Bring The Thunder: This lake isn’t a peak, but it’s a challenging, long day that will test your spirit and offer some solitude | MyWindsorNow.com

Bring The Thunder: This lake isn’t a peak, but it’s a challenging, long day that will test your spirit and offer some solitude

Dan England
dengland@greeleytribune.com

Thunder Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is proof that great adventures still exist even when you don't come anywhere close to a summit.

I think there are far more people who set out to climb a mountain this time of year than hike to a lake. I know RMNP is about as crowded as Disneyland these days, but many of those people are not really hikers. Most people who are willing to get up early to hike and put in a few miles are probably going to go after a peak, especially in July or August, when they're generally free of snow.

I get it. It sounds sexier to say you're going to climb a 14er than hike to some lake and have a picnic, doesn't it?

Before I started trail running, I thought lakes weren't worth the trouble. I'd rather check a peak off my list. I even had a name for people like me. I called them peak snobs.

The problem is, if you're a peak snob, you're really missing out on some wonderful, long, hard hikes that will not only challenge you more than some 14ers but also allow you to hike a beautiful area and enjoy some solitude.

The beautiful part won't surprise you considering we are talking about Thunder Lake. Thunder Lake is in the Wild Basin area of the park. That area is one of the best in Colorado.

Recommended Stories For You

A trip to Thunder Lake first sweeps you past Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, two wonderful waterfalls that are worth the trouble on their own, and eventually takes you to Thunder Lake, an awe-inspiring area that may make you wish you had tried to climb the peaks that rise above it.

The lake showcases Tanima Peak, Pilot Mountain and Mount Alice and also features a cute log cabin that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The hike is a bit less than 12 miles, and you'll gain 2,275 feet. It is no pushover. I think it's a great trail to run because once you get beyond Ozuel, it's a gentle climb to the lake. I won't call it flat because that word evokes anger in those of you used to sidewalks in the city. But it's definitely gentle.

Still, the length of it deters most hikers from this one, especially because they'd probably rather spend that kind of effort on a peak. I get it. But it's hard to find solitude on the peaks most of us climb these days. You'll never find any solitude on a 14er, and some of the ones in the national park, such as Flattop, will draw a crowd, as well.

You most likely won't be the only hiker at this lake, but you'll be one of the few until you get back to Ouzel.

Trail running gave me a real appreciation for lakes, as it doesn't take me nearly as long to reach them now, and they give me a realistic goal. I'm not going to be able to run to a summit, as they're too steep on unfriendly terrain, but I can almost always run most of the way to a lake.

This lake does rise about 10,500 feet, so it's not above treeline, but it is probably not a place you want to be in a storm. And the lake probably earns its name, given the unpredictable weather of the park. Get up and get there early.

Leaving early helps avoid getting caught in a storm.

It will also help you realize that there are places we can go to avoid the crowds, or at least get up early enough to dodge to bulk of the mob.

— Dan England has climbed more than 150 peaks, including all of the state's 54 14ers, and logged thousands of miles on Colorado's great trails. He is the Adventure and NextNC editor for the Tribune. He also occasionally guides hikes and snowshoes, mostly 14ers. He can be reached at dengland@greeleytribune.com or 392-4418. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.

To go

WHAT IS IT? Thunder Lake

WHERE IS IT? Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park

HOW LONG IS IT? About 12 miles, and you gain 2,275 feet.

HOW DO I GET THERE? Take U.S. 34 West to Colo. 7 and take a left just before the heart of downtown Estes Park and follow the road to the Wild Basin turnoff. Follow the dirt road to the end of Wild Basin.

IS THERE A FEE? You can buy a one-day vehicle pass for $20, a seven-day pass for $30 and an annual pass for $60.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CONDITIONS: Call (970) 586-1206 or go to https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm.

HIKING TIP OF THE MONTH: Hikes of eight miles or more to lakes are good ways to find solitude even in popular places such as Rocky Mountain National Park.