Ryan and I pulled into the Wild Basin Entry Station at Rocky Mountain National Park at 7am. This was all completely new to us– visiting Rocky Mountain without having to go through Estes Park first? What?! Located just outside of Allenspark, CO, we made our way through the empty entry station and continued down a dirt road towards the Wild Basin Trailhead. While we were the ~15th car in the parking lot, there were no people to be seen. After packing up our backpacks with snacks and a quick stop in the bathrooms, we took one last look at the trail map with Ouzel Lake in our sights, and hit the trail!
Right at the beginning of the trail (literally about .25mi in) we followed a small offshoot trail leading us to both Lower and Upper Copeland Falls. Being early June, snowmelt is at an all-time high and this river sure was flowing! We admired the power of the various waterfalls, cascades, and churning waters before returning to the main trail (although I could have spent all day sitting on the rocks along the shore just watching the river run by; they were spectacular!).
It was shaping up to be a beaaaautiful day. A half mile into our hike and we were both already in our shorts and shirts for the day.. no jacket needed! About 0.5mi into our hike, we were stopped again by another series of waterfalls and cascades. Calypso Cascades was even more spectacular than the last set– the beginnings of them were so high up the hillside that you could not see it, and they ran all the way underneath the bridge and back down the valley towards the lower falls. It was a nice place to stop to take a break; the sound of the rushing water beneath your feet, the roaring of the river, and the gentle spray shooting up and into the air was refreshing.
The various cascades and river crossings always kept us on our toes; it seemed as if there was something new and beautiful for us to see around each corner. We were so interested in the smaller details of the trail that the main attraction, Ouzel Falls, appeared before us on the trail faster than we expected!
We took in the sights from the main trail, admiring the falls and the loud roaring that echoed down the canyon until we noticed a small trail diverting up the mountain leading towards the main falls… so naturally, we followed it!
I sure am glad that we did! We were able to sit near the falls and feel the mist hitting us, cooling us down as the day’s temperatures increased. We enjoyed a snack and the company of another photographer and a young couple before heading back down towards the main trail to continue on to Ouzel Lake.
Right around the corner we were stopped again not only for a spectacular lookout point over the forest and the front range in the distance, but also for a friendly little chipmunk! We didn’t have any food for him, but you could tell that he was expecting some!
Okay, continuing on once again (this trail was so beautiful– all these stops just could not be avoided!). We wrapped around the mountainside and soon found ourselves above treeline. I’m a sucker for big mountains, and this trail took my breath away. We still had met no one else on the trail, and we happily took in the sights around us we we made our way back into the wilderness. With the sound of the Ouzel Lake drainage to our left and the North St. Vrain Creek drainage to our right, we set our sights on the peaks before us. Mount Copeland (13,176ft) and Long Peaks (14, 259ft) dominated the mountain backdrop, although there were various peaks scattered between them (Mt. Meeker at 13, 911ft, Mount Alice at 13,310ft, Pilot Mountain at 12,222ft).
While this entire area was ravaged by a lighting-induced wildfire in 1978, the area has clearly begun to fully recover. Young trees stand at about 5ft tall, if not a bit more, and smaller shrubs and grasses have already returned to cover the ground.
As we got closer and closer to the lake, we were met with increasingly more snow. Luckily there was no post-holing this time, and we easily passed over the random snow fields.
We spotted the lake off to our left, and we split off from the trail to find the easiest access point to the shore line. Here we enjoyed a quick lunch (and watched a marmot enjoy his!) before settling in and fishing for a few hours. While we had no luck catching any (nor did the other two fishermen that we saw along the shoreline), it was fun having Ryan teach me some new casts. I cannot emphasize this enough… WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY!
While I would not have rather been anywhere else– the temperatures in the 70s, the shining sun, the lack of wind… a vicious sunburn had begun to develop on my shoulders, so we decided that it was a good time to head back to the car. The trail is all downhill from here, and we made good time in getting back to the sheltered forest.
We made it back to Ouzel Falls around 1pm, and it was packed with people. Tourists, locals, large families, couples… you name it, they were there. It certainly was not the quiet, calm time that Ryan and I had spent there earlier this morning. My suggestion? As always, get there early. Take in the beauty of nature on your own so you can fully immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of it all without having to wait your turn on the resting rock while trying to tune out the rowdy group of teenagers across the way.
This Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain national park easily became our new favorite place to hike. It has it all! Plenty of flowing water, high peaks in the distance, mild trails, and tons of miles left for us to explore (Ouzel Lake was the second closest lake to the trailhead, putting us at 10 miles round trip). Come take a visit– just because it is not in the main park of the park does not mean that it is lacking any of the views that the Rocky Mountains have to offer. Until next time… 🙂