Get a Little Taste of Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park has a sizeable 355 miles of hiking trails. The trails range from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain climbs making any experience level of level of hiker sure to find something for them. The Longs Peak trail is not one of the easier trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail starts at an elevation of around 9,000 feet and continues to climb an additional 3,000 feet in just over 6 miles. It's this fairly high elevation that can make this trail more difficult for some rather than others. Those sensitive to higher elevations should best steer clear of this trail. However, in addition to high elevation, there are some steep climbs and the majority of the trail is loose rocks which lend to its difficulty. For those fond of high altitude hiking or just enjoy the view from the top, this trail will provide ample amounts of joy.
|Trail Length:||12.4 miles roundtrip||City/State:||Estes Park, Colorado||Bikes Allowed:||No|
|Elevation:||9,380 Feet (lowest)
13,200 Feet (highest)
|County:||Larimer, Grand, Boulder||Dogs Allowed:||No|
The closest town to Rocky Mountain National Park is Estes Park, Colorado located 70 miles north of Denver. While there are a few different ways to enter the park, the closest entrance to the Longs Peak trail is from Estes Park down U.S. 36. The entrance lies just 8 miles south of the trailhead, but the road into the park leads nearly right up to it.
After reaching the very small parking lot, hikers will begin their trek on the East Longs Peak trailhead and will continue to follow it for the entire trek. The trail begins with a bang, giving hikers a taste of just how strenuous it can be. This climb travels through a thick forest of tall lodgepole pine, spruce and fir trees for roughly a mile. Along the way, more energetic hikers can head down the Eugenia Mine trail to a defunct mine, though it is sealed off for safety reason. There is also another trail that leads to Goblin Forest Backcountry campground for those that want to get a solid night's rest before conquering the trail.
After travelling approximately two miles, hikers emerge from the forest into a subalpine zone of a mix of stunted brush that comes with advanced elevation. By that time, the trail has already risen approximately 1,000 feet in elevation. It is here that hikers can get their first good view of their destination--Longs Peak--as well as the nearby Mount Lady Washington. Mount Lady Washington will become a more dominating feature along the trail as hikers continue to climb.. Thankfully, the trail doesn't take hikers over the lady mountain, but rather traces around it. This section, where the trail slides in between Mount Lady Washington and Battle Mountain, is known as Granite Pass. A fitting name considering vegetation is sparse and steep rocky walls are in abundance. After passing in between the mountains, the sweeping views over the area return and the trail begins to lead towards the Keyhole and Longs Peak.
The trail continues to lack subtly with its area names as hiker venture through what is known as Boulder Field. Hikers will notice the boulders upon entering and slowly, but surely, they seem to grow in size as hikers continue on. As this is one of the flatter areas along the trail, it is often a good place to stop for a break or a meal. However, it can get quite gusty up on those boulders. As hikers continue across Boulder Field, travel becomes a bit more difficult with the trail occasionally demanding a little rock hopping. Near the end of the rock field is the Boulder Field Backcountry Campground. This campground merits mentioning because of its unique campsite markings. In order to keep the blowing wind and snow at bay, the park service built rock walls around each campsite. It's much like camping inside a roofless house and it also offers fairly extreme campsite privacy.
From the campground, hikers continue their trek with beautiful views of Storm Peak off to the northwest. However, there probably won't be much occasion to leisurely stare at it while on this section as the ascent onto Longs Peak has begun. The trail becomes extremely rough and gains another 500 feet in elevation in just a third of a mile. There are several occasions where scrambling, rock hopping and route finding will be necessary. The trail only becomes more difficult as it gets higher. There is little danger of falling off a cliff, but one bad step could very well result in a broken bone or twisted ankle if hikers are not careful.
Eventually, the Keyhole comes into sight at the summit of Longs Peak. Just before this glorious notch in the rocks lies the Agnes Vaille Shelter. This little shelter was built after Vaille died in the area just after becoming the first woman to climb Longs Peak in the winter. While descending in 1925, she slipped and fell 150 feet. While her hiking partner went to fetch help, she fell asleep and froze to death before they could return. Now the shelter serves as refuge for fatigued hikers. Once passing through the Keyhole, weary hikers can pat themselves on the back. They have successfully hiked up the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. From the summit, at 13,200 feet, hikers get outstanding views of other popular hiking destinations in the park such as Powell Peak, McHenry Peak, Glacier Gorge and Black Lake. There are panoramic views from the top of the Keyhole, but climbing it is not recommended, especially on days with strong wind gusts.
Now all that is left is to rest up and head back down. This is not a loop trail, so the trek back is the same way and can be just as tiring as the hike back up. At 6.2 miles long, 12.4 miles round trip, this trail may not seem quite so strenuous but due to the elevation, rough terrain and steep climbs it often makes for a long and tiring trek. Many who are not accustomed to high altitude hiking often learn quickly just how tough it is the hard way. However, for those that can and do make the hike up to the Keyhole, it is undoubtedly one of the great achievements of their life.