• Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Summer

  • Trail Type:

    Loop

  • RT Distance:

    13.6 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1245 Feet

Easy Parking
Forest
Groups
River
Scenic
Wildlife

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!

Pack List

  • Map and compass (always good to keep these on hand because some parts of this hike can be a little tricky to navigate)
  • Food (both some light snacks and lunch, as this hike can take some time depending on your pace) 
  • Light jacket 
  • Poncho (mountain-weather can be unpredictable, so it's good to be prepared!)
  • Camera 
  • Water and/or Gatorade 
  • Good shoes (not necessarily hiking boots, just make sure they're sturdy and have good traction) 
  • Hat 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Sunscreen and bug spray 
Read More

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

Community Photos

+ Add Photos

Reviews

Overall rating:  Rate this Adventure

Leave a Review

Have you done this adventure? Leave a review!

Dani Rodriguez

Trying to fill my life with with happiness, beauty, and adventure while I can. Kansas City.

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

Nearby Adventures

Hike the Sugar Bowl Loop in Kings Canyon NP

Tulare County, California

First and foremost, to get to this trailhead you need to drive down a 2-mile, one lane dirt road that is quite steep.

8 Saves

Hike to Ehukai Pillbox

59178 Ke Nui Road, Hawaii

This hike starts directly across from Banzai Pipeline, the famous barreling wave at Ehukai Beach.

7 Saves

Winter Hike to Calypso Cascades

1046 County Highway 115, Colorado

While most people go snowshoeing near the Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge area in RMNP, Wild Basin is a much less trafficked option.

5 Saves