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North Inlet Trail, RMNP, CO September 20, 2008

June 13, 2009

Posted June 13, 2009

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Last year, September 20, 2008 to be exact, I decided to take a trip into an area of RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park) that I’d never hiked in before.  It was fall and, if I was lucky, I’d see a few nice colorful aspen up in the high country.  One thing I wouldn’t see is a hunter.  Another reason for heading into RMNP at this time of year.  Nothing against hunters or hunting, but I just don’t like hiking around an area where people may actively be shooting guns if I have an option.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative. I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (This link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map North Inlet trail. All links open a new browser window.

In addition to the Google map link above, below is a Microsoft Live map. The red tack shows the general location from Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode.

Map image

I cruised over Trailridge road and the weather was looking quite nice.  Not many clouds and pretty mild.  It took me a few minutes to find the trailhead, but at least there was plenty of parking.  I actually had to park in an upper “overflow” area that is located only a short walk from the main parking area/trailhead.

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Once I locked my car up and had my pack on, I headed back down to the trail head parking area.

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And a quick glance at the sign.  I normally, if it’s at all convenient, try and take a quick look at the trailhead message boards.  They usually have a nice map to look at (in case I don’t : ), some background history of the area, and any emergency messages of trail closures, etc.  This one was a typical well done park message board.  I read it over and took off down the trail.

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The first part of the trail follows an old road that, as far as I could tell, was only partially used.  There is a sign that says to stay on the first so many miles of the trail as it passes through some private land.  But, since it’s all very pretty looking, and no traffic to speak of, it’s a very pleasant walk.  This first few miles of the trail is an excellent place to take very young children.  They can run up an down the road and not get into any trouble (and hopefully sleep good that night : )

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The trail/road goes through some aspen for a while and then breaks out into some rather extensive patches of meadows.  This is looking back towards the aspens after exiting them.  They were “just” barely starting to get a little fall color.

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Here is a photo of, I think, the lower North Inlet.  The trail/road goes right past it and allows for a great picnic area for a short hike with children.

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Part of this hike takes you past Summerland Park.  This is a rather large expanse of meadows.  During this time the road will disappear and you will be on an actual trail.

Ah, here is a bit of Fall color.

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Zoom in on that a little.

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Another shot of some early fall color with the meadows in the background.  There is a bit of a story about those meadows, but that is for a different part of the hike that I will describe later on.

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Here is a view of the lower part of the trail.  Still quite nice.  As in not too rugged or steep.  And pretty scenic due to the aspens.

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Eventually, after 2-3 miles, the trail does begin to gain altitude and pass through more evergreens than aspens.  Although you will still pass through small meadows farther up.  This is looking back down the trail.

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After being away from the stream for a time, the trail comes back closer.  Here is a view that is a short distance down from Cascade Falls.

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Here is a photo above Cascade Falls showing some nice, if small, waterfalls. Note that Cascade Falls is approximately a 3.5 mile (one way) hike.  So, 7 miles round trip.  Nothing for teenagers (except boredom : ), but a little long for younger children under 9 years of age (obviously, it all depends on the child in question).  There are places along the trail where you should watch that younger children don’t get too close to the edge.  No extreme cliffs, but definitely some high places.

The reason that I don’t have a photo of Cascade Falls is because, from what I could see, there is only one really nice place to view the Falls from and it was occupied by some other people.  My plan was to stop on the way back down and take a photo.  Little did I know : )

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As I stated, you do pass some more meadows along the trail.

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And the trail does pass a small lake or two.  At this time, I didn’t know that I would be hiking up that far valley that can be seen in the distance.

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Ptarmigan Creek crossing.

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And then, yes, I got a glimpse of some high country.

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Because of that small glimpse, I made a little error in judgment.  What happened next is I came on a trail junction.  One trail led to Lake Nokoni  (to the right) and the other led up to an eventual crossing of Flattop Mountain (and down into Bear Lake).

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Well gee.  If I head up left, and gain some more altitude, maybe I can get a view of the surrounding mountains.  And take photos.  And see neat country.  Yeah, but then I looked at the return sign.

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Hmmm.  Somehow, according to this sign, I had come 8 miles already.  Now, I’m thinking this sign means Grand Lake, the town.  So, maybe I hadn’t really come 8 miles.  Maybe only 6-7 miles from the trailhead parking lot.  The reason I wanted to think that way is that 8 miles times 2 is 16 miles round trip.  I know that for me that would be a longish hike.  So, should I start back now?  Well, uh, probably yes.  Did I?  Nope.

Onward I went.  Up a large number of well maintained switchbacks.

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Now, the good thing is that, yes, I did start to see the surrounding mountains.  The bad thing is, why, I’ll just wanted to go a little further and see more.  So, I kept going up the trail.  But, the views were getting to be quite nice.  As you can see though, the clouds are beginning to increase.

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The higher up the trail I went, the greater the scenery became.  I couldn’t stop now : )

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Here is a view of a mountain in B and W.

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Same mountain as a couple photos above, but a little higher.

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I’ve gained enough elevation to be able to look down into upper North Inlet valley.  No trail into this area, but it sure looks interesting.

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And then………. the switchbacks were over.  Well, golly.  I guess I should just go a little further and see what happens.

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Well, what happens is you enter into a very nice looking upper valley.

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If I zoom in, you can see the trail on the other side zig zagging its way up to the ridge above timberline and towards (eventually) Flattop Mountain.  So, obviously, I just had to keep going.  Just a little further.

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Yeah, this was a neat place.  And not very crowded : )

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In the distance, once I got a little further along, I could see a “waterfall”.  Right in the middle of the photo.  Don’t worry, I’ll get some close up shots.  Also caught a few rays of the sun peeking through the clouds that lit up the far ridge a little.

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Turning around and looking back down the valley gave me a nice shot.  B&W

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Zoom a little on that peaky thing.  In color.

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Now, I’m not sure why, but this “waterfall” fascinated me.  So, here are a series of photos.

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Met this old guy up there.  I think he was following me. Weird.  Looks familiar : )

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The sun came out (which didn’t happen again for a while).  So, grabbed some “sunny” photos.

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Looking down the valley again.

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And then, I happened to glance behind me and saw that I was being “spied on”.

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She was quite curious.  Played around with me for a while.

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And then she left me : )

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O well.  And then it came to me.  Ummm.  It’s getting rather late in the day.  And.  It’s clouding up again.  And.  I’m kinda a long ways from the car.  Equals.  Time to go.  So, down I headed.  I mean, you know, how bad can it be.  It’s all downhill right?

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Well, let me tell you, it was a long hike back out.  I got about half way back and ran into a little “weather”.  Lots of rain and some hail.  Quite a bit of thunder and lightening.

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For a short time, I actually had the sun come out again.

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But it clouded up again and started raining.  Pretty much kept up on and off the rest of the trail down.

Got down to the beginning of Summerland Park and fog was rising out of the meadow.  I’m pretty sure I saw a hobbit running back into it.

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My adventure had not ended.  As I was headed through the Summerland Park section of the trail, I happened to hear a couple of bull elk fighting.  They were right next to the trail in the meadow.  And they were clacking those antlers together with great vigor.  I watched them for a few minutes.  It was too dark to try and get a photo unless I wanted to walk right up to them.  Which really didn’t seem like a good idea at the time : )

So, I hiked another couple of mile through the darkness (hoping I hadn’t missed a turnoff on the trail).  And finally made it back to the car at about 0-dark-thirty.  Opened the car up and threw my things in the back.  Took off my rather soaking wet boots and socks and slipped on some dry shoes.

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But, again, my adventures were not over yet.  Because I had to go back over Trailridge Road to get home.  And guess what I found on top of Trailridge?  Yeah, another storm.  Early wet snowstorm.  Whiteout conditions at night on top of the world (with a little bit of a drop off to one side : )  So, I spent around 30 minutes going at (I kid you not) 5 miles per hour traveling down the center of the highway very slowly.  It turned to rain when I hit treeline on the other side.

So, really great trip. Awesome place.  But, I should have started my hike around 2-3 hours earlier than I did (but then I might have missed the elk).  I will definitely go back and check out the upper North Inlet valley and meadows that I could see in the distance.  Too nice.

Oh yes.  I slept well that night : )

– Geoff Weatherford

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Teitsma permalink
    August 18, 2011 9:11 pm

    Nice trip! I’m going here this weekend so it’s nice o know what to expect

    • August 21, 2011 12:52 pm

      David,

      Hope you have a great hike. Should be lovely.

      Thanks for visiting.

      Geoff Weatherford

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