North Inlet/Tonohutu Creek Loop
ElevationAscent: 3,911' 1,192 m
Descent: -3,896' -1,188 m
High: 12,208' 3,721 m
Low: 8,485' 2,586 m
GradeAvg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 34% (19°)
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“A 25+ mile loop starting at Grand Lake.”— Seth Burkey
Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
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: 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/….
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Land Manager: National Park Service - Rocky Mountain National Park