Bear Lake to Grand Lake via Flattop Mtn.


On the way down Flattop

Hiking details

  •  Mileage: 16.5 one way
  •  Altitude:  12, 324 feet at Flattop summmit
  •  Elevation gain: 2,849 feet from Bear Lake to Flattop summit. 1,108 feet drop from Bear Lake to Grand Lake
  •  To get there: In RMNP, take the Bear Lake Road to the Bear Lake trailhead. Follow the trail signs to Flattop Mountain.

“Hey, we crossed the Divide,” I say to Alex, pointing to a small stream of water running west down the hillside.

“You’re observant,” he tells me, serious.

We knew we’d be crossing the Continental Divide on this hike, but we didn’t know when or if there would be a sign on the

Celebrating the summit of Flattop, the west side, and the thru hike!

Cece and Alex celebrating the summit of Flattop, the west side of the Divide and the through-hike

trail. We’ve spent all summer living and hiking on the east side of the Divide, and because things here are so often talked about as being on this or that side of the Divde, crossing over seems somehow important, like we are entering a new national park altogether.

Elephant head flowers on the trail.

Elephant heads on the trail. One of the many wildflowers we encountered in the tundra.

An Up and Over, as we called it,was one of our goals this summer. This is a thru-hike of Rocky Mountain, from east to west. However, we cheated a little by starting at Bear Lake, which is already in the national park, so our journey wasn’t a true thru-hike…but still an Up and Over!

From Bear Lake we hiked up Flattop Mountain, a mild workout compared to our hike up Long’s Peak a week earlier, but still enough elevation gain to get the heart pumping. After lunch on the top, we headed down the west side of the mountain. After what felt like an easy ten mile day, we set up camp at North Inlet Group site and opted for some afternoon napping and fishing.

Taking advantage of the rare allowance for a fire in RMNP, we made S’mores and sat quietly watching a herd of deer romp in circles around our campsite.

The next day, after a long side trip to Nokoni and Nanita lakes, we tromped on for 8 more miles to Grand Lake. Despite

Indian paintbrush flowers on the west side of the divide.

Some of the most beautiful Indian Paintbrush we’ve seen. A big treat for Cece..they are her favorite!

the glorious downhill trail, we were struggling, tired, and slightly injured. We paused at the Big Pool, where it is rumored that you can jump of the rocks and swim. With no one there to watch, we were wondering how you would get back out over the jagged rocks. With no time to swim for fear of missing our ride, we continued on.

Upon our arrival in Grand Lake, I left Alex at our spur trail to the visitor’s center (his knee was hurting) and took a quick jaunt into town in search of sandwiches. After racing back up the hill to Alex and eating half of our delicious sandwiches, we hurried on to meet our ride home, back to the east side of the Divide.

Hiking details from “Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park” by Kent and Donna Dannen, and from National Geographic map of Rocky Mountain National Park.


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