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Lumpy Ridge Loop Trail, RMNP, CO, May 31, 2009

December 6, 2009

Posted December 6, 2009


(It’s that time of year.  Too snowy/cold to hike, so I get to show everyone all the hikes I did during the summer : )

On Sunday, May 31, 2009 I did what is becoming an annual late spring/early summer hike.  The Lumpy Ridge Loop.  Can’t remember what Will was doing.  Probably climbing boulders at Horsetooth with friends.  Anyway, as many of my hikes are, I did it solo.  Will did it with me last year.  Maybe his fond memories had something to do with him skipping it this year : )

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 (and there are more of them).

In addition, 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 (a low quality one, care of the great National Geographic TOPO program that one of my sons purchased for me : ) of the Lumpy Ridge Loop trail. Please note that 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 of the trail from Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (move the map around) to get more detail.

Map image

This hike is low enough in elevation to be really nice at this time of the year.  It’s only an hour away from Fort Collins.  And it’s doable in my winter weakened condition : )  Around 10 miles total, in a loop, with not an excessive amount of elevation gain/loss.  One other big thing is that you do not have to go through the national park entry fee thing.  So, save some money.  Of course, I always purchase a National Park year’s entry permit since I do a lot of hiking in the park.

The great thing is, it looks different every year.  This year the day started out lovely.  Blue sky, lots of green stuff.  Here is a view from the parking lot before I started up the trail.


The trail starts off with a decision.  You can head directly to the Twin Owls/Black Canyon View area (so, the McGregor Ranch valley and climbing rocks).  Or, you can head up towards Gem Lake.  Even if you head up towards Gem lake, you can still take a trail back towards the Twin Owls area about a half mile up the trail.


I decided to do the loop by heading to Gem Lake first.  It was a wise decision.  There is a time/space warp between Gem Lake and the Cow Creek trail.  If you are going from Gem Lake to Cow Creek, you miss the warp.  If you are doing the loop in the opposite direction (so, Black Canyon to Cow Creek to Gem Lake), you will enter the time/space warp.  This adds approximately 2 years and 7,395 miles to your hike.  I’ve validated this several times.  So, I recommend doing the loop counter clockwise.  You’ve been warned : )

Nice section of trail (before you start going uphill : )


Flowers.  Another thing.  This is the first trip with a new camera.  A Nikon D200.  Really nice camera that they were dumping on the market through Best Buy during the spring for an extremely cheap price (almost unbelievably cheap).  It had been out of production for 3 years or so and I guess they got tired of keeping them in their inventory.  Took me most of the summer to learn the basics of using it.


Oh my.  That mountain looks familiar.


Yes, it’s Longs Peak.  Still in it’s winter glory.


The trail goes through some private property at first, but eventually (quarter of a mile or more) you enter the park.


Here is the part where you can turn to the left and go to the Owl Canyon overlook (along with getting on the Black Canyon trail).


Today I’ll be going to the right to Gem Lake as the first part of the loop.  This is a very popular hike for families.  You can’t really read the sign below due to the size of the photo, but if you go to my web site (linked above), the photos are much larger and you can read the descriptions and miles on the sign.


You will be going up hill pretty much all the way to Gem Lake.  Although it won’t all be like this : )


One reason this is a popular hike is that you get great views as you gain altitude.




Green trees and clouds.  The weather was perfect.


Estes Park with Twin Sisters rising in the background.


The trail does go through some pretty sections that are level.


But, even the uphill sections are nice.


More views of the mountains.


This is a small bit of zoom on the right side of the photo above.  It shows Flattop Mountain (last flattish looking mountain on the right) which Will and I climbed over (twice) in our Bear Lake to Grand Lake and back hike.


After a hour or so, you get to Gem Lake.


Gem Lake is a, uh, gem of a lake.  Not very big.  But pretty.  Great place for a break, picnic, etc.  If you are doing the hike with children, then you should plan on stopping here for a while.  Unless the children are older and in good shape, you probably will be heading back to the parking lot after taking a break at the lake.


But, if you are doing the loop, continue to the other side to pick up the trail.  It continues behind the horse rails.  Yes, those are heavy looking clouds in the distance.


So, according to the sign, it’s just short of 3 miles to the intersection with Cow Creek trail (which you will encounter right after crossing Cow Creek itself).  Again, this mileage is only applicable if you are going in this direction.


If you are coming from the other direction (so, doing the loop in a clockwise fashion), this is what will happen.  This person has been hiking on the trail for many months coming up from Cow Creek.  Yes, she had hit the time/space warp thingie.  Of course, I’m only kidding (slightly), but for some reason the trek up from Cow Creek (all uphill) does seem to be a bit trying.  This person was one of a group of trail runners.


You do get some good views along this section of the trail.  That is the Bridal Veil Falls valley in the far distance.  This loop trail splits off from the Cow Creek trail and does not go up to Bridal Veil Falls.


Little bit of a zoom here.


Ran into a strange character on the trail.


Some ways down the trail you will see where the “Balanced Rock” trail forks off to the left (when you are going towards Cow Creek).  I went that way once, but I don’t really recommend it.  It’s a ways to hike and you just have to hike back (or, bushwhack your way down into the Black Creek area).


The trail does drop quite a bit in elevation, but there are some parts that are level.  Also, as can be seen, my sunny day is beginning to look a bit threatened.


After a couple of miles, you begin to get some nice views down into the valley of Cow Creek.


As you get closer to the bottom, aspen start appearing along the trail.


Saw my first columbines soon after entering the aspen zone.


Close up.


The trail gets very pleasant once you arrive at the bottom.


More nice flowers.  Really appreciate these after a long winter 🙂


Prior to intersecting with the Cow Creek Trail, you first cross Cow Creek itself.  Great place for a break and/or lunch stop.

Looking upstream.


Looking downstream.


And the bridge.


After crossing, the trail winds gently up through some small meadows.


And then intersects with the Cow Creek Trail.


The Cow Creek trail is quite gentle here.  Actually, the Cow Creek Trail only gains a small amount of elevation.  And it does most of that right before getting to Bridal Veil Falls.


You spend some time hiking very close to the creek.


Amazing green colors this time of the year.


After a mile or less, you come to the split in the trail.  One trail goes to the right and continues up to Bridal Veil Falls.  The other trail heads up to meet the Black Canyon/Lawn Lake trail.


Here is a closer view of the sign.


This shows the Bridal Veil trail heading off to the right into the distance.  I’ll be going to the left.  Hmmm.  Looks like I might get some rain.


I stood under a tree for a short time to let the heaviest part of the rain storm pass over me.


This deer was trying to keep out of the rain.  Plus figure out what I was doing.


As you move up the trail, the valley narrows and the trail begins to gain elevation.


As can be seen, the upper part of this valley is full of aspen.  When you cross the bottom, you travel through a nice little aspen forest.  Pretty neat in the Fall.


Once out of the aspens, the trail starts to switchback up to the small pass where you intersect with the Black Canyon trail (that is going to Lawn Lake).  This section, luckily, is not very long.


The “top” is nothing spectacular,  But welcome none the less  : )


And you quickly reach the trail intersection shortly after topping out.


This (to the left) is where I want to go.


The other way would be quite a hike to Lawn Lake.


For quite a ways (mile or two) the trail leads continually downward through open stands of evergreens.


After a while you begin to get views of the Lumpy Ridge climbing areas to the left of the trail.  Quite often you can see and hear climbers on the various walls of rock.


Occasionally a sign can be seen directing climbers to specific routes or walls.


I wandered through a large herd of elk during this section of the hike.  Elk to my left………..


And, to my right …………..


And then, you get a hint that the view is going to dramatically change.


The trail enters the main lower valley of Black Canyon.  Great place in the late spring and/or early summer.  Very pretty in the fall also with all the aspen and cottonwoods changing color.


Here is a full view after getting past the last few trees along the trail.  Lots of green : )  Note that the very bottom land section is considered “private”.  You will see signs telling you to stay on the trail.  I’m a little unclear about who the owners are.  At one point I thought the entire valley belonged in the national park.  But, either I was mistaken or there is some sort of special arrangement.  Anyway, as will be seen, it’s plenty nice along the trail.  So, no need to meander down to the creek.


That said, to the left of the trail (going down) are the climbing areas of Lumpy Ridge.  These are open to climbers and hikers.  Although there may be certain areas that they occasionally close off due to raptors breeding season.  So, keep an eye open for any such signs indicating such a closure and the dates the closures are in effect.


Looking across the meadows at Twin Sisters.


I’ll zoom in a little.


Actually, let me focus on the flowers.  They’re kinda pretty.


Close up of one of the flowers.


Another species.


Found some more Columbines.


Looking across the meadows.


In good weather, you can see Longs Peak from here.  Somewhat obscured at this time.


This cottontail was unsure of whether to run away or just freeze and hope I don’t see him (or her, as the case may be).


Looking back to where I came from.


Eventually you come to an intersection of the trails.  You can get back to the parking lot by taking either route.  I chose to go to the right instead of straight ahead.


Some more info.  If you continue straight ahead (so, to Gem Lake 1.7 miles in this photo), you will go around half a mile and then hit another intersection where you can turn right and get to the parking lot.  But, from this point, it’s shorter to just turn right.


After several hundred yards or more, the trail gains a little altitude going over a hilltop.


But then quickly drops into the parking lot area.


As I was driving away, I caught this last photo in the rain.


Great way to start the season.  One good thing about this area is that you can just do small portions if you wish (or, if you have children).  Turning back after reaching Gem Lake is a great way to spend 2-3 hours.  Or, just hiking over to the Black Canyon Creek and enjoying the lush meadows for an hour or two.  Lots of options.

Little did I know what I was in store for during the next hike.  I’ve already posted that one.  Lulu City.  Quite the difference in many ways.

– Geoff Weatherford

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Donna Metcalf permalink
    June 20, 2010 10:27 pm

    Geoff, your blog is amazing. Someone on our Estes Park discussion group posted a link to your LULU City hike…we did this Gem Lake in May, but didn’t get all the way to Gem Lake. Love your writing, pictures. Thank you for such an beautiful blog.

    • June 22, 2010 1:30 am


      Appreciate the comments. Glad someone looks at them occasionally : ) I hike Lumpy Ridge every year (kinda one of my warm up hikes).

      I did Lulu City (up to Poudre Pass) last weekend again. Much better weather this time. Great hike. Saw sheep, elk, deer, and only a few people (at the very beginning). To top it off, incredible sunset coming up and over Trail Ridge after the hike.

      I’ll post the trip photos in a couple of weeks.


      Geoff Weatherford

  2. donna Metcalf permalink
    June 22, 2010 1:11 pm

    I need to do some more exploring, but have you done the Ute Trail? We will definitely try the Lulu City hike next time we are there. We usually avoid Trail Ridge Road, in fact it wasn’t even open when we were there in May. I guess we will have to brave the tourists and come later in the summer! Keep posting. You are AMAZING!

    • June 30, 2010 2:20 am


      I’m not going to get photos from it up for another couple of weeks, but I took another trip up past Lulu City. This time to la Poudre Pass which is at the very head of the Colorado River. Very neat hike, except that the last mile is along the Grand Ditch road (awesome scenary, but walking along a dirt road is not the same as a trail; although I saw no one on the road). It is a 15 mile round trip, so maybe a little long for a day hike if you are not used to the altitude.
      I’m not sure where the Ute Trail is. I know of a couple of Ute passes, but both of them are located outside of RMNP. However, there are lots of trails I have not been on in RMNP, so I’m not surprised if I don’t recognize the name : )
      Yes, Trail Ridge is a bit of a grind sometimes. Particularly in late May and early June. It’s usually ok by the second half of June (although they did close it during one storm in June). However, the scenary (and hiking) can be spectacular.
      Anyway, where ever you go, it will probably be very nice.

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