Top three reasons to go hiking in Thunder Lake
Experience freezing lakes and scenic waterfalls in Colorado’s high country
Set up camp near Thunder Lake for a meditative wilderness experience
Relish in diverse alpine hikes that never get stale
Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin, nestled far away from the overwhelming crowds, abounds with hidden gems. And Thunder Lake may just be the biggest one of them. With an abundance of magnificent waterfalls, crystal-clear alpine lakes, and stunning views of the surrounding 13,000+ foot tall summits, the scenery here is a thing to behold. How do you get to experience said scenery? Through challenging but rewarding hikes on classic Rocky Mountain ridges and peaks. Thunder Lake may be Rocky Mountain National Park’s hidden secret, but it’s certainly one every hiker and backpacker should know about.
Late-June to Fall
Standard group size is 6:1; private tours available
Intermediate to advanced
Book this adventure
3-Day Thunder Lake Backpacking Trip
Take a trip to Wind Basin, one of the most stunning and crowd-free cirques in Rocky Mountain National park. Let a seasoned local guide lead you to the shores of Thunder Lake, and hike through some truly magnificent high country. Set up a base camp near Thunder Lake, and venture high into the alpine peaks, hanging valleys, and hidden cirques of the Continental Divide.
4-Day Thunder Lake Backpacking Trip
On the four-day hiking trip to Thunder Lake RMNP, you’ll head off-trail to the South Fork of North St. Vrain Creek. Enjoy a gorgeous 5-mile hike for additional opportunities to see marmot, pikas and bighorn sheep. Spend a day off the beaten path, hiking to the majestic Mertensia Falls waterfall. Your full 22-mile hike is brimming with mountain views and rewarding climbs!
Day 1: Trek to Thunder Lake
Your trip starts with a scenic drive from Estes Park to the trailhead. After a final fit with the backpacks, the hike begins. In the first two miles, you will hike past Copeland Falls – a beautiful cascade along North St. Vrain Creek. The remainder of the trek continues up North St. Vrain Creek to the camp at Thunder Lake. Camp a short distance from the lake, next to a serene meadow with breathtaking views into the high country’s snow-capped peaks. After a tasty dinner and a stunning sunset, settle in for the night.
Day 2: The Higher Mountains
After a relaxing morning and a hearty breakfast, depart with light backpacks for a day of hiking and exploring in the higher mountains. Hike west through an alpine basin thick with thousands of wildflowers and up to the Continental Divide. The Lake of Many Winds sits very near the Divide below Boulder-Grand Pass. Hike around the lake and up to the pass for views into the lush, western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. If your group’s up for it, go for a summit attempt of the 12,420ft tall Tanima Peak.
Day 3: Waterfalls and Wildflowers (4-Day Itinerary Only)
After breakfast, head for an off-trail hike up the South Fork of North St. Vrain Creek. After traversing into the valley, reach Mertensia Falls, a waterfall that thunders down through steep drainage. Continue hiking up the valley and you’ll arrive at Box and Eagle Lakes, which reside below the Continental Divide. Wildflowers are abundant throughout this entire hike, as are opportunities to see marmot, pikas, and bighorn sheep. Eat lunch with a view before turning back and making your way to camp.
Day 3/4: Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades
After a relaxing morning and a big breakfast, break camp and begin your hike back to the trailhead. You’ll hike a slightly different trail on the way back that takes you along Ouzel Creek, past Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades, both Rocky Mountain water features well worth seeing. Ouzel Falls is a sheer waterfall about 50 feet high, and Calypso Cascades is a beautiful stretch of tumbling water in a thick Lodgepole Pine forest. Arriving at Wild Basin Trailhead marks the end of your backpacking trip; after a short shuttle ride back to Estes Park, your guides will drop you off at your hotel, where warm showers await you!
Meet your guide
If you want to get away from the crowds, into the beautiful backcountry, this is a great choice! The first day is difficult, no doubt, but worth the effort. The scenery was amazing and you also get to hang out with like-minded travelers who quickly become new friends.
I couldn’t be more happy with the experience my daughter and I had. Everything was amazing! Our guides Charles and Zion both were very knowledgeable and very fun to be around. They both went out of their way to make my daughter and me comfortable. The views and experience were great, but Charles and Zion both made the trip awesome!
The Rocky Mountain Thunder Lake backpack was a wonderful way to ease into backpacking. The pre-trip information and communication were great. The equipment was modern and top-notch. Our guide, Floyd, made his love of the mountains known and took good care of us- keeping us dry whenever possible, preparing well-thought-out and tasty and nutritious meals and snacks, and adjusting the hikes to the weather and our abilities and preferences. I felt safe and cared for, but still adventurous and prepared for my next outdoor experience.
Things to know
Covid measures in Thunder Lake, Colorado
57hours is committed to providing safe outdoor adventure experiences. We require all guides using our platform to have a COVID-19 safety plan and to make the details of that plan accessible to travelers. In most cases, group sizes will be reduced, guides will avoid overcrowded locations, and other safety measures will be met depending on the location and activity.
We also expect clients to respect local regulations and take measures to protect themselves, their guides, and the communities they’re traveling to. For more information on COVID-19 measures in Thunder Lake, Colorado, please refer to the official Colorado COVID-19 updates website.
Please contact us if you have any questions or require further information. We are happy to provide you with the most up-to-date information!
What you get on this adventure:
- An experienced, local hiking guide with extensive knowledge of the area
- 3-4 days of hiking and camping depending on your chosen itinerary
- Use of tent, sleeping pad, and multi-day backpack
- Use of trekking poles
- Entrance fees and national park permits
- Transportation for the duration of your tour
- Bear canisters for food storage
- Emergency equipment, including first aid kit and satellite phone
What’s not included:
- Accommodation before and after the trip
How fit do I need to be?
The best thing about hiking in Thunder Lake is that there are incredible options for all skill levels. For beginner hikes, if you can walk for four to six hours with little elevation gain, you are good to go! Intermediate hikes will see a little more change in elevation and hikes will start to increase in length, hiking anywhere between four to eight miles. Advanced hikes are full-day treks with steep descents and challenging switchbacks. Keep in mind, the weather in summer can be very hot and you’ll also be packing a daypack filled with water and other things you’ll need throughout the day.
What do I need to bring?
Here’s a list of the equipment you need to bring:
- Two one-liter water bottles
- Hiking boots
- Spare warm clothes
- Minimum of three pairs of wool socks
- Compass & map
- Toiletries (sunscreen, first aid kit, toilet paper, etc.)
- High-quality sunglasses
- Bug spray
- Camera — optional (but recommended)
Dress comfortably and for the weather in clothes you can move in. We suggest bringing clothing appropriate for the season. Layers are best and don’t wear jeans.
Group sizes and age requirements
Group sizes and pricing:
- For the group adventure, the usual client-to-guide ratio is 6:1. It takes a minimum of 4 people for a tour to operate. The cost does not decrease as the group grows.
Hiking in Thunder Lake can be arranged for larger groups. Contact us to make arrangements.
Min. age requirements:
- If you are older than 18, you’re good to go.
- Minors as young as 12 may be permitted to join private tours, with final approval and specific logistics requirements on a case-by-case basis
If your group has hikers under the age of 18, contact us prior to booking to make arrangements.
Getting there and meeting location
The meeting location is at your hotel or agreed upon meeting place in Estes Park, CO. From there, you’ll be transferred to Rocky Mountain National Park. Your guide will transfer you back upon departure. If you’re driving separately, you can also meet your guide at the park or follow them to the trailhead.
Once you and your guide agree on the details of your itinerary, your guide will suggest the best place to meet, whether that’s at the guide shop in Estes Park or a predetermined location. The guide will choose the appropriate terrain dependent on conditions and the ability of the group.