I am a destination hiker. I love the feeling of reaching the top of a peak, a lake, a waterfall, or anything else one might consider a destination. So, this weekend we planned to hike to Lake Haiyaha, at the ever popular Bear Lake Trailhead, in Rocky Mountain National Park. We made the rookie mistake of getting there at 10am, when we probably should have gotten there by 7am or much later at 4pm to get a spot and avoid the crowds.
Anyways…I have been wanting to explore the trails on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park for quite some time, and when we couldn’t find a spot at Bear Lake, Timber Lake came to my mind. For those who haven’t been, or those who haven’t spent much time in the park – the West side is magical. There aren’t as many people, the trails are just as beautiful, and you will almost always see wildlife.
I’m a firm believer that things always happen for a reason. If something doesn’t work out – it’s because something better is in the works. It didn’t seem like we were meant to go to Lake Haiyaha, the parking was crazy everywhere. Plus, who really wants to try to fight through the crowds when the options for alpine lakes are limitless in Rocky Mountain Park? So we made our way over Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, and had the luxury of seeing views like the one below the entire drive.
Hike Stats for Timber Lake:
- Starting Elevation: 9,000 feet
- Elevation Gain: about 2,000 feet
- Round trip length: 11 miles
- Trailhead: Timber Lake Trailhead, 10 miles from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (GPS Coordinates to trailhead: 40.399722, -105.847361)
- Time: 4 hours to lake (taking our time), 1 hour at the lake, 2 hours back
The hike began through the trees, and it was absolutely beautiful. The shade was a nice perk as well, especially since it was a sunny 80ºF day. Shortly after we started, the uphill climb began. We took a longer break at the about the 1.5 mile marker where you reach nice plateau with rocks for relaxing – trust me you’ll need it after climbing about 700 feet! When we continued on the hike, we were shortly rewarded with some openings in the trees and views like the one below.
At roughly the 2.5 mile marker (though the trailhead signs say it’s at 2…I wasn’t convinced), you’ll see the aftermath of a huge landslide from 2012. We ran into a couple of hikers and they said it’s a lot worse than a couple of years ago – now I wasn’t here then, but I can say that it was very difficult to try to figure out. They have a pink/orange ribbon and a sign that says the trail turns up to go above the landslide. However, we didn’t see that on the way there, so make sure you look for it (the sign was on the ground and it was hard to tell). We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the best way to get around it, and just when I was ready to call it a day my boyfriend found an area that looked passable below the landslide. Kudos to him, it worked out perfectly – we went to the bottom at the end of the landslide, hopped across a couple of creeks, and went the steep grade back up the trail. I highly recommend taking the route we took through the bush wack down and around instead of the seemingly straight up and down alternative that was marked.
Once we made it past the landslide, the trail continued to climb gently to Timber Creek. After about 1 mile we reached the Timber Creek Junction – I recommend taking another brief break before you turn left and begin the next ascent to Timber Lake (if you turn to the right here you’ll go to Long Meadows). The trail climbs pretty steeply here, gaining about 800 feet of elevation in 1 mile through some rocky switchbacks.
Follwing the 800ft climb, the trail opens up into a pretty meadow, and we started to see a variety of signs for backcountry campsites. When you reach the first Jackstraw campsite you are roughly 0.8 miles to Timber Lake. The views from the meadows were just enough to keep me going for that last stretch, because I was fairly exhausted at this point; I mean we did gain 1,800 feet of elevation so far.
After we crossed the meadow there was another small section of switchbacks to complete gaining another 200 feet – and then we made it!
As soon as I thought the views couldn’t get any better…we continued to walk around and saw not one, but two more small lakes. We walked around the right side of the lake when we arrived, and took the left side back. I recommend just walking on the right side, as there’s quite a bit of rock scrambling and it’s muddier on the left side (depending on the season). We were taking pictures of the second lake and relaxing, when I saw something that looked like antlers. I zoomed my camera in, and it was a MOOSE! Before this hike, I had never seen a bull moose with a rack; but it was definitely worth the wait. We were taking pictures and then all the sudden not one, but two bull moose started walking toward the trees. They clearly sensed our presence (and probably heard my squeal of excitement), because they stared at us for a few minutes.
The feeling of completing the hike to Timber Lake was incomparable. Since I was little I never thought I would be the girl who climbed mountains; I only thought I would someday see them and marvel at them. But two years ago I moved to Colorado, and now I had literally climbed up a mountain, farther into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park than I’ve ever gone.
Remember what I said at the beginning of the hike? How everything happens for a reason? If we would have done Lake Haiyaha and not Timber Lake, we would not have seen our first two bull moose in the most majestic way I could ever expect to see them. I have been impatiently waiting for two years to see one, and we got to see two! I also would have never accomplished the great feat of climbing 2,000 feet up a mountain. Rocky Mountain National Park…you never cease to amaze me.