North Fork Trail to Kettle Tarn, Dunraven Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

North Fork Trail to Kettle Tarn - 10.25 miles

Dunraven Trailhead

Kettle Tarn

Kettle Tarn

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)
Round-Trip Length: 10.25 miles
Start-End Elevation: 7,807' - 9,237' (9,258' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,430' net elevation gain (+1,820' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

North Fork Trail to Kettle Tarn - 10.25 Miles Round-Trip

The North Fork Trail stretches 7.2 miles along the North Fork Big Thompson River from the Dunraven Trailhead in the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area to Lost Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Kettle Tarn fills a shallow depression in a bordering moraine 5.1 miles from the trailhead.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Hikers, runners and equestrians will enjoy miles of aspen-lined river banks, lengthy meadows, diverse forests, eleven backcountry campsites and renowned fishing along the North Fork Big Thompson en route to this interesting glacial feature.

The trail begins from the south side of the Dunraven Trailhead parking lot and drops quickly to the North Fork Big Thompson River (.35 miles : 7,670').

It turns upstream on a mild grade along its open, luxuriant banks. Well-spaced trees and deadfall clearings provide good viewing lanes for wildlife - notably deer, elk, bear and turkey - in this first mile.

The trail moves quickly to a second major bridge crossing (1.15 miles : 7,804'), passing for a short time through private property and a more crowded forest. It reaches a spur for backcountry campsite #1 (2.15 miles : 8,038') and crosses back on a sturdy bridge to the south bank.

The North Fork Trail continues easily to a side trail for horses and spur for backcountry campsite #2 (2.75 miles : 8,170'), just past which it crosses the river once more to the edge of a sloping meadow and spur to backcountry campsite #3 (2.8 miles : 8,175').

The trail now relaxes between the river and string of meadows, ponderosa parks and aspen stands for the next .65 miles, in which the next six backcountry campsites are located. This section is well-suited for picnics, fishing and wildlife viewing, and is a good turnaround point for shorter outings.

The trail passes backcountry campsite #9 (3.45 miles : 8,418') and inches up into a thicker forest. It turns abruptly north (3.6 miles : 8,482') and steepens on a markedly rockier path through uniform lodgepole before curling west and edging back toward the river.

The North Fork Trail moderates through a notably diverse forest to the Rocky Mountain National Park Boundary (4.35 miles : 8,934'), past which no dogs are allowed and anglers and backpackers must be cognizant of applicable regulations (described below).

A variously thin and diminutive forest offers a teasing glimpse of Mount Dickinson (11,831') and more distant peaks in the Mummy Range as it undulates to the Boundary Creek Backcountry Campsite (4.5 miles : 8,968'). The trail eases to the Kettle Tarn Backcountry Campsite spur (5.07 miles : 9,230'), which you'll follow over the river on an oft-slippery log bridge to the south bank.

A faint but intuitively followed path crests a moraine and drops to the open shore of Kettle Tarn (5.12 miles : 9,240'). The tarn is adjacent to a similarly shallow pond, both ringed by a generous, sandy shoreline that's easily explored.

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Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

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  • N40 28.528 W105 27.627 — 0.0 miles : Dunraven Trailhead - North Fork Trail
  • N40 28.377 W105 27.815 — .35 miles : Reach North Fork Big Thompson River
  • N40 28.579 W105 28.259 — 1.0 miles : Easy travel beside river
  • N40 29.008 W105 28.703 — 1.75 mile mark
  • N40 29.082 W105 29.095 — 2.15 miles : Campsite #1 spur
  • N40 29.247 W105 29.675 — 2.75 miles : Campsite #2 spur - cross creek to #3 spur
  • N40 29.270 W105 29.813 — 2.95 miles : Campsite #4 and #5 spur
  • N40 29.307 W105 29.951 — 3.10 miles : Campsite #6 and #7 spur
  • N40 29.315 W105 29.999 — 3.15 miles : Campsite #8 spur
  • N40 29.458 W105 30.282 — 3.45 miles : Campsite #9 spur
  • N40 29.730 W105 30.706 — 4.1 miles : Travel through lodgepole away from river
  • N40 29.842 W105 30.980 — 4.35 miles : Rocky Mountain National Park boundary
  • N40 29.864 W105 31.111 — 4.5 miles : Boundary Creek Backcountry Campsite
  • N40 29.906 W105 31.712 — 5.07 miles : Kettle Tarn Backcountry Campsite spur
  • N40 29.842 W105 31.633 — 5.12 miles : Kettle Tarn
  • N40 29.862 W105 31.844 — 5.25 miles : North Boundary Trail junction (from DRTH)

Worth Noting

  • Runners and families will find the North Fork Trail's mild grades and good trail conditions particularly inviting. Abundant aspen and leafy riparian corridors make it one of Rocky Mountain's best trails for autumn colors.

  • Portions of the North Fork Trail pass through the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area where hunting is permitted. Stay on designated trails and wear bright clothing during the hunting season.

  • This trail is open to horses and packstock. Honor yield protocols.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping in the North Fork Travel Zone of the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area is restricted to designated campsites. There are 9 designated sites along the North Fork Trail between the Dunraven Trailhead and RMNP boundary. No more than 12 people with 3 tents can use one site. Tents must be within 30' from the campsite marker. Campfires are prohibited in the North Fork Travel Zone.

  • Camping is prohibited within 200' of all lakes, streams and trails to protect water quality, sensitive vegetation and help assure solitude.


  • Boundary Creek Backcountry Campsite - RMNP
  • The Boundary Creek campsite is located at 9,120', 4.5 miles from the North Fork - Dunraven Trailhead and approx 6.6 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead. 2 sites and a privy are available. Water is available from Boundary Creek and the North Fork of Big Thompson River. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. The site is located north of the North Fork Trail, just over a small footbridge on Boundary Creek. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.


  • Kettle Tarn Backcountry Campsite - RMNP
  • The Kettle Tarn campsite is located at 9,230', 5.05 miles from the North Fork - Dunraven Trailhead and 6.3 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead. There are 2 sites available and a privy. The site sits on top of a moraine above a small tarn. The site is located on the south side of the North Fork of Big Thompson River, surrounded by pine trees and well hidden from the trail. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.


  • Halfway Backcountry Campsite - RMNP
  • The Halfway campsite is located at 9,520', 6.35 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead and 5.6 miles from the North Fork - Dunraven Trailhead. 2 sites and a privy are available. Water is available from the North Fork of Big Thompson River. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. The site is located .25 miles west of the North Boundary - North Fork Trail junction, across the stream from a small meadow. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.


  • Silvanmere Backcountry Campsite - RMNP
  • The Silvanmere campsite is located at 9,360', 5.6 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead. There are 2 sites available. Water is available from a small stream east of the site, however it's typically dry by mid-summer; water can alternatively be found on the nearby Big Thompson River. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. The site is located in a mixed pine-aspen forest on the east side of the North Boundary Trail. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.


  • Wood signs mark campsite spurs, which may also be marked by red arrowheads on trees. Pitch tents as close to the indicated site as possible, safely away from standing dead trees. Boil or adequately treat all water. Stoves only. Fires are prohibited, unless staying in a wood fire site with visible metal fire ring.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are permitted but must be leashed within the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area. Dogs are not permitted within the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary, 4.35 miles from the Dunraven Trailhead.

  • Bikes are not permitted on the North Fork Trail.

Directions to Trailhead

The North Fork Trail is accessed from the Dunraven Trailhead in the Comanche Peak Wilderness along the northeast border of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is located 11.6 miles north of Estes Park off Dunraven Glade Road.

From downtown Estes Park, head northwest on Wonderview Ave for .4 miles to Devils Gulch Road (aka McGregor Ave). Turn north on Devils Gulch Road and drive 9.0 miles to Dunraven Glade Road (aka 51B). Turn left (west) on Dunraven Glade Road and drive 2.2 miles to its terminus at the Dunraven Trailhead.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:
970.586.1206

Backcountry Office:
970.586.1242

Campground Reservations:
800.365.2267

Emergency Dispatch:
970.586.1203

Comanche Peak Wilderness Area
Canyon Lakes Ranger District
2150 Centre Ave. Bldg. E Fort Collins, CO 80526
Monday - Friday 8:00 am -5:00 pm
970.295.6600
970.295.6796 TDD

Trip Reports

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Comments

"Nice hike that seems more strenuous than the stats would call for - possibly because the trail is fairly sandy during some of the steeper portions. In any case, not difficult, but a good workout. Very lush at lower elevation, then just a basic climb through the woods. We didn't actually get to the tarn (forgot about the turnoff in the writeup), which looked to be across the river and some wet, fallen logs, but there's a great lunch spot there at about 5.3 miles in on the left just down about 10-12 feet below the trail by the river (and basically no flies...see below). Sweet place by the Big Thompson to cool off those feet during lunch before a return down the very foot-friendly trail. Would also make a nice, mild, intro snowshoe for a few miles of out and back or tougher outing to the overlook at about 4.87 mi in. Only bad thing in summer on this trail is the horse manure and accompanying black flies, but not bad if you don't stop anywhere too long. Overall, a pleasant, modestly-traveled trail worth a visit."
 -   -  Date Posted: August 13, 2012

 

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