RMNP Day 3: Old Ute Trail

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Never doubt the warning that weather in the Colorado Rockies can change quickly….

Figuring out where the Old Ute Trail is located can be a little confusing. One section runs from the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass to Milner Pass. The section we decided to hike, apparently unconnected to the other, begins about 2 miles above Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road. This is an excellent trail that allows you to enjoy high alpine and tundra scenery without having to do a lot of climbing. That is, if you turn around at the 2 mile point. Beyond that, the trail descends rapidly all the way down to Beaver Meadows in Moraine Park.

The trail begins from a very small parking area with enough room for only four vehicles (with another small lot about a 0.25 mile above). With the exception of a historical information kiosk, the trailhead isn’t marked. The kiosk explains that the trail was used by Arapaho and Ute Indians on their way to winter and summer hunting grounds.

Big view rewards are immediate:

This is a relatively flat trail, with two short climbs that take you across Tombstone Ridge; the first at the very beginning of the hike, with the second beginning roughly at the one mile mark.

We passed a herd of elk near the beginning of the hike, and then another at about the half way point. Both herds, numbering maybe 20 in size, were a good quarter of a mile off the trail.

After climbing the second hill, the trail tops out at 11,675 feet. From this point forward you’ll have commanding views of Longs Peak towards the south, the highest mountain in the park.

Once reaching the top, the trail begins drifting downhill. Eventually you’ll see a large rock just off to the side of the trail. This is your destination. From here you’ll have outstanding views of Longs Peak all the way down to Moraine Park and Estes Park.

You should expect lots of wind and sun on this trail. Being above the tree line you’ll have panoramic views along the entire length of your trek.

We began our hike under beautiful blue skies. As the day progressed, clouds began to build. At the turn around point, the clouds began to darken a little, and by the time we were half-way back to the trailhead, the clouds were looking downright threatening.

I thought for sure we were going to make it back before the rain would start. Our luck didn’t quite hold out. It started to drizzle, then sleet, and then we started getting pelted by small pea-sized hail. When the wind started whipping up, faces and exposed legs were stinging.

This was a much needed short and easy hike for us so that we would have fresh legs for our 13-mile hike up to the summit of Mt. Lady Washington the next day.

Trail: Old Ute Trail
RT Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 325
Max Elevation: 11,675

National Geographic Trail Map for RMNP:

HikingintheSmokys.com Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.

1 comment

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how quickly blue skies can change in the Rockies - great reminder.