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Lawn Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Oct. 1, 2006

December 3, 2006

Posted on December 3, 2006

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Lawn Lake Trail takes off from a small parking lot that is situated on the Old Fall River Road just after turning off of Highway 34 in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (referred to as RMNP from now on). This means that you WILL see a large number of people prior to getting on the trail, but that will not really detract from the beauty of the environment. And, once you get on the trail, you will quickly leave behind the cars and the majority of people.

I’ll repeat my common note that I’ll give a running description of the hike here along with a few photo samples, but check out the full gallery of larger, high quality photos (with more detailed descriptions) at my Smugmug site. The location of the hike can be seen here at Google Earth (you may need to adjust the scale on the left side of the map) and you can find a topo map here.

This is one of the “perfect” times of the year to visit RMNP. The temperature usually cool, but warm in the sun. No insects. And the elk are out in herds with the bull elk filling the air with their bugling. As I detail below, this day would turn out to be very special.

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I’d been up this trail before both with my children at various times and alone. But, I’d never gone beyond the first mile or so. What I wanted to do was see if hiking to Lawn Lake would constitute a good “day” hike. The result of my day indicated that Lawn Lake would indeed be a good, if longish, day hike, but I started out too late in the day (particularly since the days were shorter now) to make it to Lawn Lake this time. I believe I went somewhere past the halfway mark (so, 7 miles or so for the round trip). So, I’ll be back next year to do the full hike, that’s for sure.

The hike starts off with a mild longish uphill section. But you get great views down into Horseshoe Park (see photo above) where the Fall River winds through. Very nice colors this time of year and it’s possible to see elk wandering through the meadows. More on that later.

The trail levels out and winds along the Roaring River through stands of pine and aspens for a mile or so. Very pleasant. There are many places to sit and enjoy the stream. It is just large enough to contain catch-able trout; including the protected greenback trout with you are required to release.

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While you lose site of Horseshoe Park, you will be able to see some spectacular views of Longs Peak. In addition, as you proceed up the trail, you begin to get views of the mountains surrounding Lawn Lake. This trail can be extended to other areas of RMNP, so it is popular with backpackers and horse riders. I have even seen groups coming through using llamas : )

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The day had started off cloudy and overcast, as can be seen by the photos. But, just before I got to where I thought it might be prudent to turn around, the sun came out. What a difference a little sunshine makes.

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I finally reached a turnaround point. Yes, somewhere down there my truck was waiting for me. Gee, I don’t remember hiking that far……

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The view forward was tempting, but the day was drawing to a close and I did not want to do a lot of hiking in the dark.

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As it turned out, I reached my truck just before full dark (long after the sun had set). But, it definitely wet my appetite to return. After hiking back down the trail I turned back and took one more look to remind myself of where I wanted to go next year.

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Because of my late return down the trail, I did get to see the setting sun’s glow on Long’s Peak. I did the best I could to capture the “magic”, but you really had to be there to fully enjoy it.

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Ah, the elk. So, I’d have to say that what I witnessed and heard during the end of this hike will live with me for the rest of my life. I’ve seen a few other times where the elk have put on such a display, but not for a long time. I reached a point where I was fairly close to the end of the trail, but still high up enough to get a good overview of Horseshoe Park. The sound of elk bugling was constant and everywhere. You could watch them wandering through the meadows both in herds and solo. It was, to utilize a much overused word, awesome.

This is a well known time of year for “watching” the elk. It is very popular event for locals, people living along the Front Range of Colorado, and tourists from all over the world to come here and view the once a year (well, for a span of 2 weeks or so) occurrence. The majority of people, as can be seen here, pull off along the side of the road.

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In general, everyone is very polite and there are no real “traffic jams”. But, you can expect to have to drive very slowly. There are also, including this section of Hwy 34, places where the park rangers will be available to answer questions (and, make sure that no one walks out to try and pet the elk : ).

This time of day is quite challenging for my camera. But I attempted to get a shot of one of the bull elk making his way through the meadow. Maybe not the best photo, but interesting.

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When I got back to my truck there was a herd of elk grazing not 30 yards away. But, it was too dark to try and get a photo.

Great hike, awesome day.

-Geoff Weatherford

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