Staunton SP

Staunton SP

Friday, January 16, 2015

Black Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park

Black Canyon
Rocky Mountain National Park

Date Hiked: January 16, 2015

Distance: 8.1 mi (RT)
Elevation Gain: 1,657ft
Elevation Min/Max: 7,879 to 9,093ft
Trailhead Lat/Long: 40.396513, -105.513025
Managing Agency: National Park Service
Fee: No

Rocky Mountain National Park Website (NPS)

Directions:  From downtown Estes Park, head north on 34 past the Stanley Hotel and make a right on MacGregor Ave.  Make another right onto Devil's Gulch Rd and look for the signs for Lumpy Ridge Trailhead on the left.  There is no fee to hike into RMNP from here.

The rock formations of Lumpy Ridge are massive and iconic and there is no better hike to experience these formations then the hike up the Black Canyon Trail.  The first 2 miles of the hike makes for an easy stroll along the base of Lumpy Ridge and if you are looking for an easy hike with great scenery and views, you can just hike these 2 miles and turn back when you enter the forest.  Once you enter the forest, you gain 1,200 ft of altitude over the next 2 miles before you reach the trail junction with the Dark Mountain Trail, the turn around spot for this hike.  Those first 2 miles are the most scenic and very easy going.

From the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead head west on the Twin Owls Trail.  For .6 miles you'll weave through the rock garden with terrific views of the aptly named Twin Owls formation to your right.  When you reach the trail junction, veer left for the Black Canyon Trail, you'll cross a road and find yourself at a wonderful viewpoint.  Long's Peak and the Continental Divide are towering over the meadows in the distance.  Continue on for views of the Lumpy Ridge formation as you cross meadows and cow pastures.  With each turn you'll get up-close and personal with the towering spires, domes, and cliffs.  Soon you'll spot the gates of Black Canyon consisting of the Sundance and Thunder Buttresses and you'll have to remind yourself that you are in Rocky Mt. NP not Yosemite.

If you want to get to the base of the cliffs and be able to look up to a rocky eternity, take one of the many climbing access trails along the way, trail signs will point you up the steep trails.

At about the 2 mile mark you enter the pine forest and the trail gets steeper.  The views of the formations start to get obscured by the trees but the forest itself is peaceful and serene.  Keep on pushing up-hill, sneaking up on Sundance Buttress from behind.  After 2 difficult miles you'll reach the Dark Mountain Trail.  From the trail sign you'll be staring at Dark Mountain to the west and you'll be able to see Long's Peak in all it's glory to the south...through some trees of course.  At this point you can turn around or continue by turning right make a long 11+ mile loop to Gem Lake and back to the trailhead.  If you head back the way you came, you'll have hiked 8.1 miles.

There are many ways to experience Lumpy Ridge, the Twin Owls Trail and the hike to Gem Lake are great, but only Black Canyon allows you be fully awed by the towering formations.  While this area appears less dramatic then the rest of the higher elevation park, when you're staring up at the Buttresses, or the Book Cliffs, or even Twin Owls from the west (way better than the view that actually makes the rocks look like owls...) you'll understand why this area was added to the park.  It truly is a national park worthy landscape.

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