Ute Trail (West) | Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Lake, CO | 08/20/20 | 5.11 miles | 231′ gain
Tori and I decided to take a tourist day in Rocky Mountain National Park. She hadn’t spent much time in Rocky and was missing out on the many fun stops along Trail Ridge Road. Our main event was the western portion of the Ute Trail, the historic trail used by the Indigenous Ute people to get to and from their seasonal hunting grounds. We decided to take two cars so that we could do a one-way hike from the top down, saving time and energy for all of the other short trails we wanted to do.
We parked one car at the Poudre Lake/Milner Pass Trailhead and drove back up to the Alpine Visitor Center. We’d woken up early to beat the crowds and ensure parking. No one was around at 7:30am so we decided to take advantage of the solitude and hike the Alpine Ridge Trail first (~0.7 miles & 150′). This is a very popular trail that leaves from the Visitor Center and climbs a stone staircase to an overlook. The views are incredible from here and there are a number of interpretive signs along the walk.
We got most of our elevation gain out of the way heading up Alpine Ridge. Once we got back down, we crossed the parking lot and started on the Ute Trail, which would be all downhill.
We were alone on the Ute Trail as well except for…dozens of marmots! They were so cute and just sat there while we watched them.
My favorite part about the Ute Trail (other than the marmots) was watching the ecosystem change as we walked gradually downhill. We started in the alpine tundra and finished in the subalpine forest.
The alpine tundra exists above 11,000′ and is characterized by small, low-growing plants. Although extremely hardy to the elements, these plants are particularly susceptible to human traffic.
From 9,000-11,000 feet exists the subalpine forest. Common trees include limber pine, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir. In Rocky as in many other parts of Colorado, the pine trees were decimated by the pine bark beetle.
We saw two sweet mule deer fawns grazing in a meadow. Mom didn’t seem to be nearby, or at least we didn’t see her.
As we approached the lower trailhead, we started to see people again. Some people were doing this hike as an out & back, a good option if you only have one vehicle.
Once we reached the end of the trail, we drove back up Trail Ridge Road to visit a number of overlooks and short trails. Good descriptions and photos of some of these stops can be found in my post from 2019. I enjoyed all of our stops and short walks (I do enjoy being a tourist sometimes!) but the Ute Trail really spoke to me. I’m sure I will do it again some day, and the eastern side of the Ute Trail has been moved to the top of my list!