RMNP – Flattop Mountain

Hiking Flattop Mountain

Some members of the women’s hiking group I belong to, the Boulder Hiker Chicks, were arranging a hike to Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and kindly invited me to join. I did not want to miss the opportunity to hang out with my friends and hike a new mountain in Rocky.

The Hike

The hike itself is pretty straightforward. You turn right at the Bear Lake Trailhead, after you turn left onto Flattop Mountain Trail there are no turn-offs all the way to the summit. It is a strenuous hike with close to 3,000 ft elevation gain to get to the summit of Flattop Mountain at 12,362′. Especially as you get above the treeline and to the higher altitudes, your breathing will likely get heavy. It can be be quite windy up there, so bring appropriate layers.

RMNP signs say it is 4.4 miles from Bear Lake Trailhead to the summit, or 8.8 miles out-and-back, but my tracker logged slightly less than that at 8.5 miles out-and-back.

Starting Out

The trail starts from Bear Lake Parking Lot. We arrived at 7:30 am on a Friday in mid-September and the parking lot was about half full. This parking lot has several restrooms and a ranger station.

From the trailhead, you turn right and walk up past Bear Lake for 0.5 miles to connect with the Flattop Mountain Trail and turn left. After another approximately half mile you will reach a junction and continue to the left on Flattop Mountain Trail. If you turn right, the trail will take you to Odessa Lake.

Flattop Mountain Trail

The first part of Flattop Mountain Trail was not too interesting, with mostly forest for the first mile or so.

Flattop Mountain Trail

But soon enough, we started to get lovely views looking out over the pine forest to the Rocky Mountains around us.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Dream Lake Overlook

After just over a mile and a half of climbing uphill, you reach the Dream Lake Overlook, which is marked with a sign. You can only see bits of Dream Lake from above, but it’s still a beautiful overlook. In the distance you can see Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker, and Mills Lake below them in the Glacier Gorge.

Dream Lake Overlook Flattop Mountain Trail

Continuing up Flattop Mountain Trail

As you hike further up, going closer to the treeline, the views of the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking. All around you there are different mountains either towering nearby, or layering into the distance.

Emerald Lake Overlook

At 2.9 miles into the trail, you reach the Emerald Lake Overlook, which is also marked with a sign. The view from this overlook might even be a better view than the one from the summit in some ways.

You see Emerald Lake down below, the gigantic mountains that frame the Loch Vale – Otis Peak (12,486′) in the foreground, Thatchtop Mountain (12,668′), and McHenrys Peak (13,327′) beyond the vale, as well as Pagoda Mountain (13,497′), Longs Peak (14,255′), and Mt. Meeker (13,911) on the other side of the Glacier Gorge, where you can see Mills Lake shining down below.

Emerald Lake Overlook Flattop Mountain Trail

We stopped here to enjoy the view and take some fun pictures.

Boulder Hiker Chicks

Photo credit РAlli Fronzaglia, Instagram  @theboulderhikerchick

Beyond the Treeline

Soon after the overlook, the short, stubby trees vanish into nothing as you hike higher up.

Flattop Mountain Trail

At this point our group got a bit dispersed due to how strenuous the hike is at this point because of the high elevation.

Flattop Mountain Trail

I took my time, both to enjoy the views, and because I was starting to get a headache from the elevation. One of my friends gave me an electrolyte/salt/caffeine pill, which made me feel better and helped me keep going.

Flattop Mountain Trail

At 3.9 miles in there is a horse tie-up before the final ascent to the summit.

Flattop Mountain Trail horse tie-up

Flattop Mountain Summit

The summit of the mountain is as described – flat. A wooden sign (where the people are standing in the photo below), is the only way you can determine where the actual summit is.

Flattop Mountain Summit

From the summit you get amazing 360 degree views. You do have to walk a bit in each direction to see the sights better, but it’s a lot of fun to walk around and see the mountains in all directions.

Off to the left side is Hallett Peak (12,720′). You can hike there from Flattop Mountain, adding another 400 ft elevation gain and 0.7 to 1 mile round to your hike (estimates of distance from hiking websites/books). If you hike up this way, you are hiking along the Continental Divide. Although it’s likely straightforward to hike to the Hallett Peak from Flattop (you should be able to clearly see it the whole way), keep in mind that there is no official trail. We decided to skip it due to high winds that day.

Hallett Peak

You can approach closer to the edge of the Tyndall Gorge in front of Hallett Peak. The snow to the right is Tyndall Glacier and you can see Emerald Lake down at the end of the gorge.

Hallett Peak Tyndall Gorge Tyndall Glacier

My friend took this photo of me all decked out in winter gear at this spot. It was seriously cold up there in the wind!

Hallett Peak and Tyndall Glacier

Photo credit – Karen Jacot, Instagram @yeahkaren

And we took this photo with the epic stage of Tyndall Gorge –

Tyndall Gorge

Photo credit – Kari Armstrong, Instagram @kariarmstrong

Hiking a little bit beyond, you can look down beyond the Continental Divide to Grand Lake.

I did not walk to the right of the summit, but some of my friends did, and they said from there you can see Odessa Lake.

Heading Back

It was too windy to hang out at the summit for long, so we headed down to the horse tie-up and sat behind a rock for protection from the wind as we ate our lunches. Hallett Peak and the Tyndall Glacier behind us, and the Rocky Mountains in front of us, it was a gorgeous location to take a break.

Photo credit РAlli Fronzaglia, Instagram  @theboulderhikerchick

As we hiked down the mountain, we enjoyed sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains for miles.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Flattop Mountain Trail

And stopped again to take in the scenery at Emerald Lake Overlook again.

Emerald Lake Overlook Flattop Mountain Trail

Photo credit РAlli Fronzaglia, Instagram  @theboulderhikerchick

Bear Lake

After descending through the forest, on our way back to the parking lot we stopped by Bear Lake. Bear Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located right next to the Bear Lake Trailhead, very accessible, and only about a mile all the way around. From our vantage point, we could see the iconic sharp shape of Hallett Peak, which we had been so close to at the summit of Flattop.

Bear Lake

Recommended as a Hike for Rocky Mountain Views

Although the hike to the summit of Flattop Mountain is strenuous, when you get there, the 360 views of the Rocky Mountains on both sides of the Continental Divide are amazing. The Emerald Lake Overlook on the way is itself also a great hiking destination. Of the locations I’ve hiked to in RMNP so far, Flattop Mountain had the most comprehensive views of the park and its surrounding mountains.

I’m so glad that I got to experience this hike with my friends from the Boulder Hiker Chicks. I will definitely go back and come prepared with my telephoto lens to take photos of all the surrounding mountains.

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