Backpack Alpine Terrain to Haynach Lakes

Rate this Adventure Colorado Milner Pass Trailhead

Added by Crystal Brindle

  • Summit two peaks on the way to camp
  • Optional third summit
  • Grand alpine views
  • Backpack in a pristine lake basin
  • Hike through rarely visited terrain
  • The trek is 16-18 miles depending on which route you choose to take back

Begin at the Milner Pass Trailhead off of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Commonly used to summit Mount Ida, this trailhead is often popular with summer hikers. The trail climbs steeply through the trees before revealing open slopes of tundra and fantastic panoramic views. Although not officially marked on the map, the trail does continue almost to the 12,889 foot summit of Mount Ida. After enjoying the expansive views of turquoise lakes and endless peaks, descend the saddle to the southeast and then climb the short rocky slope to the summit of Chief Cheley Peak (12,804 feet).

From here - proper navigation is key. Walk the ridge south from the summit of Chief Cheley Peak. The often frozen Highest Lake will be visible below you to your left. Despite its name, this lake is actually the second highest in Rocky Mountain National Park. Continue walking and scrambling across the ridge until you see a rocky slope below you to the southwest that is mild enough to descend. Once you descend this slope of talus and grass, continue walking south toward Haynach Lakes. Again, proper navigation and route finding is necessary. You will not see the lakes, but you will see the saddle between an unnamed peak and Nakai Peak which lies directly above the lakes.

Once at the saddle you can choose to either descend to Haynach Lakes or climb the ridge to Nakai Peak to the west. On our trip, we chose to drop our packs and quickly grab the summit of Nakai Peak (12,216 feet). The peak provides great views of the Onahu drainage, Haynach Lakes, and the route traversed to reach this point over Mount Ida and Chief Cheley to the north.

Whichever option you choose, you will descend from the saddle to Haynach Lakes before camping for the evening. Descend over steep grassy slopes to upper Haynach Lakes. Walk beside the lakes on the east side until you find a small trail heading south. Continue following this trail for approximately one mile until you see the sign indicating the Haynach campsite.

If you're interested in photography - definitely rise early to catch the sunrise at one of the lower Haynach Lakes!


Two vehicles are essential to complete this trip as the most enjoyable way to hike out from Haynach is to descend 7.3 miles on trail to the Green Mountain Trailhead. Therefore, leave a car at Milner Pass and Green Mountain if at all possible. This trip ranges from 16 to 18 miles round-trip depending on your selected off-trail route and whether or not you choose to summit Nakai Peak.

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stove
  • Water purification
  • Map and compass
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Trekking poles
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Backpacking, Camping, Fitness, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



17 Miles



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Added by Crystal Brindle

I'm Crystal, a park ranger for the National Park Service in the United States and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand - you'll find me floating between hemispheres as the seasons change. I am an avid landscape photographer and wilderness explorer committed to capturing the scenes and moments that inspire me and require dedication to experience. Living in national parks throughout my life, I've developed a deep appreciation for the natural world. This appreciation drives my passion for protecting wild places today. My first job as a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park inspired me to spend my time exploring the depths of the park’s wilderness and instilled a sense of adventure that extends into all areas of my life. I now actively seek backcountry recreation that takes me into remote corners of mountainous regions all over the world. I have had the opportunity to live and work in some of the most intriguing places our world has to offer - from the high places of Colorado, to the South Island of New Zealand, to the rugged Alaska Peninsula, and many locations in between. I feel that the only way to truly get to know a place is to meet it on its own terms and to embrace its challenges through which its beauty is revealed. To me this is the definition of wilderness and the foundation of my photography.
 Since I began this journey of photography three years ago, I have honed my interests to focus on high-alpine mountain landscapes inaccessible to all except those who travel on foot. These are the landscapes that captivate me. I feel drawn to share their remarkable qualities through the visual narrative of photography and short stories of personal experience. This is a craft that I am refining daily and my photography is only a work-in-progress but I feel that this effort is worthwhile as I strive to let the landscape tell its own story and act as a vector for its message. 
 What's next? After a summer of living with brown bears and climbing mountains under the midnight sun in Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, I'm heading back to New Zealand to further explore the wonders of the South Island and work as a Hut Warden on the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park.

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