- Waterfalls, alpine lakes & wildlife
- Stunning high country day hikes
- Camp above Thunder Lake
- Wonderful rejuvenating solitude
- Gain height of 12,000+ ft
- Breathtaking mountain views
Thunder Lake sits at the top of Wild Basin, one of the most stunning and lesser-visited cirques in Rocky Mountain National Park. This backpacking trip takes us to the shores of Thunder Lake, and then far beyond it into some remote and truly magnificent high country. With a basecamp near Thunder Lake, we venture high into the alpine peaks, hanging valleys, hidden cirques of the Continental Divide for an unforgettable 4-day adventure!
We'll set up camp in a forest above Thunder Lake surrounded by giant peaks like Tanima Peak (12,420 ft), Chief's Head (13,579 ft) and Mount Alice (13,310 ft). On day hiking excursions, we'll climb into the high country above Thunder Lake, which features several beautiful waterfalls as well as signature hiking on classic Rocky Mountain ridges and peaks. The combination of waterfalls, alpine lakes and stunning scenery make these truly unforgettable days in the high country!
Trip Dates & Booking
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- Shuttle to trailhead: 30 minutes
- Hiking Mileage: 6.8 miles
- Elevation Gain: 2,250 feet
This Rocky Mountain National Park backpacking trip starts with a scenic drive from Estes Park to our trailhead. After doing a final fit with the backpacks we begin our hike. In the first two miles we hike past Copeland Falls - a beautiful cascade along North St. Vrain Creek. The remainder of our trek continues up North St. Vrain Creek to our camp at Thunder Lake. We'll camp a short distance from the lake, next to a serene meadow with breathtaking views into the high country's snow-capped peaks. After a tasty dinner and a stunning sunset we'll settle in for the night.
- Hiking Mileage: 6+ miles day hiking
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 1500 feet
After a relaxing morning and hearty breakfast we'll depart with light backpacks for a day of hiking and exploring in the higher mountains. We'll hike west through an alpine basin thick with thousands of wildflowers and up to the Continental Divide. The Lake of Many Winds sits very near the Divide below Boulder-Grand Pass. We'll hike around the lake and up to the pass for views into the lush, western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. If the group is up for it, we can continue on for a summit attempt of Tanima Peak (12,420 Ft.)
- Hiking Mileage: 5+ miles
- Elevation Loss/Gain: 1,250+ feet
Day 3 is often remembered as the highlight of this trip. After breakfast we begin our hike off trail up the South Fork of North St. Vrain Creek. After traversing into the valley we’ll come to Mertensia Falls, a waterfall that thunders down through a steep drainage. As we continue hiking up the valley we arrive at Box and Eagle Lakes, which reside below the Continental Divide. Wildflowers are abundant throughout this entire hike, as are opportunities to see marmot, pikas and bighorn sheep. We’ll eat lunch with a view before turning back and making our way to camp.
- Hiking Mileage: 6.8 miles
- Elevation Loss: 2,250 feet
- Shuttle to Estes Park: 30 minutes
After a relaxing morning and a big breakfast we'll break camp and begin our hike back to the trailhead. We'll hike a slightly different trail on the way back that takes us along Ouzel Creek, past Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades, both Rocky Mountain water features well worth seeing. Ouzel Falls is a sheer waterfall about 50 feet high, and Calypso Cascades is a beautiful stretch of tumbling water in a thick Lodgepole Pine forest. Our arrival at Wild Basin Trailhead marks the end of our backpacking trip; after a short shuttle ride back to Estes Park we'll drop you off at your hotel where warm showers await you!
Please Note: We always do everything in our power to follow the set itinerary, however it can change occasionally based on temporary access restrictions, weather, lodging/campground availability, guest ability/injury, natural events like fires and flooding, and other potential causes.
- Top-of-the-line tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and technical backpack
- Use of trekking poles
- All meals are included from breakfast the first day through lunch on the last day
- A professional, knowledgeable, certified Rocky Mountain hiking guide
- Entrance fees and national park permits
- Transportation for the duration of the trip beginning and ending in Estes Park, CO
- Bear cannisters for food storage
- Emergency equipment including a company-issued first-aid kit and satellite phone
- You will receive a Lifetime Hiking Membership entitling you, your spouse and kids to a lifetime discount of 10% off any Wildland Trekking hiking trip after your first one!
- Clothes, raingear and footwear
- Sunscreen, toiletries and personal items
- Water bottles and a headlamp or flashlight
- Guide gratuity (industry recommendation is 10-20% of trip cost)
All of our hiking and backpacking tours include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, couscous, packaged meats, nuts, breads, oatmeal, granola, and more.
For optimal taste and energy, we supplement all our meals with spices, herbs, oils, cheeses, butter, sugar, and fruits and vegetables (fresh and dried). In addition, we provide you with with an assortment of trail mix, snacks, and dried fruits to eat at your own discretion.
We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, kosher and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.
We provide all group gear which includes the following:
- Deuter or Osprey backpacks
- Sierra Designs, Kelty or Big Agnes tents
- Sierra Designs, Kelty, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware sleeping bags
- Thermarest or Big Agnes sleeping pads
- Leki or Black Diamond trekking poles
- Cooking stoves and cookware
- Bear cannisters
- Company-issued first-aid kit
- Satellite phone
We ask that you supply a couple of gear items on your hiking tour. These items are two 1-liter water bottles per person and either a headlamp or flashlight per person. Basic items like sunscreen, bug repellent (where and when applicable), lip balm, and toiletries are also important. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.
Please refer to the trip packet for a recommended clothing list (we email you a detailed trip packet when you inquire and when you register). All trips require a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots, rain gear, and non-cotton and cotton clothing layers. A minimum of three pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks are also required. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.
NOTE: See the Packing Lists page for more detailed information on what clothes and gear to bring on your hiking tour. The trip packet you receive when you contact us will have the most accurate clothing and gear list for the tour you're interested in.
Ready to hike? In the Dates section of this trip page, the green dates are bookable online by simply clicking on the date, and blue dates must be booked through our customer service team for a variety of possible reasons. To email our customer service team, you can click here to get the ball rolling. Our adventure consultants will confirm availability, and if you're ready to register we'll email you a link to a registration profile. You'll have 72 hours to complete your profile (and that of any dependents) and pay the deposit ($500).
Feel free to call us for more info - we're here 7 days a week!
You will meet your guide and group in Estes Park, Colorado at the Estes Park Mountain Shop (2050 Big Thompson Ave) at 5:00 PM the evening before your trip begins for an orientation meeting. Your guide will be in contact approximately 2 weeks before your trip to answer any questions you have, provide you with more details about your exact trip, and coordinate the rendezvous.
Check out our Travel Resources page for information on flights, shuttles, lodging and more.
Your guide will inform you of the first day's pick-up time at the orientation meeting. Generally, you can expect it to be between 5 and 8 am, although the exact time will depend on current weather and road conditions. We will drop you off at your hotel on the final day normally before 5 PM (this time is not guaranteed, as a variety of circumstances can influence our exact return time).
Your safety is our top priority. Our hiking tours are led by professional hiking guides, all of whom are wilderness-certified first responders or EMT's, each with years of guiding and wilderness experience. We've developed comprehensive risk management protocols that our guides adhere to in case of an emergency, and most tours carry a satellite phone. If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) for more information.
Your tour will be led by a trained, experienced professional with a solid guiding background, years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. Check out our Meet Our Team page for staff bios.
Guides are required to take 8 hours off each 24-hour period to sleep, recuperate, take personal/down time...etc. In addition, as part of the 8 hours off they must sleep/rest or be in their tents/rooms uninterrupted for a minimum of 5 hours each night. We ask guests to respect these requirements and to not interrupt guides' off time and sleep time unless there is a true emergency.
The standard group size on Rocky Mountain National Park backpacking trips is 6 guests and 1 guide, with a private tour maximum of 10 guests and 2 guides. If you have more questions about group size, please give us a call at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) and we'll answer all your questions.
Age restrictions are as follows:
- 12 and older to join scheduled tours (mixed groups)
- 5 and older to join private tours, with final approval and specific logistical requirements (such as porter or stock assist) determined on a case by case basis
Being a high mountain environment, the Rocky Mountains are prone to sudden temperature and weather shifts. This is an exciting aspect of being in Colorado's high country. On trips in June, snow is a slight possibility, and the rest of the summer rain is always a possibility on your trip. To be fully prepared, please follow the recommended clothing list closely (this list comes as part of your trip packet when you register). See below for average summer temperatures:
|Average Temperatures (Fahrenheit)|
High / Low
Camping on Backpacking Trips
Sleeping on backpacking trips is in premier 1-person, 2-person or 4-person backcountry tents. Solo travelers, and anyone else who requests it, are issued single tents. Top-of-the-line self-inflating sleeping pads and sleeping bags (professionally laundered after every trip) are also provided.
Fresh & Delicious
Meals from breakfast Day 1 through lunch the last day are fully included and prepared by your guide. We never use dehydrated backpacking meals, instead serving freshly prepared, delicious backcountry cuisine made with a variety of common and specialty ingredients that travel well in the wilderness.
In the Action
Of course campsites vary tremendously by destination, trip and even by the individual day of a trip. However, you can expect to camp in beautiful areas that put you right in the action to make the most of your backpacking adventure. We carefully design our itineraries with campsites in mind.