Baker Pass - Parika Lake Loop, Bowen-Baker Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Baker Pass - Parika Lake Loop - 14.9 miles

Bowen-Baker Trailhead

Crossing the Continental Divide above Baker Pass

Crossing the Continental Divide above Baker Pass

Round-Trip Length: 14.9 miles (distance and elevation gains will vary by route)
Start-End Elevation: 8,864' - 11,635' (max elevation on route)
Elevation Change: +2,771' net elevation gain (+3,684' total elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Baker Pass - Parika Lake Loop - 14.9 Miles Round-Trip

Baker Pass (11,253') and Parika Lake (11,360') can be joined to form a challenging 14.9 mile lollipop loop in the Never Summer Wilderness. The Baker Gulch Trail runs 4.35 miles to the Parika Lake split, then veers N-NE for 2.15 miles through expansive meadows to Baker Pass on the Continental Divide (11,253').

Trail Map  Photo Gallery

The route continues counter-clockwise from the pass just east of the Divide to meet the Parika Lake Trail. This stunning alpine traverse passes through lightly traveled terrain with exceptional views across the NSW.

Map depictions connecting Baker Pass with the Parika Lake Trail may not align with what you see under foot, or with cairns and preloaded maps on GPS units.

Scheduled 2017 maintenance should help clarify this route. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District for updates. Until clarified, only experienced hikers with good navigation skills should attempt this loop.

The following description follows the approximate route (see map), but improvises along the Divide (vs just under it) where terrain and route finding were subjectively more reliable.

Distance and elevation gains will vary by individual route; figures and navigational cues cited here between the Pass and Parika should only be used as a reference - your experience may differ.

Note: The trail begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and entrance fees apply. No fee or permit is required to camp in the Never Summer Wilderness. Dogs are not permitted in RMNP, but it's generally accepted that those heading into the NSW can walk the short distance with their leashed pets across the Park - Wilderness boundary:

A service road heads west from Bowen-Baker Trailhead across Kawuneeche Valley to the Bowen Gulch - Baker Gulch split (.3 miles); turn right on Baker Gulch to the Never Summer Wilderness Boundary (.7 miles). Dispersed camping is permitted beyond this point and you'll find several good sites along the creek.

The trail moves quickly through a beetle-marred forest with many small, verdant glades (1.5 miles : 9,240'). Grades steepen briefly through 2.45 miles, then ease across open talus with upper valley views (2.9 miles : 9,790').

It re-enters the forest and makes a short, steep push into the lower subalpine (3.5 miles : 10,160'). Travel steepens again to Grand Ditch Road (3.8 miles : 10,310'); turn left then immediately right over a log bridge to regain the trail (3.82 miles).

The trail rises steadily through an open subalpine forest and crosses a creek to the Parika Lake - Baker Pass Trail split (4.35 miles : 10,470'). Turn right for Baker Pass. Avalanches have obscured this area and you'll have to pick through debris.

Grades are now moderate but the trail loses clarity in many places - log cuts often provide the most reliable guidance from point to point.

The trail traces a meadow and hops a stream (4.98 miles : 10,645'). It passes a prominent cairn at the base of a larger meadow with views up to the pass (5.25 miles : 10,780').

Cross another creek (5.5 miles) and level across a low ridge separating two very large, long meadows up to second prominent cairn at treeline (5.95 miles : 11,080').

The trail fades but is intuitively followed up the right side of the valley to Baker Pass (6.5 miles : 11,253'). A sign on the pass points down the far side to S. Fork Michigan River, and left to Jack Creek and Parika Lake.

The trail climbs steeply from the pass and quickly braids on several viable paths. Steep slopes and potential cornices east of the Divide may have you favoring the spine, which for a time is easier to walk along.

Views over Baker Gulch, the Cloud Peaks, South Fork Michigan River and Jack Creek are exceptional from these high points (7.0 miles : 11,500'). Cairns on the Divide offer near-term assurance, but terrain will soon force you to drop to either side of the crest.

The designated route falls east, but you may find the lesser of terrestrial evils on the west. If certain you're off the established trail, stay close to the spine and aim for a saddle at approximately 8.0 miles (11,635'). From here you can survey large tracts east of the Divide and identify the trail below.

Drop down steep, open slopes to meet a verifiable trail segment at approximately 8.2 miles (11,300'). Turn right. The trail is still faint but marked by several key cairns and intuitively followed to the Parika Lake Trail (9.1 miles : 11,255').

A large cairn marks this important junction, but there's no sign and it likely has little meaning for those only heading to the lake. 

Turn right and follow the well-defined trail to Parika Lake (9.3 miles : 11,360'). The 5.6 mile return to Bowen-Baker is (delightfully) straightforward.

The Parika Lake Trail follows the outlet back into a thin subalpine forest with terrific views across the NSW and RMNP. It drops sharply to the perimeter of a large pond (9.8 miles : 11,020'), then again to the Parika Lake - Baker Pass Trail split where your adventure began (10.55 miles : 10,470'). 

Avalanches have swept over this area and the trail split can be hard to find on the return from Parika. Extensive debris may conceal the path. Once on track retrace your steps back to the trailhead to complete the hike (14.9 miles : 8,864').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 21.290 W105 51.471 — 0.0 miles : Bowen - Baker Trailhead
  • N40 21.553 W105 52.115 — .7 miles : Never Summer Wilderness Boundary
  • N40 21.925 W105 52.792 — 1.5 miles : Moderate climb in forest with glades
  • N40 22.065 W105 53.669 — 2.5 miles : Steep segment up to 2.5 miles
  • N40 22.283 W105 54.609 — 3.5 miles : Steep push into subalpine forest
  • N40 22.394 W105 54.873 — 3.8 miles : Turn left on road
  • N40 22.416 W105 54.890 — 3.82 miles : Cross bridge to trail
  • N40 22.643 W105 55.233 — 4.35 miles : Parika Lake - Baker Pass split
  • N40 23.065 W105 55.238 — 4.97 miles : Cross stream to right
  • N40 23.270 W105 55.091 — 5.27 miles : Large cairn
  • N40 23.687 W105 54.853 — 5.95 miles : Cairn at base of large meadow
  • N40 23.936 W105 54.795 — 6.3 miles : Cairn in open meadow
  • N40 24.115 W105 54.811 — 6.55 miles : Baker Pass (11253')
  • N40 24.005 W105 55.228 — 7.0 miles : Steep travel up ridge
  • N40 24.091 W105 55.209 — 7.2 miles : Cairn on ridge
  • N40 23.795 W105 55.396 — 7.7 miles : Drop to west side
  • N40 23.648 W105 55.463 — 7.9 miles : Cross steep talus slide
  • N40 23.536 W105 55.546 — 8.0 miles : Saddle on Divide (11,635')
  • N40 23.487 W105 55.546 — 8.1 miles : Steep drop to visible trail
  • N40 23.430 W105 55.510 — 8.2 miles : Reach established trail
  • N40 23.267 W105 55.737 — 8.6 miles : Established trail segment
  • N40 23.048 W105 55.866 — 8.95 miles : Established trail segment
  • N40 22.912 W105 55.993 — 9.1 miles : Meet Parika Lake Trail
  • N40 22.900 W105 56.207 — 9.35 miles : Parika Lake
  • N40 22.804 W105 55.781 — 9.85 miles : Steep drop levels near large pond
  • N40 22.719 W105 55.361 — 10.35 miles : Steep drop in subalpine forest

Worth Noting

  • This route is scheduled for 2017 maintenance which will improve the clarity and efficiency of the route described here. Use this only as a reference. Your experience may vary. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District for updated trail status.
  • The Never Summer Range's position and prominence captures high amounts of precipitation, which may linger well into summer (which gives rise to the name, 'Never Summer Wilderness').

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry Camping in the Never Summer Wilderness

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Never Summer Wilderness. No fee or permit is required.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake, stream or road. Group size is limited to 15 individuals (people + dogs and stock combined).

  • Campfires are permitted in the Never Summer Wilderness below 10,800'. Campfires are not permitted within 1/2 mile of Parika Lake.
  • Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact. Practice strict Leave No Trace camping.
  • Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) or Rocky Mountain National Park (970.586.1242) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.

Backcountry Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 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.
  • There's a $26 fee to backcountry camp in Rocky Mountain National Park (May 1 - October 31). This administrative fee covers each party (defined as an individual or group) for the duration of the trip. Note that park entrance fees are applied separately and in full.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted in Parika Lake, Bowen Lake, Baker Gulch and Bowen Gulch with a valid Colorado fishing license. Contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife or Rocky Mountain National Park to learn more about fishing the Colorado River within RMNP, and special restrictions that apply to greenback cutthroat trout.

Rules and Regulations

  • A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
  • Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, however they are allowed on all trails in the Never Summer Wilderness. Dogs must be under control at all times in the NSW.
  • Fires are not permitted within 1/2 mile of Parika Lake.

Directions to Trailhead

The Bowen - Baker Trailhead is located 6.7 miles north of the Kawuneeche Entrance Station on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is on the west side of the road.

Coming from Estes Park, the Bowen Baker trailhead is approx 10.6 miles south of Milner Pass.

Limited roadside parking is available when the lot is full.

Contact Information

Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:

Backcountry Office:

Campground Reservations:

Emergency Dispatch:

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


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