Flattop Mountain, Bear Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Flattop Mountain - 8.6 Miles
Bear Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||8.6 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,475' - 12,324' (12,332' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,849' net elevation gain (+2,909' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Flattop Mountain's 12,324' summit is more aptly described as a long saddle on the Continental Divide. A strenuous climb on well-kept trails leads through diverse forests and open tundra to the summit, with magnificent views and good wildlife viewing throughout:
The trail rises quickly over Bear Lake through young aspen to the Odessa Lake - Mill Creek Basin Trail split (.45 miles : 9,725'). It climbs steadily in a spruce-fir forest to the Flattop Mountain Trail (1.0 mile : 9,965'), which steepens considerably on a rough, winding path.
Thick timber breaks at Dream Lake Overlook with good views up Glacier Gorge, and of famed Keyboard of the Winds on Longs Peak's west ridge (1.6 miles : 10,470'). Steady, steep climbing resumes in a thinning forest to Emerald Lake Overlook (2.9 miles : 11,357'), which offers a revealing look over the valley carved by Tyndall Glacier, one of five active glaciers in the Park.
Grades moderate as you transition through treeline (2.5 - 3.0 miles : 11,440'), where the forest is gradually reduced to thin bands of willow and krummholz.
Krummholz - a German word meaning twisted wood - describes the stunted, irregular growth patterns of trees in the ecological transition zone between subalpine forests and alpine tundra. Poor soil, thin air, strong winds, and extreme weather limit growth at these elevations. Still, the tundra's grasses, lichens, and wildflowers support marmot, pika, ptarmigan, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.
Grades steady on a well-defined path into the open tundra. Tread carefully over snowfields, and use cairns for guidance. The trail reaches a hitchrack (3.9 miles, 12,135'), from which you'll have an up-close look at Hallett Peak (12,713') and Tyndall Glacier.
The trail scales a perennial snowfield over the hitchrack and levels on the final run up to Flattop Mountain (4.3 miles : 12,324'). No sign marks the summit, however the Flattop Mountain Trail - Tonahutu Trail junction is generally recognized as your final destination.
This expansive flat along the Continental Divide affords a rare opportunity to explore the tundra with relative ease. A good map will help you identify landmarks such as Hallett Peak, Otis Peak (12,486'), Taylor Peak (13,153'), Longs Peak (14,259'), Notchtop Mountain (12,129'), Ptarmigan Point (12,363'), and portions of the Mummy Range, Never Summer Range and Grand Lake area.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N40 18.714 W105 38.760 — 0.0 miles : Bear Lake Trailhead
- N40 19.048 W105 38.636 — .45 miles : Bierstadt Lake access trail split
- N40 18.986 W105 39.187 — 1.0 miles : Flattop Mountain - Odessa Lake trail split
- N40 18.753 W105 39.550 — 1.6 miles : Dream Lake overlook
- N40 18.851 W105 39.776 — 1.95 miles : Rocky climb in thinning forest
- N40 18.876 W105 39.896 — 2.25 miles : Begin transition through treeline
- N40 18.872 W105 40.223 — 2.85 miles : Emerald Lake Overlook
- N40 18.963 W105 40.351 — 3.05 miles : Steady travel in rocky tundra
- N40 18.775 W105 40.779 — 3.5 miles : Grade moderates with views of Notchtop
- N40 18.617 W105 41.059 — 3.9 miles : Hitchrack at base of perennial snow field
- N40 18.535 W105 41.415 — 4.3 miles : Flattop Mountain Summit
- The Flattop Mountain Trail closely follows a route used by the Ute and Arapaho Indians to cross the Continental Divide and reach Grand Lake.
- Tyndall Glacier spans the saddle between Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak, and the U-shaped valley below it. Tyndall Glacier is one of five active glaciers in the Park.
- Hallet Peak is an additional .7 miles and +389' climb from Flattop Mountain. Follow an unnamed but cairn-marked path south from the Flattop - Tonahutu Trail junction to the summit.
- 50% of this trail rides above treeline and is highly exposed. Anticipate strong sun, wind, cool temperatures, and rapidly changing weather conditions. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
- This is a heavily used trailhead with limited parking. Arrive early to secure a space and avoid crowds.
Camping and Backpacking Information
There are no designated backcountry campsites on the Flattop Mountain Trail, however there are several nearby sites accessible from the Bear Lake Trailhead.
Permits are required for all overnight stays. Fires are not permitted within Rocky Mountain National Park. Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the silver metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail:
- Sourdough Backcountry Campsite (10,628')
- There is one designated site located 2.65 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, 60 yards north of the main trail on the south flank of Joe Mills Mountain. The site is located in a level spruce bench. One bear box is available. Water is available year-round from the North Fork of Mill Creek, Lake Helene and Two Rivers Lake.
- There are two designated sites located 4.1 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead in a spruce-fir stand east of Odessa Lake on the north side of its outlet stream. The sites are located just over the log bridge crossing of this stream. One bear box is available. Water is available year-round from Odessa Lake and its outlet stream.
- There is one group site and four individual sites located 5.1 miles and 5.3 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, respectively. Both are located in a mixed pine forest on the NE and NW sides of Fern Lake, respectively. Each has access to a bear box and privy. Water is available year-round from Fern Lake, its inlet and outlet streams.
Odessa Lake Backcountry Campsite (10,065')
Fern Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,530')
Flattop Mountain is accessed from the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's located 8.9 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on Bear Lake Road.
Turn left onto Bear Lake Road just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station. The Bear Lake Trailhead is located at the end of this road. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park