This trip is rated Moderate Plus [3–4]. Participants should be capable of hiking 5-10 miles (5-7 hours) daily carrying a backpack that weighs 35-40 pounds. The elevation change is moderate, varying from 1000' to 2200' of change per day. We will be traveling at high altitude where the thinner air can be challenging in terms of performance.
Our trip begins this afternoon at REI's Denver store. Here we meet our guides and fellow travelers, have a chance to go over the gear list and pick up any last-minute items. Be sure to bring your pack and gear, as we will depart in our van from here. Following a scenic drive from bustling Denver to the pristine valleys of Rocky Mountain National Park, we pitch our camp among the pines. Once the tents are up we gather for a rundown of the trip itinerary, distribution of group items, gear check, as well as packing tips and demonstration. While the guides prepare dinner, we get to know each other in eager anticipation of our adventure. After a delicious dinner we set off on a short sunset hike to explore Sprague Lake. Camp dinner and all camping fees are included tonight.
Transfer: 2 hours, Hiking: 1.8 miles; minimal elevation gain/loss
We depart our camp after breakfast for an iconic drive to the start of our backpacking adventure. Our drive takes us up and across the Rockies on Trail Ridge Road, nicknamed the Highway in the Sky. Stunning vistas of glacier valleys, Longs Peak, and immense alpine tundra fields open up as we savor every bend in this famous highway. Herds of elk, distant lakes, and endless views unfold along the way. We reach the trailhead at an elevation of 8,400' and start our hike by going past Adams Falls and along the East Inlet into the park's backcountry. After a brief period of rolling wooded hills, the trail overlooks a pristine meadow with a crystal-clear creek winding through the tall grass. In the distance, high peaks and cliffs frame the valley we will explore. Keep your eyes open for the plentiful wildlife that lives in this pristine area. At our lunch stop we are rewarded with incredible views down the valley and of Grand Lake, Colorado's largest natural lake. The trail alternates between climbing up large rock bands and gentle stretches along the stream in a series of giant stairs before reaching our campsite situated in a gentle bend in the river. All meals included.
Transfer: 1.5 hours, Backpacking: 5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1791' / -408'
Today, with only the weight of our daypacks, we have options for all levels. Just a short distance up the trail is Lone Pine Lake, the first of five lakes accessible from our base camp. Weather and fitness levels permitting; it is possible to continue all the way to Fifth Lake, perched across a boulder field at an elevation of 11,000' above sea level. On the slopes of nearby Mount Alice look for a resident herd of bighorn sheep that come for the rich grazing and unique mineral deposits. Fantastic displays of wildflowers, rising trout, and a parade of peaks, crags and cirques greet us along the trail. Those with an interest in fishing can try their luck in the lakes and creek for trout (licenses and equipment not provided). In the afternoon we return to our same spacious camp. While the guides prepare another tasty backcountry meal, take advantage of the large plunge pool next to camp for a refreshing dip or soothing foot soak before dinner. At night, this site is perfectly situated for awesome stargazing! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Hiking: 7-9 miles with multiple options, Elevation gain/loss: Up to +/- 1700'
Wake up to the soft murmur of the mountain stream and the serenade of songbirds. Take a last stroll to nearby Lone Pine Lake before enjoying a hot breakfast and coffee. After we break down camp and pack our packs, we head towards the trailhead. It is a whole new trail as we descend and perhaps see moose feeding among the willows. Arriving at the trailhead, we enjoy a picnic lunch near beautiful Grand Lake before setting off to Denver. We arrive back to Denver around 6pm where we bid our farewells to our newfound friends. If flying out tonight, flights out of Denver shouldn't be made earlier than 8pm. Breakfast and lunch included.
Transfer: 2.5 hours, Backpacking: 5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +408' / -1790'