I wake up the girls at 6:30am this morning because they want me to. We’re headed up to the Wild Basin area in Rocky Mountain National Park for a massive hike to Sandbeach Lake. Surprisingly, we’re out the door shortly after 7am. We stop by Big Daddy’s Bagels for something to start our engines before leaving the neighborhood and reach the trailhead by 8am.
The girls climb the first big rock they see. Brit’s been doing this ever since she saw Lion King as a three year old. Ellie can’t pass up a good rock either. She might wish she had because moments after this shot she slipped and slid down, scraping her leg. She toughs it out though and doesn’t cry. She toughs out a lot today because not only is our target lake 4.5 miles away from the trailhead, the entire trail is uphill. Rarely is it overly steep, but uphill at altitude is never easy.
Nice trail for the family and we see several. We see at least three groups of hikers returning from having camped out at the lake. Others are returning because they simply started before us. Smart as today is hot. There are several camp sites like this one along the way with access to water from a small but strong running stream. We find this camp sign ironic as the girl’s Uncle Steve has played at the Hole-in-the-Wall on Guadalupe in Austin a million times over the last thirty years. We figure this camp site is a tribute to that dive bar.
The entire hike is in the trees with only a few spots for views of the valley or Continental Divide. This is probably a good thing as the temperature soars well above 90° today. We take advantage of several creek crossings to cool off. Ellie is emboldened by her water-proof hiking boots and wades into deeper water than us to cool off. Brit and I can’t believe her feet remain dry. She pushes the boundaries often drowning her bootlaces. My RMNP trail guidebook suggests there are some downhill segments, but no down slopes ever present themselves for more than 20 yards in length. This is a long, hot, uphill slog.
Ellie’s patience wears thin as she discovers this trail will never go downhill until we turn around. I learn later from my Garmin that we climbed nonstop 2000 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles. Brit brilliantly provides Ellie a chocolate chip cookie (what do you pack for trail food?) and this enables Ellie to pull through for the final stretch. Then the lake presents itself through the trees. Even Ellie is wowed and says the hike is worth it. Sandbeach Lake is one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s biggest and deepest mountain lakes. The water is as clear as the sky.
The lake was dammed around 1900 to provide drinking water for our town – Longmont. The dam was dismantled in the ’80s and returned to its natural state, once again displaying the sandy beach for which it is named. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a sandy beach on a high-altitude mountain lake before. Sandbeach Lake offers stunning views of close-by peaks to the north and the Continental Divide to the west. You can almost watch water run off the moraine on the northern peaks to a waterfall flowing into the lake. The sound of flowing water is peaceful; this beach no doubt makes for a great camp site.
This is only one trail of many in the Wild Basin area of RMNP. The trails sit south of Mount Meeker, many leading to lakes and waterfalls. Our plans are to return each weekend that we can this summer to explore the other trails. The trailheads are less than an hour from our front door, just north of Allenspark, CO. We stopped in that little mountain haven on our return for a cold beverage. We later lunched at Lyons Fork in Lyons. Nice Sunday.