Rocky Mountain NP: North Inlet / Tonahutu Creek Loop Trail Trip Overview

August 2011

When we decided to go to Colorado and do some hiking, there was just so much to do. So many places to hike. So many peaks to bag. At the time, I was engrossed in work, so my friend Joe pretty much planned the entire trip, with little feedback (though requested - repeatedly) from me.

My first thought was that we had to do at least one 14er.  Given that Joe was not a big mountaineer, but simply liked to hike, I pretty much gave up on that and prepared for just a hike.  I would later find out that he had managed to plan for us ending at Long's peak for a (Classic!) 14er attempt, but that would be thwarted by Hurricane Irene (and my bad, post-menisectomy, still not recovered knee). 

Joe certainly did his homework, because he came up with what apparently is THE classic loop trail in the Colorado Rockies.  The North Inlet/Tonahutu Creek Loop trail.  This trail is also sometimes referred to as the Continental Divide Loop trail.  The official Continental Divide Trail route slides right by Rocky Mountain National Park.  Apparently this was by design.  The National Park Service was concerned about hiker traffic and made sure the route didn't go through RMNP.  But it's right next to it, and the loop is an offshoot, right near the Grand Lake area.

The North Inlet/Tonahutu Creek Loop trail Overview

The North Inlet-Tonahutu Creek loop is a 26-mile (42-kilometer) trail that gives you spectacular alpine scenery. We started at the North Inlet trailhead, and hiked to North Inlet Falls.  We stayed there 2 nights, so we didn't miss  the side hike off the North Inlet Trail to Lakes Nokoni and Nanita.  Nanita reflects Ptarmigan Mountain and Andrews Peak off in the distance.  Next we hiked through to the summit of Flattop Mountain. There were numerous backcountry sites to pump water along the way (Twinberry, Ptarmigan and July, just to name a few). From the summit of Flattop, where you are going to get some great photos of snow topped mountains (even in August), you descend past Big Meadows and Granite Falls all the way back to the North Inlet trailhead. In between, we hit the Haynach campsite, where I walked barefoot in a mountain surrounded meadow that was out of a movie.  It sucked climbing the steep mile to get there (after a 10 mile doozey) but it was certainly worth it. 

You'll travel through 5,000+ feet of elevation gain and a number of different ecosystems, including subalpine forest and alpine tundra, drinking spring water along the way and seeing the occasional bull elk staring you in the face while he grazes.  Definitely a classic hike. 



Trip Plan Overview

Below is a high level overview of the trip itinerary. The full Trip Plan Itinerary has more of the details.



There are a few requirements you need to take care of to hike this section of Rocky Mountain National Park. For instance permits and bear canisters.


Gear List

As far as gear is concerned, this is a non technical hike, so your basic trekking gear list should suffice. If you go during the summer months, you won't have to worry about a lot of clothes or outter wear. Just throw some clothes in a pack with a tent, a bag, and some food and you're all set.

Here is the Gear List I used for this trip if you want an idea of what you might want to bring.


Trip Book

My friend Brad swears by this guy. After the first chapter I understood why. Look's like I'm going to be going and getting all of his books! There were quite a few laugh out loud moments and now I am wishing I had highlighted them so that I could go back and re-read them.

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown ~Paul Theroux

In the travel-writing tradition that made Paul Theroux"s reputation, Dark Star Safari is a rich and insightful book whose itinerary is Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town: down the Nile, through Sudan and Ethiopia, to Kenya, Uganda, and ultimately to the tip of South Africa. Going by train, dugout canoe, "chicken bus," and cattle truck, Theroux passes through some of the most beautiful — and often life-threatening — landscapes on earth.

About the Author: Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Support this guy because I want him to write more books!


















"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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