- Explore Rocky Mountain National Park to Thunder Lake
- Backpack to a forested basecamp for a day hike up to sublime alpine lakes
- Follow expert guides who impart local knowledge and reveal the park's secrets
Rocky Mountain National Park holds bountiful mountain scenery, incredible glacier-fed lakes, and picture-perfect views in every direction; REI's backpacking trip shows off some of this park's most scenic locations.
After an initial meeting and orientation in the lively city of Boulder, CO, our exploration begins in the southeastern corner of the park. We make our camp deep in the Wild Basin Area, a forest setting that makes an excellent starting point for excursions. Our basecamp set-up allows us to climb, unencumbered by heavy packs, to the reaches of crystal clear alpine lakes nestled in the snow-capped peaks surrounding us. With a pace that's perfect for shutterbugs and wildflower aficionados, we can revel in the beauty of the iconic high country as our guides share their comprehensive knowledge of the park.
Whether it's your first or your fortieth adventure to the Rocky Mountains, this itinerary provides the perfect weekend wilderness escape.
See our Rocky Mountains Backpacking – North Inlet trip for another options in Rock Mountain National Park.
- Day 1 - Meet for a trip orientation and dinner in Boulder.
- Day 2 - See waterfalls and majestic peaks on our journey into the backcountry.
- Day 3 - With only daypacks, we explore magnificent alpine lakes.
- Day 4 - Savor another sunrise before our return hike to the trailhead.
Trip Itinerary and Details
Important Notice: Day 1 is the day you should plan to arrive at the meeting point for the trip. This may require departing your hometown one or more days in advance and traveling on an overnight flight.
Day 1 - Meet for a trip orientation and dinner in Boulder.
Our trip begins today at 6 p.m. at the Boulder, CO REI store. The store is approximately 2 miles away from our host hotel (see driving directions below), or you may choose to meet in the lobby at 5:30pm for a complimentary shuttle to the store (please advise your Adventure Specialist if you'd like to shuttle from the hotel, and keep in mind that the shuttle must leave by 5:40pm). Be sure to bring your pack and gear with you to the orientation, as you'll meet your guides and fellow trekkers at the store for a rundown of the trip itinerary, gear check and packing of group food and gear. We'll enjoy a light dinner and non-alcoholic drinks while we get to know each other in eager anticipation of our adventure. Dinner is included tonight. Accommodations not included – please see the trip details for our host hotel.
Day 2 - See waterfalls and majestic peaks on our journey into the backcountry.
We depart the host hotel at 8 a.m. and drive one hour to our starting point on the southwestern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Beginning at an elevation of approximately 8500 feet, we make our way into the park's backcountry where lush meadows lead to soaring peaks. We'll pass beautiful cascading Copeland, Calypso, and Ouzel Falls before continuing up the North St. Vrain Creek to Thunder Lake. Bluebird skies and picturesque surroundings will be our companions as we nestle in to our home for the next two nights in the Thunder Lake vicinity, notable for its beautiful backcountry campsites. Lunch & dinner included
Hiking: 7 miles with approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
Day 3 - With only daypacks, we explore magnificent alpine lakes.
Today, wearing only light day packs, we explore the awe-inspiring beauty of the high country's alpine lakes. Our climb today will take us through the subalpine forest to the wildflower-filled alpine zone. The afternoon is spent taking in spectacular views from Trio Falls, connecting the Lion Lakes and exploring the shores of Snowbank Lake. We'll keep a sharp eye out for ptarmigan, mule deer, and elk, and have the chance to appreciate the incredible geologic history of the park as we clamber about the igneous and metamorphic rock that composes our surroundings. Weather and fitness levels permitting, we may be able to hike up to the Continental Divide and peer into the Pacific Watershed. Stunning views of Long's Peak, the Never Summer Range, and the upper reaches of the North Inlet await those strong enough to make the additional 1,000 foot climb to the backbone of the continent. A delectable backcountry meal awaits us this evening as we settle in for another night under the stars. Those with an interest in fishing can try their luck today at Thunder Lake, famous for large greenback cutthroat trout (licenses and equipment not provided). All meals included.
Hiking: 5-7 miles with approximately 1,500 - 2500 feet of elevation gain and loss.
Day 4 - Savor another sunrise before our return hike to the trailhead.
There's nothing quite as beautiful as waking up to a view of glacially carved peaks artfully speckled with wildflowers and enhanced by the smell of hot coffee. We'll enjoy our last quiet backcountry morning before breaking camp and packing up. After hiking back to the trailhead, we'll shuttle back to Boulder, arriving at the host hotel around 6pm where we bid our farewells to our new found friends. If flying out tonight, flights out of Denver shouldn't be made earlier than 8pm. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 7 miles with approximately 2,000 feet of elevation loss.
Although we do our very best to adhere to the schedule above, this itinerary is subject to change for numerous reasons beyond our control including weather and terrain conditions. This trip is operated rain or shine.
Contact REI Adventures prior to purchasing your airline tickets to confirm the trip has the minimum number of participants required to operate.
Professional instruction and guiding; all meals as noted in the daily itinerary; snacks; group cooking gear; group first aid kit; water filter; transportation from host hotel to store meeting (upon request); transportation from host hotel to trailheads; campsite and permit fees.
Transportation from your hometown to group meeting point; insurance of any kind; first night accommodations; energy drinks; alcoholic beverages; soft drinks; guide gratuities and items of a personal nature.
This trip is rated Vigorous  as we plan to hike for 5-8 hours per day most days on steep, rocky, sometimes exposed terrain, gaining and/or losing from 1500 to 2500 feet in elevation some days. We will carry packs weighing 35-40 lbs while we hike, and will consistently be at elevation of 8,500 feet or more. To maximize your enjoyment of the trip we suggest that you engage in a regular exercise regimen beginning at least three months prior to your departure. Most important to your enjoyment of the trip is your overall fitness level.
The high country of Rocky Mountain National Park is well-known for extreme weather patterns. These patterns can change rapidly due to elevation, slope, and exposure. Afternoon thunderstorms and wind are typical of most summer days. Always be prepared for a sudden temperature plunge of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit and a sudden rainstorm. A wide deviation between day and nighttime temperatures is also characteristic of mountain weather on Colorado. Daytime temperatures can range between 80-50 degrees F, with evening temperatures dropping into the 30s - 40s.
Denver International Airport, Denver, Co. - 45 minutes
If you are traveling alone we will assign you a roommate of the same gender if possible. A limited number of single accommodations are available, and are assigned only as necessary.General Information
This trip is subject to the booking information set forth in the current REI Adventures Weekend Reservation Information. Please read this information carefully and call us if you have any questions. A full gear list and detailed pre-trip information is sent upon sign-up. We highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance through REI Adventures. If coverage is purchased at the time of your initial reservation, the 'Pre-existing Conditions Exclusion' is waived (certain exclusions apply).
We look forward to having you join us for the trip of a lifetime! Why wait? Space is limited, reserve your adventure today.
Rocky Mountains Backpacking – Thunder Lake Gear List
The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary—this will help you and the field staff.
- Tents (3 season, 2 person)
- Cooking gear
- Stoves and fuel
- Water filter
- Group first aid kit
- Bear canister
- Backpack: large internal frame or external frame (4000 – 6000 cubic inches)
- 20L – 30L day pack
- Pack cover (waterproof)
- Sleeping bag (rated around 20-35 F)
- Sleeping pad
- Rain jacket and pants (lightweight waterproof and breathable)
- Lightweight down or synthetic jacket
- Hiking boots (heavy duty, waterproof, broken-in & should rise above ankle)
- Comfortable closed toed camp shoes or cross trainers to be used at camp and on day hike
- Hiking pants (quick-drying, lightweight; zip-off legs are great. No jeans!)
- Hiking shorts (quick-drying, lightweight)
- T-shirts (synthetic)
- Long sleeve shirt (synthetic)
- Hiking socks (wool or synthetic)
- Synthetic Sock liners (optional)
- Sun hat with wide brim
- Mid-weight fleece jacket or wool sweater
- Mid- or lightweight thermal bottom made of synthetic or wool
- Down jacket or vest (optional)
- Wool or fleece hat (optional)
- Wool or fleece gloves (optional)
- Powdered drinks
- Headlamp with spare batteries and bulb
- Plastic bowl, spoon, travel mug with lid
- Sunglasses and retainer strap
- Sunscreen (small amount not the whole bottle; min SPF 25)
- Lip balm (unscented)
- Personal medications
- Toothbrush & trial-sized paste
- Pack towel and/or washcloth
- Personal first aid kit (small and light with personal medication)
- Travel size wet-wipes
- TP system: toilet paper (not a full roll) & 1 Ziploc quart baggie & 1 Ziploc gallon baggie and plastic trowel
- 1 large plastic garbage bag
- Insect Repellant
- Two 1-quart water bottles or hydration system equivalent (if relying on a hydration system, in case of punctures, clogs, or bladder failure, we highly recommend bringing a lightweight 1-quart bottle as backup)
- Trekking poles (highly recommended)
- Pocket knife or small multi-tool
- Ear plugs
- Journal & pen
- Camera and film - think weight
- Favorite snacks or energy food (snacks are provided but if you have a preference and would like to bring something, please make sure it is small, lightweight and will easily fit into a shared bear canister)
Feel free to give us a call at (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out www.rei.com/learn. The Expert Advice section on our "Learn" page has great information to help you prepare for your trip.
Reviewed by 1 customer
Displaying review 1
- Group Camaraderie
- Quality Equipment Provided
- Well Organized Itinerary
Comments about REI Adventures Rocky Mountains Backpacking – Thunder Lake:
I was seeking a backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains that would allow me to observe first-hand the beauty of the region, provide a physical challenge, and allow me to learn. This trip met all of these criteria and, in the end, allowed me to accomplish all of my goals. From start to finish the scenery was beautiful and memorable. Regardless of the weather conditions at the time, I enjoyed the connection to nature and the grandeur of the environment. The hiking paths tended to be rocky and the upward incline made the ascent very challenging for me. I came away feeling the trip's 4 difficulty rating was well deserved. Though challenging, the trekking process was facilitated by excellent guides who were mindful of the varying ability levels of team members and took steps to accommodate those differences. Strategically scheduled rest periods and ample energy snacks facilitated the ascent. Though the trek was challenging, I ended each day with a sense of accomplishment.
The "team" I referenced earlier included the guides and trip participants. All members seemed very compatible, pleasant, and willing to assist. I must say, collaboration by team members added to my enjoyment of the trip.
The guides (Toby and Chris) facilitated most aspects of the trip from start to finish. They seemed to genuinely enjoy the trekking process and their roles as teachers. I found them to be well-springs of knowledge and experience. Their willingness to share helped me learn a lot, one of my goals for the undertaking. Though burning a ton of energy will make any food seem good, the guides did a good job of preparing tasty meals that seemed to hit-the-spot. They repeatedly demonstrated skill in transforming packaged, dry foods into enjoyable and filling meals.
I came away from the trip with a feeling of accomplishment and my enjoyment of the experience seems to grow with time. The views were spectacular and made the laborious trek worth the effort. Now that I have fully recovered from sore joints and a few dings, I have started contemplating my next trekking experience. Though it will be a while before I repeat this trip, I have not ruled-out the possibility.
- Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
- Active Adventures, All the Details Planned for Me, Destination, Good Value, Travel with Like-minded Outdoor Enthusiasts
- Why did you choose this trip?:
- REI Adventures provided a backpacking trip in an area of the country I wanted to visit, the Eastern Rocky Mountains. I am not familiar with the trails and backpacking options in this area, so it was appealing to be part of a trip where many of the details were pre-determined. It was plus that the trip planners were addressing all permitting requirements for such a trip.
- What was the highlight of your trip?:
- Though the trek up the mountain paths was challenging and exhausting, the payoff was the beautiful scenery in the upper mountain range. It was nice to see natural settings where the impact of us humans has been minimized. The waterfalls and mountain ranges were beautiful and memorable.
- What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
- If you are an experienced backpacker and are well-conditioned you should be fine. If not, it is advisable to do conditioning that prepares you for a mountainous terrain. Though you can get-by without it, good preparation will allow you to maximize enjoyment of the trip. When packing think light and allow space for the addition of team items. Prepare for a wide range of weather conditions.