“An out-and-back along a relatively flat spectacular alpine meadow.”
— Brian Smith
Birding · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Because this is an out-and-back, turn around whenever the kids get tired! The scenery is largely similar for the duration, so you won't miss much by heading back early.
Alpine ecosystems are extremely fragile. Please use extra consideration and stick to the trail.
This high alpine hike is characterized by unobstructed panoramic views throughout. On a clear day, countless towering peaks will be visible in every direction.
Need to Know
Take a thorough look at the weather report for the day before setting out.
This hike is extremely exposed and therefore can lead to multiple issues. In the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms are frequent occurrences. With few to no options for cover, lightning is a real threat up here. Large temperature swings and strong winds should also be on your radar if embarking on this portion of Ute Trail
Assuming the weather is perfect on the day of your hike, make sure to cover up and use proper sun protection as the sun's rays are extremely strong at this altitude.
From the Ute Crossing TH, start hiking up Ute Trail
. The trail is steep initially as you climb about 600 vertical feet to gain the ridge. Once on the ridge, the trail flattens out and stays that way for about 0.75 miles. Given this hike's elevation, you'll be above treeline whilst on the ridge, so plan on having breathtaking views on tap throughout.
To the north, views of the Fall River Valley and Bighorn Mountain abound. To the south, you'll be looking down into the Big Thompson River Gorge framed by Stones Peak. At around the one-mile mark, the trail will begin trending upward slightly before descending the saddle to the south of Tombstone Ridge. Keep an eye out for a large, lichen covered boulder next to the trail as you approach the saddle. This serves as the turn-around spot for the hike given that Ute Trail
begins a three mile, 2,700' descent at this point.
Flora & Fauna
The Alpine Ecosystem starting at elevations from 11,000 to 11,500 feet, depending on exposure, is an area of extremes. Strong, frequent winds and cold temperatures help limit what plants can grow there. Most alpine plants are perennials. Many plants are dwarfed, but their few blossoms may be full-sized. Cushion plants, looking like ground-hugging clumps of moss, escape the strong winds blowing a few inches above them. Cushion plants may also have long taproots extending deep into the rocky soil. Many flowering plants of the tundra have dense hairs on stems and leaves to provide wind protection or red-colored pigments capable of converting the sun's light rays into heat. Some plants take two or more years to form flower buds, which survive the winter below the surface and then open and produce fruit with seeds in the few weeks of summer.