A summer of volunteer patrolling for the Indian Peaks Wilderness had left me longing.
Longing for a hike with our pups, Logan and Shawnee.
We’d done a lot of hikes around Nederland many times — Lost Lake, the Rim Trail, Blue Lake. I wanted to see something different, yet get some exercise in for them and for me.
We drove over to Lily Mountain for a hike with the dogs. Lily Mountain is a little known hike near Rocky Mountain National Park.
Working as a Park Ranger at Rocky, I often got asked by visitors:
“Where can I hike with my dogs?”
Not on the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’d often heard that national parks are to dogs what chocolate is to a diabetic. So many yummy things you want to sample, but you’re not allowed to.
Like most national parks, dogs weren’t allowed on any of the trails at the park. But a small parcel of Forest Service land sat to the south between Estes Park and Lily Lake. This 2-mile Forest Service trail leads to a craggy summit with a million-dollar view. And because it is on Forest Service land, it is dog-friendly.
Finding the trailhead can be a bit mysterious. A 1/2 mile north of Lily Lake lies a small turnout on the west side of the road, perhaps big enough for 4-5 cars. There is also room for 3 or 4 cars on the east side of the road.
It’s not until you park, that you see wooden, non-descript sign with “Lily Lake” etched into it. The trail parallels the road the first 1/4 mile, so can be easy to miss.
After a bit of up and down over the first 1/2-mile, it climbs in earnest, winding through pine forest. Rocks litter the trail as you work your way back south, climbing ever higher.
At one point, the trail seems to dead-end, but a wooden sign, “Trail” with an arrow alerts us to clamber up some rocks. At this point, it’s best to look for the cairns marking the way.
The dogs, with quadraped power, are better at this scrambling up rocks than I am. They jump vertically up rock faces, hopping from rock to rock, like billy goats making their way up a cliff. I have to take my time, looking for small ledges to push off of.
Occasionally, I even have to grab a rock with my hands to keep myself in balance. With nowhere to climb, I hear a woof.
Looking up, Shawnee has somehow wedged herself onto a small ledge. She is “cliffed out.”
For flatlanders not familiar with the term, getting “cliffed out” happens to mountaineers climbing up mountains. You find yourself on a ledge, unable to climb higher, but unable to down climb either. It can be a very scary feeling, as I’m sure it was for our pup.
“If you grab her harness and lift, I’ll pull on her leash” Bryon says.
Working as a team, we get her off the cliff, and clip leashes to both dogs.
Good thing, as we climb the last 10 feet to the “summit.” The northern side drops 100 feet or more. But the 1000 feet of climbing is well worth it.
Grand views of Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker greet us to the south. Spinning a 1/4-turn, we see the double summit of Twin Sisters, its craggy summit in contrast to the blue sky. Turning north, the town of Estes Park dots the landscape along with Lake Estes.
Finally, looking west, we spy the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park — Flattop Mountain and others. It’s an incredible 360-degree view that is made even more breathtaking by the glimpses of aspen turning gold on the hillsides.
The hike is accessible to most at only 2 miles and 1000 feet of climbing, a lot less work than nearby Twin Sisters or Longs Peak.