Hiking to Ypsilon Lake
Ypsilon Lake is the least trafficked lake in Rocky Mountain National Park that we have visited so far, and such a serene and beautiful location. The distance and hiking guide designation of “moderate to strenuous” might put some people off, but if you can manage this hike, it is well worth the trek. In addition to being a gorgeous location, you can enjoy the solitude of an alpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park without the crowds.
Ypsilon Lake is located at the base of Ypsilon Mountain, from which it gets it’s name.
The hike starts out from Lawn Lake Trailhead, following Lawn Lake Trail for 1.4 miles before turning left onto Ypsilon Lake Trail. Ypsilon Lake itself is approximately 4.3 miles from the trailhead, for a 8.6-mile-round hike, but if you make side trips, such as to Chipmunk Lake, Upper Chipmunk Campground, a waterfall, or around Ypsilon Lake, as we did, the mileage adds up a little more. With all our detours the hike was 9.5 miles total.
Map from the trailhead –
Starting Out – Lawn Lake Trail
We arrived at the trailhead around 6 am on a Saturday morning and the parking lot was about 70% full. It was almost dark when we started, but soon the sun was coming over the mountains and bathing the peaks in a warm pink glow.
During the first 0.9 miles there are open areas beside the trail where you can look out to the valley and mountains beyond –
Longs Peak (14,259′)to the right and Mt. Meeker (13,911′)to the left –
The mountain with Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road in the foreground, Sundance Mountain (12,260′) in back –
View of Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker from the Roaring River Overlook –
Roaring River Overlook
At about 1 mile from the trailhead you reach an overlook for Roaring River. According to my favorite RMNP hiking book, Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park by Erik Stensland, this chasm was gouged out with the Lawn Lake Flood during the 2013 flood. The sandy edges here are still eroding and dangerous, so it’s best to keep a good distance from the banks as you enjoy the views.
View looking back down the river on the return journey, when it was more sunny –
Ypsilon Lake Trail
At mile 1.4 you turn left onto the Ypsilon Lake Trail. The trail to the right goes on to Lawn Lake.
Not long after, you cross over the river. Later in the day we saw some people in bathing suits dipping in the water here. The ground is relatively sandy, so it could be like going to an alpine beach/river.
After crossing the river, you hike up an incline with conveniently placed steps –
This is what the staircase area looks like on the way back down –
Most of the rest of the trail to Ypsilon Lake passes through forest that looks like this, with a sandy/rocky trail –
Closer to Ypsilon Lake you get some peeks of the mountains through the forest. Here you can see Ypsilon Mountain (13,520′) –
At about mile 4 you hit Chipmunk Lake off to your right. Technically this lake is called Lower Chipmunk Lake, and there is an Upper Chipmunk Lake a bit further along the trail, but Upper Chipmunk Lake is completely dried out.
This small lake is a hidden gem with a gorgeous backdrop of Ypsilon Mountain (13,520′), Mt. Chiquita (13,075′), and Mt. Fairchild (13,508′) beyond the crystal clear waters and evergreens –
View of the lake from the trail –
Closeup of Ypsilon Mountain from Chipmunk Lake, taken with a telephoto lens –
You can see how the mountain gets its name from the Y-shaped feature at the top. In Greek the letter Y is called “Ypsilon”.
Upper Chipmunk Campsites
After passing the dried out Upper Chipmunk Lake, on Ypsilon Lake Trail you pass a sign for a trail that heads off to the Upper Chipmunk campsites. As with any RMNP wilderness campsites, if you want to stay here, you have to make a reservation and get a permit ahead of time.
We decided to see what the campsites were like. The campsites are located about 0.1 miles off of Ypsilon Lake Trail and the campsite trail branches off to two separate campsites.
One campsite looks like it’s best for groups, with 2 to 3 blocks for setting up tents –
The other campsite has only one tent block –
Both of these campsites are in the forest and neither of them have views of the mountains. However, if you stay at these campsites you would be within a convenient distance of going to Ypsilon Lake or Chipmunk Lake.
We arrived at Ypsilon Lake around 9 am and there was only one other hiking group there. The lake was larger than we expected, with clear waters, and so serene.
You can walk around the lake on the right side, which hugs the south side of the lake. There are several side paths that go down by the water and out to rocks where you can sit and enjoy the view.
After reaching the east side/far end of the lake, you can follow a path that passes over a creek and continues around.
After walking along a path through some bushes, we came out onto some rocks and spent time taking in the beautiful view.
Panorama of Ypsilon Lake –
Wide-angle view of Ypsilon Lake. Mt Chiquita (13,075′) is in the center of the picture. Ypsilon Mountain is hiding behind the cliffs to the right.
After spending some relaxing time on the rocks, we headed back the way we came along the south side of the lake. It doesn’t look like there is a trail that loops around the north side.
Near the area where Ypsilon Lake Trail meets the lake, off to the west side/left, there is a primitive hiking trail that leads up to Spectacle Lakes. This is not an official trail and reviews online say it’s difficult to follow. We did not head up to the lakes, but did take a short detour on this trail up to a lovely waterfall –
The Return Trail
The return journey was relatively easy and almost all downhill. On the way back we started to see many more hikers, especially along Lawn Lake Trail. Until about 11 am we only saw about 15 hikers total, but after that we saw at least another 30.
When we hiked along Lawn Lake Trail around noon, we could see sunlit views of the valley and the surrounding mountains.
Here you can see Estes Cone, Mt. Meeker, and Longs Peak in the distance –
The mountain to the left here is Deer Mountain –
Recommended as a Strenuous Hike
What we loved most about the hike to Ypsilon Lake was how pristine and peaceful the destination lake was, along with the surprise beauty of Chipmunk Lake, and the lack of crowds. If you want to hike to an alpine lake and spend some quiet time relaxing by the lake away from the crowds that are so common at the popular alpine lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, we highly recommend this trail.
Other hikes in the area –