Hike the Colorado River Trailhead Loop

Colorado River Trailhead - Search Nearby - Added by Dani Rodriguez

A scenic hike starting and ending at the Colorado River Trailhead that allows you to view the Rocky Mountains from various altitude points and terrain.

Since this hike is 13.6 miles (according to my watch the hike was more around 14 miles, but it's in that range), I'm going to break it down into four different parts. 

  1. To Lulu City
  2. To Little Yellowstone / Thunder Pass
  3. The Grand Ditch  
  4. Red Mountain Trail 

The first 0.5 miles and the last 0.5 miles are done on the same path back to the trailhead so that's simple enough. Now for the good stuff... 

To Lulu City:  After the first 0.5 miles, you'll reach two signs holding trail names. Unless you want to do the loop backwards (which is totally fine), I would head towards Lulu City. Going to Lulu City is especially beautiful if you go early enough in the morning, because you're able to see the spiderwebs that are usually invisible in the day, as a result of the dew, and also many more animals are out and about such as elk or yellow-bellied marmots. The hike to the City is about 3 miles, and once you're there the path diverges into two. If you want to rest a little bit and go down towards the river, take the one to the left that leads behind the sign. If you've decided to keep going, keep on the path to the right for another half-mile until another sign appears. Since you've now passed Lulu City, the sign to follow is the one that leads to "Thunder Pass." 

To Little Yellowstone / Thunder Pass:  Unfortunately for me when I did this hike, I hadn't realized that the trail to Little Yellowstone was blocked off due to some bridge reconstruction, so I wasn't able to make it there and thus I got a little lost for a couple of minutes. Luckily I had a map with me, so I was able to see that the sign you should follow is the one that leads to "Thunder Pass." This 1.1 mile stretch is the hardest part of the whole loop (in my opinion) because it's very much uphill, but nevertheless it's in the shade and you can hear the rushing water nearby. You should reach a clearing where there are another two signs. The trail you'll be following this time is on the right, for a measly 0.1 miles to the "Grand Ditch." 

The Grand Ditch:  The Grand Ditch can be both hated and loved because of what it is. Factually speaking, it's a man-made ditch created in 1890 (before the Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915), and it goes on for about 14 miles to divert water into reservoirs that towns and cities can use (however the National Parks and the private companies are always fighting about how much water should be diverted from the natural stream in order to not disturb the ecosystem). During this loop, you will be walking about 4.7 miles of it.* Now this can be great news for some, as it is a flat, unpaved road that you will be walking on with some incredible views of the mountains that you could never get from your car. However there isn't any shade and it isn't what comes to mind when you think of a "hiking trail," so be just be prepared and check the weather beforehand for impending storms. After those 4.7 miles, you should reach a sign on the left almost going off the road that reads "Red Mtn Trail." 

The Red Mountain Trail:  Though the sign will tell you that it is 3.3 miles to the Colorado River Trailhead, when I did the hike it was more around 3.5 miles. You should be very careful on this part of the hike as a whole because it is a little steep and not a wide trail. The scenery will start off very grassy with not a lot of shade and then move slowly towards a more rocky path, then finally settling on the classic trail of trees and greenery during the final stretch. Watch out for wildlife as there are a lot of deer, elk, and chipmunks in this area! After around 3 miles, you should reach the very first sign that you saw when starting this hike, but this time coming from the other side. It's the homestretch, where you only have 0.5 miles left! After finishing this hike, I recommend heading down to Grand Lake, where you can reward yourself with one of the many ice cream shops they have. 

*If you are looking for a little bit more mileage and/or scenery, after 3 miles on the Grand Ditch Trail head right onto a bridge with a sign pointing towards the "Lake of the Clouds." But be warned, doing this adds 2.4 miles and an extra 1,195 feet to the hike. Make sure you're prepared!

Distance

13.6 Miles RT

Elevation Gain

1245 ft Gain

Type

Loop

Activities

Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

Easy Parking
Forest
Groups
River
Scenic
Wildlife

Nearby Lodging

Estes Park KOA

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Boulder A-Lodge Cabin

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Boulder A-Lodge Hostel

Boulder, Colorado

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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