Thunder Lake Hike
Thunder Lake sits in the Wild Basin, a stunning mountain cirque in the Rocky Mountain National Park. This lesser visited, more secluded adventure into the high country offers unparalleled mountain views and the numerous cascading falls along the trail will motivate tired hikers.
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Route Description for Thunder Lake Hike
The Thunder Lake Hike is a stunning alpine adventure up to Wild Basin. This trail, though unforgettably scenic, demands stamina. Hike through the forested gulch and scramble up to Thunder Lake. This path can be completed as a lengthy day-hike or an epic overnight backpacking expedition. Either way, make sure to bring plenty of water and provisions as this excursion is challenging. Note you are travelling through bear country; consider a bear bell and put food in the designated storage lockers if you are camping overnight. Additionally, the North Saint Vrain Creek runs parallel to the trail and rewards hikers with vistas of cascading falls. These mediative falls tend to spray on the footpath, making terrain slippery, so mind your footing! Lastly, you will be climbing in elevation to an exposed lake; check the forecast to avoid getting caught in inclement weather!
Located in the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), hikers are required to purchase a park pass to hike the Thunder Lake Trail. The RMNP maintains the wonderfully scenic trail so it’s easy to navigate and in top-notch condition, so we don’t mind paying the fee. The combination of lush forests, waterfalls, alpine lakes, and mountain vistas make the Thunder Lake Hike one of the most scenic experiences in the Front Range. Put your endurance to the test as you ascend the forested gulch to the alpine lake. This trail packs a punch, and we couldn’t recommend it enough.
Embark on your Thunder Lake Hike adventure from the Wild Basin Trailhead. From the trailhead, track southwest on the path. This path will guide you through a mixed pine and aspen forest. Hike along the North Saint Vrain Creek, which will reward you with two cascading waterfalls just steps from the trailhead. Cross the Sandbeach Creek footbridge over to Lower Copeland Falls and to Upper Copland Falls. Enjoy the scenery and ambiance of these alpine waterfalls before venturing further up the path.
Continue hiking up the gradually ascending grade to a junction. Here you will notice the Pine Ridge Dispersed Campsites. Veer right, and you will be diverted onto the Thunder Lake Trail. As you climb this forested route, you will pass several dispersed campsites—if you are tired and have your gear, set up shop! If you still have some gas left in the tank, follow the increasingly steep trail past numerous other campsites. Keep your eyes out for bears as you adventure further into the wilderness.
Trek up the Thunder Lake Trail, noticing Twin Lakes on your right as you ascend. The route will continue to guide you along the curves of the North Saint Vrain Creek. At the next intersection, keep left along the Thunder Lake Trail. From this point, you will begin your final climb towards the lake. As you near Thunder Lake, the terrain will become increasingly exposed and rocky. Hike up the path to the shores of Thunder Lake.
Located in the Wild Basin cirque of the Continental Divide, Thunder Lake is set in the foreground of some impressive peaks. From the crystalline alpine lake, notice Tanima Peak in the southwest, Mount Alice in the northwest and Chiefs Head Peak in the north. Revel in the grandeur of the craggy summits that hem the alpine lake. Thunder Lake presents an ideal place to rejuvenate your tired feet. Dip your feet in the freezing waters and feel them come back to life.
Explore the lake’s shores and admire the quintessential alpine scenery. Also, notice the Thunder Lake Patrol Cabin. This one-room, log cabin was built in 1930 and was awarded a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. If you have your pack, you can camp at one of the many dispersed campsites nestled amongst the pine trees near the lake. When you are ready to return, simply retrace your steps along the paths all the way back to the trailhead.
Tanima Peak and Mount Alice
Tanima Peak and Mount Alice are the two Front Range summits that flank the Wild Basin. Tanima Peak is the smaller of the two, sitting at about 3,786 m in elevation.
Mount Alice on the other hand, is a proud member of the Colorado 13ers. Mount Alice sits at 4,058 m and is ranked 331 of 584 Colorado 13ers.
These peaks are some of the lesser visited in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Sitting to the east of the Continental Divide, these accessible peaks require no more than a Class 3 scramble to the summit. If you are seeking a lengthy summit hike in the RMNP, consider trekking one of these two hidden gems.
Insider Hints for Thunder Lake Hike
- Check the weather prior to your ascent to mitigate the chances of getting caught in an afternoon storm at the lake.
- Wear microspikes in the autumn and winter to navigate the inevitably icy terrain more easily.
- Be bear aware! Consider wearing a bear bell to deter any unwanted confrontations with the wildlife.
Getting to the Thunder Lake Hike Trailhead
The Thunder Lake Hike departs from the Wild Basin Trailhead at the end of County Highway 115.
Thunder Lake Hike Elevation Graph
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Thunder Lake Hike Reviews
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