes Blue Lake a hidden gem. I saw one person at the lake, at the far end of the lake. Their camp was well hidden behind some trees along the shore line. In total I saw five people on this 8.5-hour hike.
Even though I only made it to Blue Lake this hike came in at 14.5 miles roundtrip. This is a do-again trail as a multi-day trek. Blue Lake was so pretty and so peaceful, I wish I could have stayed the entire day and the night there. This route is going back on the to-do list with all three lakes in the itinerary.