“A relatively easy but exposed trail to a gem in the center of RMNP.”
— Nathan Jamieson
Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This route quickly takes you above treeline for a fairly easy but exposed trail along the continental divide to an accessible peak overlooking all of Rocky Mountain National Park
Need to Know
I accidentally started to head southwest thinking there might be good trails but that was a mistake. Several of the trails that are marked on the map are unfortunately wrong or not maintained and very difficult to find and require significant trail finding to get back on track. If you start out going north from the parking lot you'll find the trail without any problems
Although this trail seems very straightforward you should be aware that after only a few miles this trail leaves you very exposed to the elements. Be prepared for cold winds, significant sun, and rapid changes in weather. If you get caught out in the open near the peak during one of the infamous afternoon thunderstorms, it will still take you several miles to make it back to the safety of the treeline.
Start from Poudre Lake Trailhead at Milner Pass and head northeast toward Poudre Lake. Parking fills up quickly and this area is known for it's afternoon thunderstorms so plan on getting there early if possible. You'll hike past the southern shore of Poudre Lake and at approx. 1/2 mile the Ute Trail
will break left and head toward the Alpine Visitor Center. You should keep right and follow the signs toward Mt Ida.
This will take you uphill and toward the southwest side of the hills. Early in the journey, you'll be rewarded with intermittent views of the Never Summer Mountains to the west. After you pass the treeline, you'll have ample opportunities to soak in the views of this mountain range, and you'll even be able to see Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain
Lake in the distance toward the south.
Following this well-traveled route will take you over intermittently steep slopes and flat trail, and you can move fairly quick over the following section. Be sure to stop at the saddle just before making the ascent to Mt Ida to see some temporary lakes fed by the glaciers in this region. Soon after this point, it may be tricky to find a steady trail to the top. On the way up, I followed a trail that routed me nearer the edge, but this gradually faded away as you scramble over larger and larger boulder fields. I was glad I brought my trekking poles for this section of the trail. If you are comfortable with this, continue to work your way uphill but away from the ridge edge toward the summit at just under 13k feet.
This amazing summit will give you incredible views of nearly the entire park as you straddle the continental divide. In the valley below you sits Azure and Inkwell lakes in the Cirque Basin. In the distance to the southeast you can see Longs Peak and to the southwest you can see Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain
Lake. Luckily there are a few places on the peak to take a break from the wind before starting your trek down.
As you head back downhill, you should follow the obvious trail but I should let you know that navigation can be tricky as you descend from the summit. You may be tempted to follow well-worn paths, but sometimes they lead to places in the middle of the alpine tundra with no easy way back to the original trail. I think the best thing to do is head back down the trail from the summit until you seem to be past the large rock field and take a right and work your way back toward the edge of the cliffs you came up on. This should get you back to the main trail and from there it is an easy trip back to the start.
Flora & Fauna
You may see alpine sunflowers or arctic gentian as well as marmots, picas, deer, bighorn sheep, and elk grazing on the open tundra