Rocky Mountain National Park is a beautiful mountain landscape that is full of hiking trails that are just waiting to be explored. I spent my first summer working in Estes Park in 2019, which gave me plenty of opportunities to explore this amazing National Park. Between May and November I was able to hike over 250 miles, summiting over 10 peaks and visiting countless other destinations. Through this time spent in RMNP I found that one of my favorite areas is Wild Basin and within it are some destinations that in my opinion do not get mentioned, or hiked enough. With that being said these are my top three rarely hiked to destinations in Wild Basin; Thunder Lake, Mount Alice and Isolation Lake. Full disclosure, there is a reason these places are rarely hiked to, whether that be distance to get there, difficulty of the hike or climb or both of those reasons combined, these are not short or easy hikes. But with that comes the opportunity for some solitude; something that is hard to find in a National Park that sees over four million visitors annually. If you’re trying to plan some hiking to get away from the crowds and aren’t scared to spend good hours on the trail, then these are some perfect destinations for you to consider.
1: Thunder Lake
I hiked to Thunder Lake for the first time in July, and I was in awe of the beauty surrounding this Lake. The 6.8 mile one way distance to the lake deters a lot of people from visiting this stunning spot in RMNP. This hike starts from the Wild Basin Trailhead, which is South of Estes Park on Highway 7. On this hike you pass Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. This makes it a great place to hike if maybe not everyone in your group is as into hiking as you are. There are plenty of destinations along the way for them to visit while you make the trek to Thunder. I highly suggest packing a picnic, because you will want to spend some time at this breathtaking lake. Much of the trail is not too strenuous. The steepest parts are in the last two miles, but overall this is one of the easiest 6.8 miles I have ever hiked.
2: Mount Alice
Mount Alice was one of my favorite summits I have ever done. This is a tough hike, but is well worth the views from the top, it gives a great view of Long’s Peak that not many people ever see. There are several routes to the summit but the one I used is the most common and probably the easiest to follow, but is over 9 miles one way. This hike also starts from the Wild Basin Trailhead and begins by hiking to Thunder Lake (see description above). Once you make it past Thunder Lake, the real work, and fun begins. There is a faint trail that leads north from the lake and this will begin to take you up Boulder Grand Pass. This is a fun climb that requires climbing through a good amount of loose rubble. About three fourths of the way up the pass you will hit Lake of Many Winds, a very appropriately named high alpine lake. If you are greeted by very strong winds when you hit the shelf that is home to this lake, don’t get to worried. When I was there we were met by extremely high winds as soon as we got to the lake, but by the time I had made it to the other side there was virtually no wind. This then brings you to probably the toughest section of making it up the pass and in my opinion is the crux of the entire hike. Once you make it to the top of the pass you will want to head to the right up a decent slope which leads to the last mile to the summit. Pilot Mountain sits about half way between the top of the pass and the summit of Alice and is worth the little time it takes to hit that summit while you’re up there.
Number 3: Isolation Lake
Making the hike to this lake will almost guarantee you some isolation, as the name implies. Begin from the Wild Basin Trailhead and hike to Bluebird Lake which is 6.4 miles from the trailhead. This lake offers great views and is a great destination that is less traveled if you don’t feel like going the rest of the way to Isolation. From Bluebird Lake, there is a spot to cross the outlet a bit before you reach the lake. From there cairns mark the trail up to the shelf that is home to Lark Pond and Pipit Lake. From there take whatever route you think will be easiest up to Isolation lake which sits close to the saddle between Isolation and Mahana Peaks. Climbing one of them may be worth your time depending on time, weather and ability. Just making it to Isolation Lake will already put you at well over 15 miles round trip. I climbed Mahana Peak while I was there and it offered a great view of Wild Basin as well as the opportunity to look down on where you have just been hiking.
There are so many great places to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, and whether you can make it to these destinations or not, I have no doubt that you will be able find an adventure in this truly amazing place. Another piece of advice I have is to if possible, hike with a friend. I have done my fair share of solo hiking and I can say having an extra pair of eye can really come in handy in these off-trail hikes. Sometimes another perspective on what looks like the best place to make an ascent can make these hikes a lot more enjoyable, and not to mention safer in case of emergency. I hope this has given some useful information that may come in handy the next time you are planning a trip to RMNP and some ideas for what hikes to conquer while you’re here.