Late-June to Fall
Standard group size is 6:1; private tours available
Intermediate to advanced
Thunder Lake is the ultimate classic RMNP backpacking trip
This challenging and rewarding Rocky Mountain National Park guided tour takes you to two high-alpine lakes, including base camp at the breathtaking Thunder Lake. Wild Basin offers hidden gems away from the crowds. You’ll visit multiple waterfalls, hidden cirques and optional off-trail adventures in the RMNP high country. Thunder Lake hiking also offers forest camping and remote wilderness thanks to a 12,000-foot elevation gain. You haven’t seen the park like this!
Most Popular Itineraries
3-Day Thunder Lake Backpacking Trip
Thunder Lake sits at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin, one of the more scenic and isolated cirques. You can expect stunning days in the high country thanks to waterfalls, high-alpine lakes and sweeping views of the Continental Divide. The 17-mile hike is truly a remote adventure.
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. Your full 22-mile hike is brimming with mountain views and rewarding climbs.
Spend three or four days in the high country, complete with relaxing mornings at your Thunder Lake camp and days exploring the surrounding wilderness. This tour is designed to take you five to seven miles each day to scenic viewpoints and past famous features in the lesser-traveled valley. Rocky Mountain National Park highlights include towering cascades, meadows full of wildflowers and the option to summit Tanima Peak sitting 12,420 feet in elevation. Spend your additional day traversing off-trail for a visit to hidden scenery at the South Fork of North St. Vrain Creek.
Guides we recommend
Things you need to know
Why should I book with 57hours?
With us, it’s all play and no work for you! 57hours is an open platform that connects you with trained and certified outdoor adventure professionals all over the world. Using our tech-savvy, we make it super easy to find and book adventures worth tackling, with guides worth booking, all gathered from the first-hand experiences of the locals who adventure in these amazing locations.
Why should I go hiking?
Cars just don’t do Rocky Mountain National Park justice. Why view this breathtaking landscape passively through a window, when you can walk to alpine lakes and smell the fresh wildflowers dotting the Colorado meadows? Hiking is undoubtedly the best way to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park’s striking terrain and experience the untouched nature around you.
What you get in this adventure:
- An experienced local guide with extensive knowledge of the area
- Trail snacks and a picnic lunch
- All meals
- Alpine-ready tent
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Technical backpack
- Trekking Poles
- National park entrance fee and permits
- Bear canisters
- Cooking stoves and cookware
- Transfers to and from Estes Park to the national park
- First-aid kit and satellite phone
What’s not included:
- Travel insurance
What can I expect from hiking with a guide?
Hiring a local guide offers you the chance to experience Rocky Mountain National Park’s beauty to the fullest. Local guides know all the hidden gems the area has to offer, will explain the history and geology during the hike, and will transport you to and from the destination. RMNP also has notoriously fickle weather, but your guide will know just what to do if the weather takes a turn or something unexpected happens.
What do I need to bring?
Here’s a list of the equipment you need to bring:
- Two one-litre water bottles
- Sleeping bag
- 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
- Trekking poles
- Camera — optional (but recommended)
What’s the itinerary?
This Rocky Mountain hiking tour begins in Estes Park before driving to the trailhead. You’ll do a final gear check before starting a two-mile hike to the scenic Copeland Falls. The rest of the 6.8-mile hike to Thunder Lake is up North St. Vrain Creek. Your group will set up near the lake in a meadow overlooking snow-capped peaks. You then get a well-deserved dinner before capping off the night with a high-alpine sunset.
You’ll ease into the day with a hearty breakfast at camp to prepare for six miles of hiking on day two. We’ll switch to light day packs for exploring in the nearby mountains. Heading west, and depending on the time of year, you’ll travel through countless wildflowers up toward the Continental Divide and the Lake of Many Winds below Boulder-Grand Pass. If conditions allow, you can attempt to summit nearby Tanima Peak sitting 12,420 feet in elevation.
Day Three (four-day trip only)
Day three is a highlight for the opportunity to hike off-trail up the South Fork of North St. Vrain Creek. You’ll cross the valley to see the might of Mertensia Falls. You’ll continue to two more high-alpine lakes, Box and Eagle lakes, sitting just below the Continental Divide. Wildflowers and wildlife are common sights in this area. Enjoy a picnic lunch before hiking back to camp at Thunder Lake.
Day Three or Four
Your final relaxing morning will be spent near Thunder Lake before breaking down camp. You’ll switch up trail for the descent traveling past Rocky Mountain National Park highlights, including winding Ouzel Creek, the 50-foot tall Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades tucked in a forest. You’ll return to the Wild Basin Trailhead marking the end of your Thunder Lake hike. Your guide will take you on a short shuttle back to Estes Park and drop you off at your hotel.
How fit do I need to be?
You need to be able to hike for full days, carrying a full daypack. Each day you will hike between five and seven miles, over four days. The alpine terrain can be challenging and the weather unpredictable. That said, if you are looking for adventure and up to the task of multiple days of full-day trekking, you’ll be rewarded immensely.
Additional training recommendations for intermediate and advanced day hikes, include hiking for three days per week at least 12 weeks prior to your trip. Start with short hikes about one hour in length with a light daypack. Also, the altitude can really catch people off guard, so for a 72-hour period before your trip begins, ensure that you are consuming sufficient amounts of sodium and fluids.
What is the minimum age requirement?
Everybody over the age of 12 is welcome on this hiking adventure. Children five and older can join on private tours on a case-by-case basis.
What about group sizes and pricing?
Groups usually consist of six guests and one guide, with a private tour maximum of 10 guests and two guides if you’re traveling with a larger party. All pricing is per person.
What about bad weather?
The Colorado Rocky Mountains are home to infamously unpredictable weather, so you need to be prepared with the right gear. The same white cloud shielding you from sunbeams can easily turn into a stormcloud plummeting hailstones within minutes. Rest assured, your guide will know the correct course of action if the weather throws a curveball.
Do I need an insurance policy?
It’s highly recommended that you cover all your bases with travel and medical insurance. While hiking might seem like a low-risk outdoor activity, accidents can happen anywhere and we recommend insurance to avoid paying out of pocket for costly medical expenses. And as we’ve recently seen, travel plans can be abruptly halted, so it’s a good idea to have cancellation insurance that also covers lost baggage. It’s tried and tested and it works.
All policies regarding cancellation, rescheduling and trip insurance will be clearly laid out by your guide prior to booking your adventure. Contact us if you’d like more information on a specific adventure.
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.