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948 North Inlet -
Tonahutu Loop

Tonahutu Trail as it crosses the tundra

In planning summer trips over the last few years, three times we reserved campsites for the Rocky Mountain National Park Loop. We were unable to do the first trip due to a nagging injury and the second trip was canceled by the Park due to a wildfire. Diligently, we made reservations again this year. We kept our fingers crossed as the time approached. We were both fit and healthy and there were no wildfires, we were going to hike the Loop.

Last year, when the Loop was canceled due to wildfires, we hiked the North Inlet Trail to the junction and then climbed Ptarmigan Mountain. We left the trailhead in the mid-morning. It was blazing hot as we climbed the easy grade to out campsite near North Inlet Junction. To improve our starting time, we stayed the night on the west side of the Park and were able to walk in the cooler morning air.

North inlet Trail moving through boulders

We made good time on the first leg of our journey. It took a little less than four hours to cover the ten miles from the Kawuneeche Visitors Center to Pine Marten Campsite near North Inlet Junction. We met a few hikers along the way. A surprising number of hikers had started from Bear Lake (on the east side of the Park) and were walking to Grand Lake on the west. At Grand Lake they were going to take a shuttle back over the mountain.

Pine Marten Campsite

The Pine Marten campsite was a dandy. Sitting above the creek on a thirty foot bluff there was easy access to the water and the site had great views of neighboring mountains.

trail crossing between cairns

The next morning we left camp at 0730 and began the climb. It took three hours of relatively moderate hiking to reach the Continental Divide and Flattop Mountain. We were slowed by constantly stopping to take pictures. Among the attractions (other than the views) were huge rock cairns (piles of rocks) and a herd of elk.

Tonahutu Trail as it descends back to tree line

Joining the Tonahutu Trail we climbed a short rise and then began a steady descent. The trail followed close to the Continental Divide as it crossed the alpine tundra. Attractions were another herd of elk and the time spent trying to identify unknown peaks.

Haynach Campsite.

Our second night of the trip was at Haynach Lake. The campsites were located off a steep side trail that leads to Haynach Lake. We chose to stay at the designated llama site (we knew it was not supposed to be occupied). The site was in a grove of trees that opened into a meadow. It was idyllic.

Our last day of the trip was a bit of a rush. We needed to be walking by 0530. Amy had to be at the Denver Airport by 1530 (three-thirty). To make that schedule, we had to walk the 10 miles in less than 4 hours, then cross the Park on Trail Ridge Road, take the detour to Lyons, continue to Boulder, take quick showers, and finally to the airport.

Trail entering the trees from the burn of 2013

It was a bit of a rush but we easily made it to the airport. It took 3.5 hours to finish the hike. We just kept our heads down and hiked. We took few pictures and only stopping for a few seconds to take photos of the burn, Granite Falls, and Big Meadow in morning light.

Big Meadow

The Loop was worth our three year wait. On our day two, the alpine tundra day, the trail was very special. Make reservations and put it on you to do list. It was truly that good.

Happy Loop trails


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