Otis Peak, Bear Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Otis Peak - 12.0 miles
Bear Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||12.0 miles (distance and elevation gains may vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,475' - 12,486' (12,486' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+3,011' net elevation gain (+4,182' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Otis Peak - 12.0 Miles Round-Trip
Otis Peak (12,486') caps an arete along the Continental Divide between Chaos Canyon (north), and Andrews Glacier (south). No maintained trail reaches Otis Peak, however a well-established route continues south from Flattop Mountain across open tundra to the summit.
Visitors will enjoy exceptional views and insight to the Park's complex glacial formation:
The trail rises quickly over Bear Lake through young aspen to the Odessa Lake - Mill Creek Basin Trail split (.45 miles : 9,725'). It climbs steadily in a spruce-fir forest to the Flattop Mountain Trail (1.0 mile : 9,965'), which steepens considerably on a rough, winding path.
Thick timber breaks at Dream Lake Overlook with good views up Glacier Gorge, and of Keyboard of the Winds on Longs Peak's west ridge (1.6 miles : 10,470').
Steady, steep climbing resumes in a thinning forest to Emerald Lake Overlook, which provides a commanding view over the gorge carved by Tyndall Glacier, one of five active glaciers in the Park (2.9 miles : 11,357').
Grades moderate as you transition through treeline (2.5 - 3.0 miles : 11,440'), where the once towering forest is reduced to thin bands of krummholz.
Krummholz - a German word meaning twisted wood - describes the stunted, irregular growth patterns of trees in the ecological transition zone between subalpine forests and alpine tundra. Poor soil, thin air, strong winds, and extreme weather limit and deform growth at these elevations.
Grades steady on a well-defined path into the open tundra. Tread carefully over snowfields, and use cairns for guidance. The trail passes a hitchrack (3.9 miles, 12,135') with a good look at Tyndall Glacier and Hallett Peak (12,713').
The trail scales a perennial snowfield over the hitchrack and levels up to Flattop Mountain (4.3 miles : 12,324'), which is more aptly described as a broad flat along the Divide. No sign marks the summit, however the Flattop Mountain Trail - Tonahutu Trail junction is generally recognized as the summit.
To reach Otis Peak, turn south and follow the faint path toward Hallett Peak. While this will add some additional climbing, it's the most direct route, and preferable to damaging sensitive tundra grasses on improvised routes.
The rocky path edges around the top of Tyndall Glacier (4.5 miles : 12,318'), a useful landmark and beginning of the turn up to Hallett Peak. Continue on as if you were to summit Hallet, but break south and continue toward Otis at 4.7 miles (12,475').
Here you'll drop to a long saddle between Hallett and Otis Peak with a terrific look down Chaos Canyon (5.5 miles : 12,096'). Glass the open tundra for herds of elk and bighorn sheep, which are fairly common during summer months. Follow the saddle up, and scramble across the arete (6.3 miles : 12,287') to the summit of Otis Peak (6.0 miles : 12,486').
Views from the summit include Taylor Peak (13,153'), Longs Peak (14,259'), Notchtop Mountain (12,129'), Ptarmigan Point (12,363'), Andrews Peak (12,565'), and portions of the Mummy Range, Never Summer Range and Grand Lake area. Andrews Tarn lies just below Andrews Glacier, but it's difficult to see without potentially hazardous maneuvering.
- N40 18.714 W105 38.760 — 0.0 miles : Bear Lake Trailhead
- N40 19.048 W105 38.636 — .45 miles : Bierstadt Lake access trail split
- N40 18.986 W105 39.187 — 1.0 miles : Flattop Mountain - Odessa Lake trail split
- N40 18.753 W105 39.550 — 1.6 miles : Dream Lake overlook
- N40 18.851 W105 39.776 — 1.95 miles : Rocky climb in thinning forest
- N40 18.876 W105 39.896 — 2.25 miles : Begin transition through treeline
- N40 18.872 W105 40.223 — 2.85 miles : Emerald Lake Overlook
- N40 18.963 W105 40.351 — 3.05 miles : Steady travel in rocky tundra
- N40 18.775 W105 40.779 — 3.5 miles : Grade moderates with views of Notchtop
- N40 18.617 W105 41.059 — 3.9 miles : Hitchrack at base of perennial snow field
- N40 18.535 W105 41.415 — 4.3 miles : Flattop Mountain Summit
- N40 18.306 W105 41.461 — 4.7 miles : Break off Hallett Peak route and head S
- N40 17.853 W105 41.298 — 5.25 miles : Drops down Hallett to Chaos saddle
- N40 17.651 W105 41.241 — 5.5 miles : Saddle over Chaos Canyon - begin climb
- N40 17.490 W105 41.021 — 5.8 miles : Reach arete, begin summit scramble
- N40 17.543 W105 40.829 — 6.0 miles : Otis Peak
- An arete occurs where two adjacent glaciers erode toward one another, leaving only a thin, steep rock ridge between their parallel U-shaped valleys. Otis Peak caps an arÃªte between glaciers that carved Chaos Canyon (north), and Andrews Glacier (south).
- The alpine tundra ecosystem ranges from 11,000'-11,500' up to the highest points in the Park. Extreme conditions limit what plants can grow, and those that do are extremely fragile. Most alpine plants are perennials, many are dwarfed, but their blossoms may be full-sized. Many flowering plants of the tundra have dense hairs on stems and leaves for 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 winters below the surface and then open and produce fruit with seeds in the few weeks of summer.
- Cushion plants escape strong winds by growing close to the ground, and anchor themselves with long taproots. Where tundra soil is well-developed, grasses and sedges are common. Non-flowering lichens cling to rocks and soil. Their enclosed algal cells can photosynthesize at any temperature above 32 degrees, and outer fungal layers can absorb more than their own weight in water.
- Over 6 miles of the roundtrip hike to Otis Peak run above treeline and are fully exposed. Carry versatile layers and ample water. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Only prepared hikers should attempt travel beyond the maintained trail to Flattop Mountain.
Camping and Backpacking Information
There are no designated backcountry campsites on the Flattop Mountain Trail or the cross-country route leading to Otis Peak, however there are several nearby sites accessible from the Bear Lake Trailhead.
Permits are required for all overnight stays. Fires are not permitted within Rocky Mountain National Park. Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the silver metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail:
- Sourdough Backcountry Campsite (10,628')
- There is one designated site located 2.65 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, 60 yards north of the main trail on the south flank of Joe Mills Mountain. The site is located in a level spruce bench. One bear box is available. Water is available year-round from the North Fork of Mill Creek, Lake Helene and Two Rivers Lake.
- There are two designated sites located 4.1 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead in a spruce-fir stand east of Odessa Lake on the north side of its outlet stream. The sites are located just over the log bridge crossing of this stream. One bear box is available. Water is available year-round from Odessa Lake and its outlet stream.
- There is one group site and four individual sites located 5.1 miles and 5.3 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, respectively. Both are located in a mixed pine forest on the NE and NW sides of Fern Lake, respectively. Each has access to a bear box and privy. Water is available year-round from Fern Lake, its inlet and outlet streams.
Odessa Lake Backcountry Campsite (10,065')
Fern Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,530')
Directions to Trailhead
Otis Peak is accessed from the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's located 8.9 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on Bear Lake Road.
Turn left onto Bear Lake Road just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station. The Bear Lake Trailhead is located at the end of this road. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park