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Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: Lake Verna

East Inlet Trail
East Inlet Trail
Deb Stanley

Lake Verna at Rocky Mountain National Park. I've heard it called lonely, lovely, rugged, gorgeous. It's all of these things and so much more. It's truly a gem in Rocky Mountain National Park's backcountry. But it's also a place you'll see few, if any, other people. The hike of 14 miles roundtrip weeds out most dayhikers. We saw just a handful on the day we were at the lake.

Lake Verna, Rocky Mountain National Park
Deb Stanley

To get to Lake Verna, start at the East Inlet Trailhead near Grand Lake in the town of Grand Lake on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park (directions below). While you'll be hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, there's no fee or park pass required to hike here.

Depending on what time you arrive, expect the parking lot to be packed. Don't worry, all those visitors aren't going to Lake Verna. I'd say 80 percent of the visitors are there to visit Adams Falls, a nice waterfall that can be seen in a hike of about 0.6 miles roundtrip. Another 10 percent or so will likely hike to the East Inlet Meadows. But less than 10 percent of these visitors will venture up to the backcountry lakes area.

From the trailhead, start on the dirt path lined with decorative fencing. Just a short distance away, the trail begins to climb a bit as it enters the forest. About 0.3 miles from the trailhead is the first signed turnoff for Adams Falls. A short distance away, there's second signed turnoff for the same loop trail. For those heading to Lake Verna, continue going up the trail.

As you hike through the trees here you'll notice that while there are a few dead trees here, most look much healthier than those around Grand Lake. After hiking in the forest for a half mile, we got out first glimpse of the East Inlet Valley and the East Inlet meadow. This is a beautiful spot -- lush grasses surround a stream through this forest-lined meadow.

After a quick photo stop, we continued on, knowing we'd see more of the meadow as hiked. One of the best views came at 1.25 miles from the trailhead where we stood on a rock slab between the trail and the meadow and soaked in the views of the scenic valley. One hiker said he always see moose or deer or elk in the valley, but they weren't visible on the afternoon we visited.

One writer said the first two miles of the hike are fairly flat. With a heavy backpacking pack, I strongly disagreed with his assessment of the trail. However, my GPS registered just about 275 feet of elevation gain in the first two miles of the trail. Though there were some small ups and downs in that first two miles.

After crossing the first bridge at two miles in, the trail began to climb above the meadows and valley. Soon you'll notice the trail getting thinner because it's been cut into the rock walls. And then there's the stairs. A big thank you to the trail workers who have done so much work along this trail, but those stairs can be tough as you climb up the East Inlet Trail. One ranger said he had only gone as far as the "Devil's Staircase" on the East Inlet Trail. Quite honestly, I'm not sure which of the staircases that was, because there were a lot of them!

Thank goodness the scenery here is breathtaking. When you need a break -- stop and admire the valley, admire the trail work and examine the rock walls. Every so often you may hear the loud roar of a gushing waterfall below you. Most of the cascades can not be seen without an off-trail, and possibly dangerous, adventure.

However, about 3.5 miles from the trailhead, the rock steps drop about 100 feet in elevation and make a big left turn at the creek. Take a few steps off trail and you should spot one or two cascades. Here the creek is squeezed down into a chute, creating two small waterfalls. On the topo map, this is just listed as "falls." This is the half-way spot on the hike to Lake Verna.

In this next section of trail, you'll be hiking in the forest, crossing several bridges and you should see a few nice cascades. Watch for signs as you hike and you should spot the turnoffs for the Cats Lair and Gray Jay backcountry campsites.

Soon after the Gray Jay camp, the trail turns right, then left through an avalanche area. Look around you. You should see the remnants of a powerful avalanche -- a large area when trees were snapped 1-2 feet of the ground and piles of debris.

At 5.5 miles from the trailhead, there's another more important sign along the trail -- it says Lone Pine Lake.

Lone Pine Lake is the first of five lakes on the East Inlet Trail. "Lone Pine" refers to the rock island a short distance from the shoreline. Nowadays it has nearly a dozen pine trees on it, but I guess at some point it had just one.

After a photo stop, it's back on the East Inlet Trail as it follows the south side of the lake. At the other end of the lake, the trail soon begins its next climb. Here's you'll be passing more scenic cascades, crossing several bridges and climbing up the end of this section of the valley. About a half mile from Lone Pine Lake, you'll take a big left turn into the upper part of the East Inlet Valley. However, just before the turn, look right and you should have a nice overview of Lone Pine Lake.

After a photo, head into the upper valley. Here you'll follow a creek-side trail to Lake Verna. Enjoy the views of the mountain range above the creek as you hike the often flower-lined trail. From the turnoff, it's less than a mile to Lake Verna.

Lake Verna is a great destination. The tree-lined lake has incredible scenery. There are peaks above tree line on the south side of the lake. To the east, is the Continental Divide towering over the end of the upper valley. The lake is so large, it's hard to take a photo of all of it.

You can stop at the west end of the lake or continue on the unimproved trail along the lakeshore. At the east end of the lake we found a sandy beach. It was a nice place to explore and nap. Also the east end, we spotted a waterfall on the rock wall above us.

From here you can turn around and retrace your steps or continue on to Spirit Lake, Fourth Lake and even Fifth Lake or Boulder-Grand Pass. There's lots to explore up here!

Details: The hike to west end of Lake Verna and back is about 14 miles roundtrip with about 2,150 feet of elevation gain. Add extra mileage for any extra exploration.

In the area, don't miss Crater and Mirror Lakes, the North Inlet Trail to Cascade Falls and Timber Lake. Find more great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and across Colorado in this list of 200+ hikes across the state. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.

Directions: From I-70, take the U.S. 40/Winter Park exit. Travel over Berhtoud Pass, through Winter Park and Granby. At the west sid eof Granby, turn right on Highway 34 to Grand Lake. At Grand Lake, turn on West Portal Road. Remain on West Portal Road 2.35 miles to the East Inlet Trailhead, just across from the boat launch on Grand Lake.

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