Last week I was feeling sentimental and decided to print pictures from our summer adventures. I was surprised when a package of 143 prints came in the mail. I need to buy a new photo album to fit them all in! I think that is a good problem to have. The summer of 2020 has been challenging, so I am thankful we’ve been able to capture 143 fun moments.
This hike along the Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park contains several of these exceptional summer memories.
Our family entered in Rocky Mountain National Park from the east side of the park near Estes Park during our reserved timed entry window. We drove up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center then parked and walked around to take in the landscape from the viewing deck.
My cousin and his high school age sons came in from the west side of the park near Grand Lake. We were thrilled to meet them for a morning hike.
The trail begins right across from the visitor center (11,796 ft of elevation). Trail Ridge Road can get terribly busy, so we held our kids’ hands while crossing.
This section of the Ute Trail leads down to Poudre Lake and Milner Pass. The hike to Poudre Lake is four miles each way. If you have two cars, you can park one at the Alpine Visitor Center and the other by Poudre Lake to avoid the return trip back up.
Instead of juggling cars, we decided to cut the hike short. We followed the trail for approximately one and a half miles until we reached a couple of tarns off the path. We returned the way we came. The return trip was uphill, but it felt doable even with young kids.
I loved every second of this hike. It was fun catching up with my cousin and his kids, the views were unbelievable, the weather was perfect, the wildlife was exciting, and the flowers were beautiful. We even got a rare family photo of all four of us mostly looking at the camera.
A Trip Report from Eric’s hike on CCY Route in July 2020
Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon summits
Last month, I got to take an early morning hike on a route that I’d been looking forward to for a long time: the “CCY Route” in Rocky Mountain National Park. The “CCY” stands for Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon, three prominent summits in the Mummy range in the north-central section of the park. Easy access to this hike is only available for a few months out of the year due to the trailhead location, which is several miles up Old Fall River Road. Alltrails.com lists the route as 8.9 miles round-trip, with 3,244 feet of total elevation gain. However, it’s important to note that this hike is above the tree-line for the majority of the journey, and much of the terrain is considered to be Class II rock hopping.
CCY Trailhead and Where to Park for CCY Route
An early start here is important for two reasons. First, as always, any time spent above the tree line in the summer in RMNP is best done earlier in the day before afternoon thunderstorms pop up. But second, this trailhead has very limited parking available along the side of Fall River Road, only enough for maybe 12-15 vehicles. I arrived at 5:25am and was the third car there, so had plenty of space. But as I was making the switchbacks in the dark, I was thinking what my backup hike might be, and Mount Ida crossed my mind—this is another summit on my list that also requires a journey up either Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park, and it does have substantially more parking at the Continental Divide/Poudre Lake trailhead. But anyway, on to the adventure…
I had a headlamp in my pack, but there was just enough light to proceed without it as I started my hike. Just a few minutes in, you reach a clearly marked junction that directs you to the right for the CCY summits, rather than continuing on the main trail to Chapin Pass.
From here the path becomes far steeper, ascending several rock “steps” to break through the trees to the edge of the tundra. At around the .6-mile mark, another trail split appears, and the sign guides to the right for “all summits.”
I’d read that actually either way would work here but decided to follow the sign and continue on the path to Mount Chapin. At this point, the sun was starting to rise, but was hidden from my view, being on the western slopes of these three mountains. Still though, the views looking back were beautiful!
The route to Mount Chapin is easy to follow from here, despite a few small “rock crossings” along the way.
Just past the 1.5 mile mark, a side trial heads straight up to the summit of Mount Chapin, gaining approximately 400 feet of elevation in less than half a mile. The trail is faint in places, so I found myself just trying to stay on the rocks (avoiding stepping on the wildflowers!) and just generally heading up. The views at the top were great!
I didn’t stay long on Chapin’s summit, because the wind was absolutely howling, and I knew that I had two more to go, with plenty of “up and down” along the way. After retracing my way back down to the main trail, I started up the slope of Mount Chiquita.
The combination of wind, terrain, and even the bright sun ahead (hard to look up and track the route) made this section of the hike somewhat of a grind, as the route gains over 1,000 feet of elevation over the course of a mile to reach the summit at 13,069 feet. There are a few wind shelters built of rocks around the summit, which can provide a needed reprieve. It was hard to capture great photos shooting right into the sun, but the views were again great, as you could also see several of the lower-elevation lakes below.
From the summit of Chiquita, the trail is faintly marked, so I just followed what I felt was the most efficient route down to the saddle between Chiquita an Ypsilon, losing around 300 feet of elevation. The third and final summit was a bit deceptive. The terrain isn’t too tricky, and you can try to follow the occasional cairns that are placed along the way, but the true summit is hidden from view for a good portion of the ascent, which gains 700+ feet along the way.
I don’t think I carved the best path up the mountain, but eventually made my way to the top at 13,514 feet, where I joined 3 other hikers that had been ahead of me all morning. We all had a nice visit, taking in the views, and enjoying miraculously still conditions given how windy it had been just an hour or so earlier. I took a quick video of the sights:
On the way back down, rather than re-summiting Chiquita, I followed a faint path around the edge of the mountain, heading directly towards the saddle between Chiquita and Chapin. The wildflowers were particularly spectacular on this portion of the hike.
When I made it back to the saddle, I decided to follow the “other” option back towards the trailhead, which dipped slightly lower along the mountain. It was nice to see this section of trail rather than re-tracing my steps, but I also got to see some elk grazing in the valley below.
I made it back to the trailhead with a total time of four hours and 36 minutes, according to my Garmin watch that tracked my adventure. Below is a map of my route, showing the two splits I described (“to all summits” early on, to the right, and then the “Chiquita cutoff” on the way back).
I was trying to make relatively good time, as Kelly had let me slip away for this one by myself, and was back at our cabin with the girls waiting on me to go grab lunch. It was a great adventure, and a nice challenge. The class two terrain made me wish I would have brought my trekking poles for the decent(s), but other than that, I finished in great spirits and was thrilled to have had the chance to pick up three more RMNP summits all in one day. I’d definitely like to revisit this one again in the future!
This hike is ‘in the middle of nowhere’ according to my 5-year-old. In reality, Black Canyon trailhead is in the Lumpy Ridge area of Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive is less than 10 minutes from downtown Estes Park, Colorado.
Here is a map of the Lumpy Ridge trails. Lumpy Ridge trailhead begins at 7,840 ft of elevation, I believe that’s the lowest trailhead elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I agree with my daughter that it feels remote here. That is probably because we didn’t see many other hikers on the trail.
If I were going to buy land someday, my dream would be for it to have a similar landscape. I find the wide-open views and rugged rock formations uniquely inspiring. Drinking coffee and looking out at this view every morning… that’s worth dreaming about. Right!?
According to AllTrails.com, this hike is 15.5 miles out and back. The trail will take you all the way to Lawn Lake.
Fifteen miles is obviously longer than we would expect to hike with young kids, so we set out with the expectation to turn around when everyone was feeling tired. The girls both did great. At 3.7 miles roundtrip, we hiked substantially farther than our first hike here. We are making progress!
We spotted wild turkeys in the grass. Farther down the trail we saw a coyote or fox (we should have brought binoculars). Lucky for the turkeys, I don’t think their paths crossed.
Between spotting animals, climbing on rocks and trees, and taking in the mountain scenery, I could not have asked for a better morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m thankful for time spent ‘in the middle of nowhere’ with my favorite people.
3-2-1, we are counting down the days until my daughter starts kindergarten next week. We’ve met the teacher and bought school supplies. I’m confident that she is ready to learn and make new friends.
But, am I ready? I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since she was born. Together we have gone on countless adventures to the library, coffee shops, gymnastics, berry picking, and the zoo. Her little sister and I will miss her very much when she is at school every day.
On the other hand, I’m mentally prepared for the possibility that her in-person classes might turn to virtual at any point during the first semester because of the pandemic. I dislike uncertainty, but mostly I’m scared that we might make the wrong decisions.
Finally, I’m thinking about what the future looks like for my career once the girls are both in school full-time. With this much uncertainty, can I even start to think about my own goals?
I was processing all of this on our hike to Bierstadt Lake. As I walked the switchbacks up towards the lake, I realized that COVID-19 has made it harder to do everything and somehow even simple tasks like going to the grocery store felt like too much. I resolved to take that errand back onto my plate and off my husband’s. This little momentum shift has created a snowball effect and I’m starting to feel empowered again.
Perhaps I was able to feel, think, and work through so many big thoughts and emotions because there is plenty of space for me to do that in the mountains.
And now for some pretty pictures and video from our hike!
If you want to go on this awesome hike to Bierstadt Lake, check out our past posts which go into more details about the hike’s distance, elevation change, and other key details. It’s one of our favorite family-friendly hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.