• Activities:

    Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Summer

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    19 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    2460 Feet

Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

This beautiful area of Rocky Mountain National Park is seldom visited and provides some of the most rugged mountain scenes you’ll find anywhere. Visit five alpine lakes and enjoy high country backpacking. A small portion of off-trail travel is required to reach the upper lake.

This summer backpacking trip provides plenty of opportunities for exploration and endless moments to take in awe-inspiring scenery. On our visit, after setting up camp at the Lake Verna backcountry site, I quickly made my way to the next lake (Spirit Lake) to photograph the sunset. The symmetry and placement of Spirit Lake in the glacially carved East Inlet Valley makes it an ideal place to watch the sunset. The next morning, after enjoying the views at Lake Verna, we made our way up the unimproved trail past Spirit Lake and on to Fourth Lake. This is the last lake along the trail with opportunities for fishing and a clearly defined path.

After spending some time at the lake, we ascended on the east side of the inlet stream into Fourth Lake to Fifth Lake above. We climbed in elevation through fields of Glacier Lilies and boulders. This route requires some knowledge of the area or at the very least a topographical map and navigational expertise. Once we reached the top of a lingering snowfield, we found ourselves in the impressive cirque of Fifth Lake. Isolation Peak looms tall above this lake and the surrounding mountains and ridges rise imposingly on all sides. An inspiring place to spend the afternoon to say the very least.

Tips:
Plan ahead to obtain a reservation at the Lake Verna backcountry site. There is only one site at the lake and it is full almost all summer. A backcountry camping permit is required – inquire at the Backcountry Office in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you have time to stop for food in Grand Lake check out Cy's Deli for fantastic hand-crafted sandwiches!

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Warm layers
  • Hat
  • Bear canister
  • Tripod
  • Camera
  • Water filtration
  • Topographical map
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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

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Crystal Brindle Explorer

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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