Hike to Thunder Lake
In September we hiked to Thunder Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park for a total of almost 13 miles, on the further end of what we can comfortably hike in a day. Nearly every new hike we go on in Rocky feels like we’ve discovered a special place, but Thunder Lake in particular was one of the most beautiful alpine lakes we’ve seen so far in Rocky, and in Colorado.
The hike starts out at Wild Basin Trailhead, the same trailhead you use to go to Ouzel Falls. The trailhead to go to Sandbeach Lake is not far away. We went in late September and there were noticeably less cars parked in the parking lot early in the morning than in summer.
After hiking 1.8 miles on Wild Basin Trail, when you get to the junction with Thunder Lake Trail, you turn right to hike 4.2 more miles all the way up to the lake.
Wild Basin Trail
We were on a mission to get to the lake and back, so we made a beeline there and did not stop by Copeland Falls on Wild Basin Trail. The main difference in what we passed in this area from our previous trip to Ouzel Falls was the aspen leaves were turning golden.
Thunder Lake Trail
At mile 1.8 we turned onto Thunder Lake Trail. The first mile or so on the trail you pass by several backcountry campsites. As with all backcountry campsites in Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to get a permit to stay overnight at these locations, often far in advance due to their popularity.
Pine forest surrounds you all the way along the trail, with periodic glimpses of the mountains through the trees.
About halfway up, we stopped at this lovely open rock area with a view to take a break and eat some snacks. This is a great spot to relax for a bit and warm up in the sunshine. On our way back to the trailhead I took a short nap here.
Further up the trail there is a junction that leads to Lion Lake. The hike to Lion Lake round-trip is 15.5 miles. During our hike we passed by a NPS Ranger who highly recommended visiting Lion Lake. It’s definitely on our list of places to go.
Approaching Thunder Lake
In the last mile or so before reaching Thunder Lake you can see more views of mountains through the trees.
You pass multiple campsites and a stock rest area before you reach Thunder Lake. As we hiked out we passed a couple who had just spent 3 days by the lake as a vacation. They seemed so happy. The campsites were all definitely full by the time we headed back from the lake. And soon you’ll see why this is such an amazing place to visit or camp at.
As we approached the edge of the lake, our jaws started dropping. The towering mountains surrounding the edges of the lake made quite an impression.
One of the first things we noticed is this ranger patrol cabin situated close to the lake. The rangers that stay here do so in order to be able to quickly respond to emergencies in the area. What a spot to stay!
Taking a left at the cabin, we followed a path to the bottom edge of the lake, where there is a narrow rocky beach you can walk along for a bit. The wind was blowing strongly on this side of the lake.
Panorama of Thunder Lake, Tanima Peak (12,420′) to the left, Mount Alice (13,330′) to the right.
A closer view –
I couldn’t find any official trails for hiking Mt. Alice, but apparently they exist.
Closeup of Mount Alice with a telephoto lens –
Similar to Mt. Alice, there are no official trail to climb Tanima Peak, but it is still possible from a mountaineering perspective, even combining it with Mt Alice.
I loved the shape of Tanima Peak since we first identified it when we went for a hike along Allenspark Trail back in April –
From a distance it kind of looks like an egg, but it was interesting to see it from a different perspective, so close up.
Trail along Thunder Lake
It was windy by the bottom edge of the lake, and a few people were arriving. We decided to hike a bit further to the other side of Thunder Lake to see what it’s like and enjoy some solitude.
View of Tanima Peak along the way –
Trail by the lake –
There are a few spots along the trail that go down to the edge of the lake where you can sit –
The Far Side of Thunder Lake
Other than the view of the lake near the cabin, our time spent by the far side of the lake was my favorite part of the hike. There is this open area on the far side where we decided to sit down and have lunch.
The view from our spot, looking down the lake from the other side. There was little wind here, and with the sun shining its warm beams, we nodded off in the grass for a nap. It was so peaceful.
The Hike Back
After our nap, which lasted about 45 mins, we woke up to see wisps of clouds starting to come in. Having seen the main sights, we headed straight back to the trailhead to get ahead of any rain. The hike down was straightforward, but with the miles adding up to one of our longest hikes ever, our legs got quite tired.
Recommended as a Strenuous Hike
If you are physically up for the length of this hike, we would highly recommend it. The views of the mountains and the lake at the end of the climb are exceptional.