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Baker Gulch to Bowen Lake

Difficult
 4.6 (10) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A great loop over two passes and past two alpine lakes with stunning views.


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Map Key

19.9

Miles

32.0

KM

81%

Runnable

12,113' 3,692 m

High

8,844' 2,696 m

Low

4,483' 1,366 m

Up

4,483' 1,366 m

Down

9%

Avg Grade (5°)

41%

Max Grade (23°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Commonly Backpacked · Lake · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Dogs are allowed once out of RMNP, but the trail starts in the park, and the trailhead has "no dogs allowed" signs.

Overview

This loop is highlighted by two high mountain passes with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The two alpine lakes, Parika Lake and Bowen Lake, are both crystal clear and have good camping spots at each. This loop makes for a long day run or a great overnight trip if you are looking for a one to two night backpacking trip.

Need to Know

The loop has lots of streams for water refills, so water was never hard to find.

The parking lot is rather small, so you'll want to get there early to get a spot. Several vehicles parked along the road on the closest pull off spot, but this may not be recommended for overnight trips. You'll need to pay the entry fee for Rocky Mountain National Park at the entrance.

The route was really well maintained. There were barely any downed trees and all river crossings were easy. Trekking poles were very nice to have for the two passes and for the climb up to Bowen Lake.

Runner Notes

Trekking poles will be helpful for the uphill sections. Plenty of water available so no need to carry a lot.

Description

From the start at Bowen/Baker Trailhead, be ready for lots of uphill. The trail up to Parika Lake is a steady but not overly steep incline for the first 6 miles. The Baker Gulch Trail is mostly shaded although you'll pass through a couple open areas and meadows that are filled with wildflowers in season. Along this section, there are several small stream crossings (all with bridges), and you'll be following along the main creek flowing from Parika Lake as you climb up Baker Gulch.

Once you reach Parika Lake, continue up the basin and over the pass. The trail up and over the pass above Parika Lake is long and takes some good effort. Take some time to enjoy the views of Parika Peak, Baker Gulch, and Parika Lake as you climb.

Once over the first pass, you'll descend on the other side of the mountain before climbing back up and over the Continental Divide. This section, until you reach Bowen Pass, is exposed so keep an eye on the clouds if you are running later in the day. The trail skirts above the treeline, and in season, the wildflowers along this stretch are outstanding. You'll pass two trail junctions, one unmarked and one marked (Ruby Mountain Trail/CDT). Keep left at both of these junctions.

The climbing continues up Bowen Pass. This climb is shorter, but just as strenuous with several steep switchbacks bringing you to a junction with the Bowen Gulch Trail and the Blue Ridge Trail. From here, you can see Bowen Mountain to your left and Ruby Lake and Ruby Mountain to your right. Continue on the Bowen Pass Trail, and from there it is downhill until you get to the Bowen Lake Trail.

The Bowen Lake Trail branches off to the southwest. This trail is a steady uphill climb for about a mile to get to Bowen Lake. The trail is a bit more narrow with some sections of short, steep climbing. Bowen Lake offers several spots for backcountry camping if you are doing the loop as an overnight.

From Bowen Lake, the run back to the trailhead is almost all downhill. The Bowen Gulch Trail/CDT is a wide and well-maintained trail with few small creek crossings. Once the trail turns back to the north, you'll have an easy two-mile run back to the trailhead.

This loop was done counter-clockwise. This trip was done in two days with an overnight at Bowen Lake, but it was a long, grueling run from the trailhead to Bowen Lake.

Flora & Fauna

Lots of wildflowers. Spotted two moose just before Bowen Lake, but there are many locations that would be good for moose along the route. Fish were jumping all evening and morning at Bowen Lake.

Contacts

Shared By:

Brendan Tuchowski

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 10 votes

#1

in West Side

#857

Overall
  4.6 from 10 votes
5 Star
90%
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1 Star
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Recommended Route Rankings

#1

in West Side

#171

in Colorado

#857

Overall
21 Views Last Month
5,154 Since Jul 22, 2018
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Photos

View of the mountains across the forest from the trail.
Jul 28, 2020 near Grand Lake, CO
Bowen Lake
Jul 22, 2018 near Grand Lake, CO
Parika Lake looking up over the pass
Jul 22, 2018 near Grand Lake, CO
Pass over Parika Lake
Jul 22, 2018 near Grand Lake, CO
The beginning road of the trail!
Jul 28, 2020 near Grand Lake, CO
Columbines on Bowen Pass.
Aug 7, 2018 near Grand Lake, CO

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