It should be obvious that when you visit Rocky Mountain National Park at the beginning of June, there will still be snow in the higher elevations. It should also be obvious that those fantastic hiking trails up to high mountain lakes and waterfalls will not be accessible. But sometimes, after spending the winter in Florida and the spring crossing the sweltering middle of the country, you forget about all that cold white stuff and just want to go hiking in the mountains.
After realizing how many of the trails were still not passable, we stopped by the visitor center where a helpful ranger highlighted a map with all the trails that were reported to be snow-free. There was not many, and only a single one met the “hike to an alpine lake” criteria. But we managed to find three suitable west side trails to quench our desire for some rocky mountain hiking.
Big Meadows Trail
This easy hike wanders through the forest for a few miles before opening up to a large meadow circled by snow-capped mountains. It can be hiked as a 7+ mile loop by combining a few trails. But with deep snow reported on the far end, we skipped the full loop in favor of a 3.5 mile out and back. Which turned out to be the perfect length for an after work hike. Even though the big meadow is rumored to be a good place to spot moose and elk, we only saw a single moose way, way on the other side of the meadow tucked up against some trees. Must be because all the other moose and elk were hanging out near the road where even the non-hikers could get a good look :)
LuLu City Trail
The hike to an 1800s mining camp called LuLu City is another easy, low-elevation trek that makes for a good choice early in the year. The trail follows a gentle grade along the Colorado River for nearly four miles before reaching the old town site. The remains of this short-lived town are scarce — there is reported to be an old cabin, some old mine shafts, and a few scattered artifacts. We saw none of that, but it didn’t really matter because the trail by itself was gorgeous with views of snow-capped Shiply Mountain following us nearly the whole way.
At the town site, we found a perfectly placed log next to the river to sit and take in the view while eating lunch. I think we ended up hanging out by the river, soaking up the sun, and admiring the scenery for nearly an hour. Sure does feel good to be in the mountains.
East Inlet Trail to Lone Pine Lake
After our “warm up” 8-mile hike to LuLu City we felt ready to tackle some elevation and find that alpine lake. The ranger said the trail was snow-free to a mile before Lone Pine Lake. But that was early in the week and the strong sun must have done its job because, by the time we got there on Saturday, only a few piles of snow remained near the lake.
This 11-mile round-trip hike with 1,955 feet in elevation gain is not the hardest hike we’ve ever done, but the length combined with the high altitude (the lake resides at nearly 10,000 feet) and strong, hot sun really challenged us. Fortunately, the scenery along this trail is absolutely stunning and helped distract us from the lack of oxygen and relentless uphill climb.
The East Inlet Trail starts on the edge of Grand Lake and follows a short trail up to Adam’s Falls. It then continues along the edge of east meadow before turning into the forest and beginning the ascent to the lake and beyond. The first few miles of the trail were pretty crowded (the waterfall is a very popular spot for families) but as soon as we started climbing uphill we left the crowds behind.