Lake Nanita, North Inlet Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Lake Nanita - 21.6 miles
North Inlet Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||21.6 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,545' - 10,780' (11,064' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,235' net elevation gain (+3,720' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Lake Nanita - 21.6 Miles Round-Trip
Lake Nanita is located 10.8 miles from North Inlet Trailhead on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It lies at the head of an isolated valley framed by Ptarmigan Mountain (12,324’) and Andrews Peak (12,565’).
This long but moderate trail follows North Inlet Creek 7.45 miles before splitting off on a strenuous 3.35 mile climb to the lake. Camping is not permitted at Lake Nanita or nearby Lake Nokoni, which limits traffic and gives each an undisturbed feel.
Ten backcountry campsites along the way are spread across miles of cascading streams and large meadows frequented by moose and elk (see map for campsite locations). Visitors will enjoy stops at Cascade Falls, The Big Pool, North Inlet Falls and Lake Nokoni on the hike to Lake Nanita:
The trail begins on a level dirt road across private property to the edge of Summerland Park (1.2 miles : 8,530’). It narrows onto single track and arcs NE around large meadows partially veiled by thin bands of timber - ideal habitat for seeing wildlife.
The trail undulates mildly into a lodgepole forest badly marred by pine beetles, though the herbaceous layer and creek corridor remain healthy and verdant.
It rises nominally to Twinberry Backcountry Campsite (2.93 miles : 8,740’), then high along the north valley wall before leveling back to the creek and a spur for Cascade Falls (3.4 miles : 8,845’).
Social trails branch down to viewing areas of the voluminous cascade; exercise caution when scrambling about this oft-slick area. The trail continues above the falls around a large meadow, another great place to step out and scan for wildlife (4.0 miles : 8,950’).
It reaches a bridge over Big Pool (4.8 miles : 9,080’), where the powerful North Inlet is funneled through a narrow granite chute and slows into a large swirling pool. This scenic area is a fine turnaround point if not aiming for the lakes.
Mild grades expedite travel along the creek through damaged swathes of forest, with more frequent intervals of healthy spruce and fir deeper in the backcountry.
The trail skirts another large meadow complex (6.0 miles : 9,295’) to Grouseberry Backcountry Campsite (6.3 miles : 9.315’), North Inlet Group Site (6.4 miles : 9,330’) and a bridge over Ptarmigan Creek (6.65 miles : 9,345’).
A faint social trail splits NE up Ptarmigan Creek to Wardance Falls and its source at Bench Lake.
The main trail continues east to Porcupine Backcountry Campsite (6.75 miles : 9,378’), past which it climbs away from the creek on switchbacks to the Lake Nanita Trail Split (7.45 miles : 9,585’).
Here the North Inlet Trail veers NE on a 4.6 mile climb to Flattop Mountain (12,234’) on the Continental Divide, and the Lake Nanita Trail drops south to a scenic bridge across North Inlet Falls (7.6 miles : 9,515’). It rises to the Pine Marten Backcountry Campsite (7.8 miles : 9,590’), the last and closest campsite to the lakes.
Grades steepen considerably on long switchbacks with emerging views of the Divide, peaks over the Nokoni-Nanita basins and Lake Solitude valley below.
It eases only upon reaching a bridge over the Lake Nokoni outlet (9.8 miles : 10,773’). Lake Nokoni lies in a deep, steep walled bowl topped by Ptarmigan Mountain. Room to roam is limited, though large rock slabs offer nice perches around the lake
The main trail continues on steep, short-leg switchbacks over Nokoni with aerial views of the basin and valley below. It crests on the shoulder of Ptarmigan Mountain (10.35 miles : 11,064’), then descends ruggedly to the edge of Lake Nanita (10.8 miles : 10,780’).
Steep walls frame the west shore, but the long east shore is accessible with some crafty maneuvering. Terrain is varied and uneven, with many interesting nooks, side ponds and outcrops to explore.
ROUNDTRIP ELEVATION PROFILE
- N40 15.393 W105 48.875 — 0.0 miles : North Inlet Trailhead
- N40 15.378 W105 48.331 — .5 miles : Level dirt road through private property
- N40 15.673 W105 47.717 — 1.2 miles : Summerland Park Group Campsite
- N40 15.851 W105 47.322 — 1.65 miles : Summerland Park Backcountry Campsite
- N40 15.993 W105 46.804 — 2.25 miles : Steady, mild rise in lodgepole forest
- N40 16.167 W105 46.322 — 2.93 miles : Twinberry Backcountry Campsite
- N40 16.292 W105 45.965 — 3.4 miles : Cascade Falls
- N40 16.746 W105 45.957 — 4.0 miles : Trail skirts edge of large meadow
- N40 17.103 W105 45.526 — 4.8 miles : 'Big Pool' on North Inlet
- N40 17.290 W105 45.026 — 5.5 miles : Moderate climb in healthy forest intervals
- N40 17.214 W105 44.551 — 6.0 miles : Opening to meadow with small pond
- N40 17.141 W105 44.272 — 6.3 miles : Grouseberry Backcountry Campsite
- N40 17.193 W105 44.149 — 6.4 miles : North Inlet Group Backcountry Campsite
- N40 17.094 W105 43.927 — 6.65 miles : X-Ptarmigan Creek+spur for Wardance Falls
- N40 17.070 W105 43.835 — 6.75 miles : Ptarmigan Backcountry Campsite
- N40 17.058 W105 43.803 — 6.78 miles : Porcupine Backcountry Campsite
- N40 16.885 W105 43.280 — 7.45 miles : North Inlet - Lake Nanita access split (9,582')
- N40 16.731 W105 43.274 — 7.6 miles : Cross N. Inlet Falls to N. Inlet Falls Camp
- N40 16.687 W105 43.199 — 7.8 miles : Pine Marten Backcountry Campsite
- N40 16.339 W105 43.085 — 8.25 miles : Steady-Steep climb on switchbacks
- N40 16.230 W105 43.308 — 9.0 miles : Views of basin peaks and Lake Solitude valley
- N40 15.880 W105 43.589 — 9.8 miles : Lake Nokoni (10,773')
- N40 15.728 W105 43.363 — 10.45 miles : Crest over Nokoni, begin descent to Nanita
- N40 15.457 W105 43.098 — 10.8 miles : Lake Nanita (10,780')
The North Inlet Trail is part of the greater Continental Divide Trail, which runs over 3100 miles from Mexico to Canada. It's also part of a 17.2 mile thru-hike route across Rocky Mountain National Park from Grand Lake (west) to Bear Lake (east).
The trail is easy-moderate to the Lake Nokoni - Lake Nanita junction. It then climbs 1550' in just 2.75 miles from the low point over North Inlet Falls to the high point between Nokoni and Nanita.
- Backcountry campsites fill up quickly during peak summer months. Plan ahead and arrive early for reservations. Mosquitoes can be a nuisance on this trail. Long sleeves and repellant are recommended.
- Moose are common along the North Inlet and can be dangerous if startled, with calves or during the rut. Enjoy all wildlife from a safe, respectful distance.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- A permit is required for all backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Permits may be obtained from the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center Backcountry Office, or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake. Day-of-trip permits may be obtained in-person, year round. Contact the Backcountry Office for details: 970.586.1242.
- Reservations may be secured by mail or in person anytime after March 1 for a permit to be used in that calendar year. Phone reservations are accepted from March 1 - May 15, and anytime after October 1 for a permit in that calendar year.
- Camping is permitted in designated sites only. Fires are not permitted. Gas stoves only.
- Fishing is permitted along the North Inlet and at Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita with a valid Colorado fishing license. Specific rules may apply to each lake and various sections of the North Inlet. Consult the RMNP backcountry office for the latest rules and regulations.
- Fishing is not permitted on the Lake Nanita outlet stream.
Rules and Regulations
- A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
- Camping is not permitted at Lake Nokoni or Lake Nanita.
- Fishing is not permitted on the Lake Nanita outlet stream.
Directions to Trailhead
The North Inlet Trailhead is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, just off West Portal Road on the north side of Grand Lake.
From Highway 34, turn east for Grand Lake on Highway 278 / West Portal Road. Drive approximately .75 miles and turn left up a steep, narrow dirt road at the sign for Tonahutu and North Inlet trailheads. In .2 miles take the quick right fork and continue another .25 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
The dirt roads off West Portal Road are narrow and steep in places. Drive slowly. The roads are suitable for all cars, though subject to flooding, ruts and mud.
Rocky Mountain National Park