Thunder Lake, Wild Basin Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Thunder Lake - 13.2 Miles
Wild Basin Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||13.2 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,510' - 10,574' (10,676' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,064' net elevation gain (+2,318' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Thunder Lake occupies a marshy basin deep in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. While much of the hike passes through dense forest with limited views, the lake vicinity is exceptional with excellent fishing and backcountry camping options.
An unmaintained but well-established route continues west of Thunder Lake to Boulder-Grand Pass (12,061'), which connects the east and west sides of Rocky Mountain National Park:
The trail rises gently beside North St Vrain Creek to spurs for Lower and Upper Copeland Falls (.35 and .45 miles). Mild travel continues to the backcountry campsite access trail (1.35 miles : 8,860'), crosses the creek and climbs .45 miles to Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles : 9,108').
The trail wraps up a north-facing valley wall and passes through an area stricken by lightning-induced fire in 1978 (2.1 miles : 9,100'). Despite significant damage, the forest is in a natural state of recovery. Grasses and wildflowers brighten the hillsides, while young aspen and lodgepole emerge in replenished soils. In time, spruce and fir will overtake them and return the forest to its ecological climax.
The trail steepens to Ouzel Falls (2.6 miles : 9,366'), drops and rises back to the Ouzel Lake - Thunder Lake Trail split (2.95 miles : 9,418'). Follow signs for Thunder Lake. The trail undulates higher and crosses back over the creek to its 2nd connection with the backcountry campsite access trail (3.35 miles : 9,505').
Here it steadies and straightens on a northwest heading for 1.4 miles to the Thunder Lake - Lion Lake Trail split (4.7 miles : 10,025'). Make good time on this pleasant but unspectacular stretch to allow more time for difficult segments ahead, and exploration of the lakes.
The Thunder Lake Trail bends northwest and steepens into a thinning forest that reveals an attractive network of ponds, streams, and meadows. Mahana Peak (12,632'), Tanima Peak (12,420') and Pilot Mountain (12,222') can be seen at different points on the final ascent.
The trail veers left at the Thunder Lake Group Campsite spur (6.45 miles : 10,676' - the trail's highest point) and drops to Thunder Lake (6.6 miles : 10,574').
Thunder Lake is framed by Tanima Peak (south), and Pilot Mountain and Mount Alice (13,310') to the northwest. Ponds and wildflowers dot Thunder Lake's outlet area, and thinly treed knolls on the lake's edge offer secluded vantages - allow to time to explore this scenic area. A Ranger Patrol Cabin on the lake's northeast shore posts useful area information.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N40 12.469 W105 33.993 — 0.0 miles : Wild Basin Trailhead
- N40 12.230 W105 34.391 — .45 miles : Spur to Upper Copeland Falls
- N40 12.022 W105 35.293 — 1.35 miles : Backcountry campsite access trail split #1
- N40 11.731 W105 35.426 — 1.8 miles : Calypso Cascades
- N40 11.939 W105 35.788 — 2.25 miles : Pass thru Ouzel Fire burn area
- N40 11.919 W105 35.981 — 2.6 miles : Ouzel Falls
- N40 12.094 W105 36.197 — 2.95 miles : Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake Trail junction
- N40 12.303 W105 36.403 — 3.35 miles : Backcountry campsite access trail split #2
- N40 12.493 W105 37.057 — 4.0 miles : Fast travel on mild grades
- N40 12.771 W105 37.502 — 4.7 miles : Thunder Lake - Lion Lake Trail split
- N40 12.771 W105 37.871 — 5.15 miles : Steady, steep climb into subalpine forest
- N40 13.094 W105 38.242 — 5.65 miles : Grade moderates
- N40 13.239 W105 38.240 — 5.85 miles : Cross Creek
- N40 13.382 W105 38.266 — 6.0 miles : Pass through meadow in thinning forest
- N40 13.424 W105 38.655 — 6.45 miles : Thunder Lake backcountry campsite spur
- N40 13.329 W105 38.706 — 6.6 miles : Thunder Lake
- Lion Lake is a more demanding but commensurately rewarding alternative to Thunder Lake. Stock is not permitted up to Lion Lake, and there are no designated backcountry campsites. Consider Lion Lake during peak summer months for greater solitude.
- Bears are common in the Wild Basin Area, and their activities occasionally close backcountry campsites en route to Thunder Lake. Call ahead for status, and follow food storage and encounter protocols.
- Though moose are uncommon on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, you may find them in the Wild Basin high country. Moose, which are numerous on the Park's west side, sometimes migrate east over mountain passes once clear of snow. Moose can be aggressive during the rut, with calves, or when startled. Enjoy wildlife from a distance, and allow animals plenty of room to pass.
Camping and Backpacking Information
There are several backcountry campsites accessible from the Wild Basin Trailhead en route to Thunder Lake.
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:
Backcountry Campsites in the Wild Basin Area
- Pine Ridge Backcountry Campsite
- The Pine Ridge site is located 1.4 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 8,880'. There are 2individual sites and a privy. 2 backcountry sites are located in a lodgepole forest north of the trail, just east of the bridge across North St. Vrain Creek. A food storage cable is about 8 steps past the spur to site #1. It's in a small clearing to the left and runs perpendicular to the trail. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek.
- Tohosa Backcountry Campsite
- The Tohosa site is located 1.7 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,040'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located .3 miles up the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a lodgepole stand at the edge of a small rocky bluff. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approx. 160 yards downhill from the site.
- Aspen Knoll Backcountry Campsite
- The Aspen Knoll site is located 2.3 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,400'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a mixed aspen-spruce-lodgepole forest. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approximately 200 yards downhill from the site.
- Siskin Backcountry Campsite
- The Siskin site is located 3.2 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,460'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a lodgepole stand. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approx. 135 yards downhill from the site.
- North St Vrain Backcountry Campsite
- The North St Vrain site is located 3.5 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,560'. There are 2 individual sites and a privy. The sites are located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail, right near where it rejoins the main trail. A food storage cable is located 20 steps up the access trail in a small clearing on the left, and parallel to the trail. The sites lie in a thick lodgepole stand on the north side of the trail, just after it crosses North St. Vrain Creek. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek.
- Thunder Lake Backcountry Campsite
- The Thunder Lake site is located 6.8 miles from the Wild Basin Trailhead at 10,574'. There are 3 individual sites, 1 group site, and 1 stock site. The individual sites are located in a forested area north of the trail about 300 yards east of the lake. The stock site is about 100 yards from the lake on the south side of the trail and slightly east of the hitchrack. Obtain water from Thunder Lake's outlet stream.
Thunder Lake is accessed from the Wild Basin Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is located 2.3 miles west of Highway 7 between the towns of Allenspark and Estes Park.
From Estes Park, head south on Highway 7 for 11 miles to the Wild Basin turnoff on the west side of the road. Turn west on the dirt road to the entrance station .15 miles ahead. The Wild Basin Trailhead is located 2.15 miles from the entrance station. Parking is limited, and roadside restrictions are strictly enforced.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517-8397