Rocky Mountain NP: North Inlet / Tonahutu Creek Loop Trail Trip Overview
When we decided to go to Colorado and do some hiking, there was just so much to do. So many places to hike. So many peaks to bag. At the time, I was engrossed in work, so my friend Joe pretty much planned the entire trip, with little feedback (though requested - repeatedly) from me.
My first thought was that we had to do at least one 14er. Given that Joe was not a big mountaineer, but simply liked to hike, I pretty much gave up on that and prepared for just a hike. I would later find out that he had managed to plan for us ending at Long's peak for a (Classic!) 14er attempt, but that would be thwarted by Hurricane Irene (and my bad, post-menisectomy, still not recovered knee).
Joe certainly did his homework, because he came up with what apparently is THE classic loop trail in the Colorado Rockies. The North Inlet/Tonahutu Creek Loop trail. This trail is also sometimes referred to as the Continental Divide Loop trail. The official Continental Divide Trail route slides right by Rocky Mountain National Park. Apparently this was by design. The National Park Service was concerned about hiker traffic and made sure the route didn't go through RMNP. But it's right next to it, and the loop is an offshoot, right near the Grand Lake area.
The North Inlet/Tonahutu Creek Loop trail Overview
The North Inlet-Tonahutu Creek loop is a 26-mile (42-kilometer) trail that gives you spectacular alpine scenery. We started at the North Inlet trailhead, and hiked to North Inlet Falls. We stayed there 2 nights, so we didn't miss the side hike off the North Inlet Trail to Lakes Nokoni and Nanita. Nanita reflects Ptarmigan Mountain and Andrews Peak off in the distance. Next we hiked through to the summit of Flattop Mountain. There were numerous backcountry sites to pump water along the way (Twinberry, Ptarmigan and July, just to name a few). From the summit of Flattop, where you are going to get some great photos of snow topped mountains (even in August), you descend past Big Meadows and Granite Falls all the way back to the North Inlet trailhead. In between, we hit the Haynach campsite, where I walked barefoot in a mountain surrounded meadow that was out of a movie. It sucked climbing the steep mile to get there (after a 10 mile doozey) but it was certainly worth it.
You'll travel through 5,000+ feet of elevation gain and a number of different ecosystems, including subalpine forest and alpine tundra, drinking spring water along the way and seeing the occasional bull elk staring you in the face while he grazes. Definitely a classic hike.
Trip Plan Overview
Below is a high level overview of the trip itinerary. The full Trip Plan Itinerary has more of the details.
- Sunday 8/21
- Fly from Newark to Denver, rent a car and drive to Estes Park, Co where we will stay at a local hotel for the night.
- Monday 8/22 - Thursday 8/25 : Loop Section
- Drive to RMNP Tonahutu / North Inlet Trailhead
- Hike the loop from North Inlet trailhead over Flattop Mountain and back
- Thursday 8/25 - Saturday 8/27 : Long's Peak Section
- Drive to Longs Peak Ranger Station
- Hike to Boulderfield Camp and then climb Longs Peak
- Descend to Ranger Station and drive to RMNP Estes Park, Co where we will stay at a local hotel for the night.
- Sunday 8/28
- Drive to Denver airport and fly home
There are a few requirements you need to take care of to hike this section of Rocky Mountain National Park. For instance permits and bear canisters.
As far as gear is concerned, this is a non technical hike, so your basic trekking gear list should suffice. If you go during the summer months, you won't have to worry about a lot of clothes or outter wear. Just throw some clothes in a pack with a tent, a bag, and some food and you're all set.
Here is the Gear List I used for this trip if you want an idea of what you might want to bring.
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