Rocky Mountain NP : Nokoni Lake Hike

Over the last week, I was looking at several different hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I ended up deciding that trying to do the about 21 mile hike to Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita sounded amazing. On Saturday, I set out on the hike, finding my way to Lake Nokoni and partaking in quite the adventure.

There are many hikes throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, and I found myself, as usual, looking directly at doing a hike not often talked about by the National Park Service, or sometimes even discouraged.

On Friday, I went into the visitor center to query about trail conditions and any other information about the hike I started to desire. Immediately, the ranger started to try to talk me out of doing it.

For most people: if a ranger is trying to talk you out of a hike or activity, it’s probably a good idea to listen. I knowingly took the risk and the dangers of doing a hike like this. I accepted the matter and feeling fully confident in my own capabilities, took on the hike anyway. There’s no direct way to say if this is ever an appropriate thing to do, so I’ll err on the side of “everyone else should listen to the rangers and not do stuff like this.” With that said!

I grabbed a campsite at Timber Creek Campground inside of the park Friday night and woke up early Saturday morning to head to the trailhead, which required me to drive back out of the park first. Oh well.

I was on the trail by about 7:15am. And it wasn’t long before two bull moose appeared just alongside the trail. I had never seen any moose in the wild before this, so I was quite excited. A wonderful way to start what was knowingly going to be a long day yet ahead of me. Starting early, I had the joy of also only seeing a few backpackers who got an early start back to the trailhead until later in the day as well. A wonderful way to enjoy this remote part of the park.

Great views existed all along the trail, but the first milestone was Cascade Falls. Rather uneventful and anticlimactic along this particular hike, but it was nice to see this large waterfall performing so well right now with the heavy snow melt feeding the waters. Having come so early, there weren’t even any of the day hikers that would fill this area later in the day, so I got to enjoy the falls in a quiet solitude before moving on.

The next section, unfortunately, was just a long slog to the junction of the Lake Nanita Trail. There was plenty of evidence of tree fall that the trail crews have cut and moved aside, and some of the trail proved muddy and just wet, but it was a fairly easy up and down climb to the junction.

Of course, the Lake Nanita trail is primarily long, steep switchbacks to Lake Nokoni before going over a high pass over to Lake Nanita. Thankfully, along the switchbacks, some absolutely amazing views down the gorges and at some of the various different peaks of these mountains.

As I climbed, I caught up to a group on a backpacking trip, taking a day to get to Lake Nokoni from one of the nearby backcountry campsites. I ended up reaching Lake Nokoni myself somewhat in the middle of this group, so I wouldn’t have the lake to myself. But it was in a quite beautiful setting.

After a quick bite to eat, I decided to head towards Lake Nanita. Almost immediately, the amount of snow on the trail increased directly into massive snow fields. Climbing up a couple of the snow fields and losing the trail off and on, it quickly became apparent that getting over this pass was ultimately going to require work that I was not comfortable with attempting alone, if it was going to possible at all. I decided to turn around and head back down to Lake Nokoni.

At Lake Nokoni, the backpacking group decided to make their own attempt at it, and invited me to tag on. Of course, they stopped even shorter than I had tried alone, turning back and calling off Lake Nanita for the day as a whole.

I never would make it to Lake Nanita this day, deciding to admit defeat at the hands of these mountains and head back to the trailhead for the day.

Already quite tired and sore, I hiked quite a lot slower to the end. Although a plethora of more hikers and backpackers were also on the trail on the way back, it thankfully remained uneventful throughout on the way back. I ended up getting back before 5pm, just in time to get back to camp for the night and make some good, salty dinner.

Overall, the hike proved to be a total of 21.26 miles, with a total elevation gain of 5500.47ft. These are numbers totaled after adjusting the GPS track to the most accurate elevation data available.

I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, before ending back at a free campsite in the national forest just outside of Winter Park, CO.

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