Lion Lake, Wild Basin Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Lion Lake - 13.7 miles
Wild Basin Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||13.7 miles (see below for Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake data)|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,510' - 11,075' (11,108' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,565' net elevation gain (+2,859' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Lion Lake - 13.7 Miles Round-Trip
Lion Lake #1, Lion Lake #2, and Snowbank Lake are located in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. They occupy a tiered alpine basin framed by Pilot Mountain (12,222'), Mount Alice (13,310') and the north ridge of Mt Orton (11,724').
A maintained trail leads 6.85 miles to Lion Lake #1, past which an unmaintained but fairly well defined route continues up Trio Falls to Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake.
The trail rises beside North St Vrain Creek to spurs for Lower and Upper Copeland Falls (.35 and .45 miles). It reaches the backcountry campsite access trail split (1.35 miles : 8,860'), crosses the creek and climbs .45 miles to Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles : 9,108').
The trail wraps up a north-facing valley wall and passes through an area stricken by lightning-induced fire in 1978 (2.1 miles : 9,100'). Despite significant damage, the forest is in a natural state of recovery.
Grasses and wildflowers fill the hillsides, while young aspen and lodgepole emerge in replenished soils. In time, spruce and fir will succeed them and return the forest to its ecological climax.
The trail steepens to Ouzel Falls (2.6 miles : 9,366'), drops and rises back to the Ouzel Lake - Thunder Lake Trail split (2.95 miles : 9,418'). Follow signs for Thunder Lake.
The trail undulates higher and crosses back over the creek to its 2nd connection with the backcountry campsite access trail (3.35 miles : 9,505').
Here it steadies on a NW heading for 1.4 miles to the Thunder Lake - Lion Lake Trail split (4.7 miles : 10,025'). Make good time on this pleasant but unspectacular stretch to allow more time for difficult segments ahead.
The Lion Lake Trail splits NW and climbs 565' in just .85 miles on a shifting and potentially faint or obstructed path. Kinnikinnick carpets the forest floor between large boulders and pockets of spruce, and a number of ponds hidden just off trail are good places to see wildlife.
Grades moderate through 6.0 miles (10,690') and level in a clearing at 6.5 miles (11,083'). The trail emerges in open space with views of Mt Orton's north ridge, and skirts the edge of two large ponds (6.6 miles : 11,090') to a crest over Lion Lake #1 (6.7 miles : 11,125').
The trail may lose clarity in this oft-damp area, but is intuitively followed up the east side of the valley. Lion Lake #1 (6.85 miles : 11,075') occupies an idyllic alpine basin ringed by large, level meadows and several outlying ponds.
The lake basin is open and easy to explore. Head south for terrific views across the lake of Pilot Mountain, Mount Alice, and Mt Orton, or north to its braided, flower-lined inlet area.
Follow the maintained trail to Lion Lake #1's inlet, and cross where you're able. Look for cairns running up the west side of the inlet and follow them to the base of Trio Falls. Keep west of the stream, proceed cautiously over snowfields, and steer clear of cornices.
You'll scale a steep wall beside the falls and cross a small confluence just below the SW corner of Lion Lake #2 (7.25 miles : 11,260'). Break off your route and punch through tangles of willow and krummholz to reach the lake's south shore (7.35 miles : 11,413'), or simply continue up beside it. A pronounced cornice hangs off the lake's north side much of the year.
The route - now passing through open alpine tundra - keeps north to a second steep wall, which you'll scale to a crest overlooking Snowbank Lake. Drop to Snowbank Lake's west shore (7.7 miles : 11,523'), and scramble out into the middle of the lake on a natural jetty.
- N40 12.469 W105 33.993 — 0.0 miles : Wild Basin Trailhead
- N40 12.230 W105 34.391 — .45 miles : Spur to Upper Copeland Falls
- N40 12.022 W105 35.293 — 1.35 miles : Backcountry campsite access trail split #1
- N40 11.731 W105 35.426 — 1.8 miles : Calypso Cascades
- N40 11.939 W105 35.788 — 2.25 miles : Pass thru burn area
- N40 11.919 W105 35.981 — 2.6 miles : Ouzel Falls
- N40 12.094 W105 36.197 — 2.95 miles : Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake Trail junction
- N40 12.303 W105 36.403 — 3.35 miles : Backcountry campsite access trail split #2
- N40 12.493 W105 37.057 — 4.0 miles : Fast travel on mild grades in montane forest
- N40 12.771 W105 37.502 — 4.7 miles : Thunder Lake - Lion Lake Trail split
- N40 12.930 W105 37.675 — 5.0 miles : Steep, shifting travel in cluttered forest
- N40 13.051 W105 37.929 — 5.5 miles : Full transition to subalpine forest
- N40 13.425 W105 38.101 — 6.0 miles : Grade moderates on undulating course
- N40 13.755 W105 38.258 — 6.5 miles : Level in alpine meadow next to ponds
- N40 13.924 W105 38.284 — 6.85 miles : Lion Lake #1
- N40 14.104 W105 38.350 — 7.0 miles : Cross outlet stream to begin x-country
- N40 14.150 W105 38.441 — 7.25 miles : Cross confluence below Lion Lake #2
- N40 14.234 W105 38.467 — 7.35 miles : Lion Lake #2
- N40 14.366 W105 38.665 — 7.7 miles : Snowbank Lake
- The roundtrip hike to all three lakes is 15.4 miles, though distance may vary slightly by individual route. The net elevation gain to Snowbank Lake is 3,013', and the total roundtrip elevation gain is +3,347'.
- Manage travel time wisely and take advantage of long, mild stretches en route to Lion Lake #1.
- Be cognizant of changing weather conditions and get below treeline before storms develop. Note that the Continental Divide may conceal building clouds just behind it, and your vantage is limited as you climb higher.
- There are a number of backcountry campsites en route to Lion Lake and Thunder Lake. Check with the backcountry office well in advance, as these are popular sites and periodically close due to bear activity.
- Though moose are uncommon on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, you may find them in the Wild Basin high country. Moose, which are numerous on the Park's west side, sometimes migrate east over mountain passes once clear of snow. Moose can be aggressive during the rut, with calves, or when startled. Enjoy wildlife from a distance, and allow animals plenty of space to pass.
Camping and Backpacking Information
There are no designated backcountry campsites at Lion Lake, however zone camping is permitted and there are several nearby sites accessible from the Wild Basin Trailhead.
Backcountry Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park
- A permit is required for all backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Permits may be obtained from the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center Backcountry Office, or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake. Day-of-trip permits may be obtained in-person, year round.
- There's a $26 fee to backcountry camp in Rocky Mountain National Park (May 1 - October 31). This administrative fee covers each party (defined as an individual or group) for the duration of the trip. Note that park entrance fees are applied separately and in full.
Backcountry Campsites in the Wild Basin Area
Pine Ridge Backcountry Campsite
- The Pine Ridge site is located 1.4 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 8,880'. There are 2 individual sites and a privy. 2 backcountry sites are located in a lodgepole forest north of the trail, just east of the bridge across North St. Vrain Creek. A food storage cable is about 8 steps past the spur to site #1. It's in a small clearing to the left and runs perpendicular to the trail. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek.
Tahosa Backcountry Campsite
- The Tahosa site is located 1.7 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,040'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is .3 miles up the unimproved backcountry campsite access trail in a lodgepole stand at the edge of a small rocky bluff. Obtain water from N. St. Vrain Creek, approx. 160 yards downhill from the site.
Aspen Knoll Backcountry Campsite
- The Aspen Knoll site is located 2.0 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,400'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located along the unimproved backcountry campsite access trail in a mixed aspen-pine forest. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approximately 200 yards downhill from the site.
Siskin Backcountry Campsite
- The Siskin site is located 3.2 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,460'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a lodgepole stand. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approx. 135 yards downhill from the site.
North St Vrain Backcountry Campsite
- The N. St Vrain site is located 2.65 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,560'. There are 2 individual sites and a privy. The sites are located along the unimproved backcountry campsite access trail, right where it rejoins the main trail. A food storage cable is located 20 steps up the access trail in a small clearing on the left, and parallel to the trail. The sites lie in a thick lodgepole stand on the north side of the trail, just after it crosses N. St. Vrain Creek. Obtain water from the creek.
Thunder Lake Backcountry Campsite
- The Thunder Lake site is located 6.8 miles from the Wild Basin Trailhead at 10,574'. There are 3 individual sites, 1 group site and 1 stock site. The individual sites are located in a forested area north of the trail about 300 yards east of the lake. The stock site is about 100 yards from the lake on the south side of the trail and slightly east of the hitchrack. Obtain water from Thunder Lake's outlet stream.
- A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary; however, special regulations exist. It's your responsibility to know and obey them. Due to the dynamic nature of fisheries management, fishing regulations can change at anytime. Special closures may be put in place above and beyond what is listed here. Contact the park before heading out for current information.
- Method of Capture: Each person shall use only one hand-held rod or line. A 'second rod stamp' is not honored in park waters. Only artificial lures or flies with one (single, double, or treble) hook with a common shank may be used. "Artificial flies or lures" means devices made entirely of, or a combination of, materials such as wood, plastic, glass, hair, metal, feathers, or fiber, designed to attract fish.
- This does not include: (a) any hand malleable material designed to attract fish by the sense of taste or smell; (b) any device to which scents or smell attractants have been externally applied; (c) molded plastic devices less than one and one-half inch in length; (d) foods; (e) traditional organic baits such as worms, grubs, crickets, leeches, minnows, and fish eggs; and (f) manufactured baits such as imitation fish eggs, dough baits, or stink baits. Fly fishers may utilize a two hook system, where one hook is used as an attractant.
- While in possession of any fishing equipment, bait for fishing (insects, fish eggs, minnows, or other organic matter) or worms is prohibited. Children 12 years of age or under, however, may use worms or preserved fish eggs in all park waters open to fishing except those designated as catch-and release areas.
- No bait or worms are allowed in catch-and-release waters.
- Use of lead sinkers (or other lead fishing materials) is strongly discouraged.
Rules and Regulations
- A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
- Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Stock is not permitted at Lion Lake or on the Lion Lake Trail beyond the Lion Lake - Thunder Lake Trail split.
Directions to Trailhead
Lion Lake is accessed from the Wild Basin Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is located 2.3 miles west of Highway 7 between the towns of Allenspark and Estes Park.
From Estes Park, head south on Highway 7 for 11 miles to the Wild Basin turnoff on the west side of the road. Turn west on the dirt road to the entrance station .15 miles ahead. The Wild Basin Trailhead is located 2.15 miles from the entrance station. Parking is limited, and roadside restrictions are strictly enforced.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517-8397