Hiking Project Logo

North Inlet/Tonohutu Creek Loop

  4.4 ( 11 ) Favorite


26.6 mile 42.8 kilometer loop


Ascent: 3,911' 1,192 m
Descent: -3,896' -1,188 m
High: 12,208' 3,721 m
Low: 8,485' 2,586 m


Avg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 34% (19°)


No Dogs
Driving directions Take a virtual tour
Zoom in to see details
Map Key

Trail shared by Seth Burkey

A 25+ mile loop starting at Grand Lake.

Seth Burkey

Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife


Start on the North Inlet Trail and connect up with the Tonohutu Creek Trail around mile 12. The trail rises to over 12,000 ft. from Grand Lake to Flattop Mountain.


The North Inlet Trail follows the North Inlet Creek most of the way from its mouth at Grand Lake all the way to its headwaters atop the Continental Divide at Chiefs Head Peak. This trail has its own trailhead, the North Inlet Trail, located just north of Grand Lake.

Head east on the trail as it follows a wide valley and enjoy the views of the marshlands. Soon after starting out, the trail enters a narrower, more rugged landscape. The lower reaches of this trail are very well-traveled and meander at lower grades along the creekside. There are numerous attractions along the way including Cascade Falls and Big Pool.

Eventually, the trail comes to a junction with Lake Nanita Trail which branches off to the south. Immediately following this junction, North Inlet Trail changes character as it rises steeply through a series of switchbacks and ends above treeline. The upper reaches of North Inlet Trail are much steeper and more rugged as the trail ascends towards its terminus near Flattop Mountain. This terminus is a three-way junction with Flattop Mountain Trail and Tonohutu Creek Trail.

One of the longer trails in the park, the Tonohutu Creek Trail is a segment of the much longer Continental Divide Trail (CDT). It rises from the shores of Grand Lake, through beautiful forests and meadows, to its terminus at Flattop Mountain.

To start a hike on this trail, navigate to the Tonohutu Trailhead off of West Portal Rd. and head north on the trail. About a mile into the trail, you'll arrive at the Tonohutu Spur, which leads to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. The trail parallels the Tonahutu Creek up a very manageable grade to Big Meadows, 4.2 miles from the visitor center.

Just as you enter the aptly named Big Meadows, you'll see a trail that spurs off to the west. This is the Green Mountain Trail, which climbs over a saddle and back down into the Kawuneeche Valley. At the north end of the meadows, another trail, the Onahu - Tonohutu Connector, will spur off to the left, this time leading to the Onahu Creek Trail.

After you've sufficiently enjoyed the sweeping views on offer in Big Meadows, prepare for the trail's grade to steepen as Tonohutu Creek Trail begins climbing the drainage between Snowdrift Peak and Nakai Peak. Roughly seven miles into the trail, you'll come to another major attraction: Granite Falls. There are some backcountry campsites located near the falls.

If continuing past the falls, get ready for your hike to increase in difficulty exponentially. Just past a junction with Haynack Lakes Trail, the Tonohutu Creek Trail starts to climb the southern flank of Sprague Peak. The grade stays steep for about a mile and a half during which time your surroundings will transition from coniferous forest to alpine meadow. Once above tree line, views of surrounding peaks are panoramic. Continue along the alpine trail for another couple of miles to its terminus at Flattop Mountain where the North Inlet Trail and Flattop Mountain Trail come together.

Flora & Fauna

RMNP is a massive park that is mostly characterized by a montane ecosystem. Here are some of the Flora and Fauna that you may encounter along this trail:

Flora: Ponderosa pine, douglas fir, wildflowers, shrubs
Fauna: Elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, coyotes, black bears, cougars, butterflies.

For more detailed information regarding the park's diverse ecosystems visit nps.gov/romo/naturescience/….

Hiked this trail?

We need help with the following missing trail information:

Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Need to Know, History & Background


Rate This Featured Hike

Rate Quality

   Clear Rating

Rate Difficulty

Share This Hike

Check In


Sep 27, 2019
Sara Jennings
Flattop Mountain is no joke! Be prepared to be pummeled by crazy winds for hours. Have plenty of layers and a knit cap. Tons of beautiful views!
Sep 25, 2019
Beau Jennings
Great hike! Wasn't easy and haynatch was 25 degrees the first night. Going clockwise along this loop really worked out well for us. 9 miles each day 28mi
Sep 8, 2019
Charles Yue
Sep 2, 2019
Luke Snow
4 day trip clockwise. Super enjoyable trip. Above tree line is stunning. Heard elk bulging on day 3. 26.6mi
Aug 4, 2019
Felipe Castro
3 nights with two hikes: lake nanitaa and 26mi
Sep 14, 2018
Miranda Yee
Aug 24, 2018
Cynthia B.
Aug 14, 2018
Clark Maness

Trail Ratings

  4.4 from 11 votes


in Grand Lake


  4.4 from 11 votes
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Featured Hike Rankings


in Grand Lake


in Colorado


278 Views Last Month
8,485 Since Jul 6, 2017



Rocky Mountain National Park: Yellow-Bellied Marmot
Jan 15, 2015 near Grand Lake, CO
Big Meadow
Jan 21, 2015 near Grand Lake, CO
Ptarmigan Point - North Inlet/Tonahutu trail junction.  VERY windy!
Jul 20, 2016 near Grand Lake, CO
Granite Falls.
Jan 19, 2016 near Grand Lake, CO
Granite Falls
Jan 15, 2015 near Grand Lake, CO
Fire and Avalanche
Jan 21, 2015 near Grand Lake, CO


Hiking Project is part of the REI Co-op family,
where a life outdoors is a life well lived.

Shop REI Hiking