Lily Mountain

Panoramic of a sunset from Lily Mountain

Marveling at a rainy-day sunset from the top of Lily Mountain.

Hiking details:

  • Mileage: 4 miles roundtrip
  • Altitude:9,786 feet
  • Elevation gain:1,006 feet
  • To get there: Take Highway 7 south out of Estes Park to the Lily Mountain trail head.

I don’t know where to look, and I say so out loud. Alex and I are alone on the top of Lily Mountain for a sunset. It’s 8:30, quiet and calm. The Continental Divide is looking back at us, every single mountain in the chain perked up to greet us, it seems. All day it rained on and off, leaving layers of heavy clouds stacked above the mountains. From behind Sundance Mountain the sun is turning the cloud’s edges orange, like the fading embers of a flaming piece of paper. Later, they will be cotton-candy pink, the cloud variety that pleases me most. Further south the clouds line up behind Long’s and Meeker and turn purple in the fading light. For fear of missing an important element in this Thursday night light show, I am scanning the mountains. Where do I look?

As I wallow in my sunset reverie, I am curious about my still-nameless friends. I begin from the very south, pointing my finger at each mountain and racking my brain for its name: Meeker, Long’s, skip, skip, Hallett, Flattop, Knobtop, Notchtop, Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild…yes!!! I am getting better. It’s still shaky, but I am getting to know these mountains better and I am happy about this.

Looking north at the sunset from Lily Mountain

Watching the sunset light show to the north of Lily Mountain

Sitting on the flat top of Lily Mountain as the nighttime Rocky Mountain chill sets in, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. But there are two important bits of advice that I would like to share about the Lily Mountain trail. To begin with, don’t eat donuts the day you plan to climb Lilly Mountain. This is serious. Alex and I thoroughly enjoyed some scrumptious day-off donuts at the Estes Park Donut Haus the morning of our hike. But as we went racing up the side of the mountain to catch the sunset, I myself felt like an ascending donut. Maybe this seems profound, to experience moments of feeling like something other than what you are (like a delicious, fried, chocolate-covered pastry), but I hope I never have to feel like a donut again. Now for the second piece of advice: if you are trying to get to the top of Lily Mountain by a certain time, give yourself more than 50 minutes to do so. Between my donut moments, my asthma, and the pine pollen living in my sinuses, I was feeling half-dead by the time we reached the top. To add to this, the last stint of the trail is uncomfortably vertical and requires you to lift your feet up (much more than you will want to by that point) onto large step-up rocks to the top.

We carefully lower ourselves over these same rocks after all of the colors are long gone. As we step onto solid trail and begin our descent, I am raising my voice and waving my arms, flashing my head light around and making monkey noises.

“I’m scared of mountain lions now that it’s getting dark,” I explain to Alex. “I’m just going to act big and weird like they taught us at outdoor lab.”

Source for hiking details: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen.

Sunset over Long's Peak and Meeker

Looking south from Lily Mountain, we can see the sun setting over Long’s Peak and Meeker.


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