OverviewBighorn Mountain sits within the northern confines of Rocky Mountain National Park and is enveloped by the Mummy Range to the north. Bighorn Mountain sits on the Colorado peaks list at #1567 but that ranking is of course, somewhat arbitrary depending on which list (Roach, Lists of John, Falcon Guides, CMC, Summitpost etc.) one is using.
Bighorn Mountain is a rather large mountain in and of itself. However, it tends to disappear into the heavily forested ridge and slope when viewed from proximity. At a distance, this quiet and often overlooked behemoth shows its’ muscle and size. Due to the thick forest of the Black Canyon, the whole of Bighorn Massif and the Roaring River Valley, it is as said, often overlooked or at best, simply acknowledged. Not to mention, the lesser points, Mt. Tileston, Point 11,152, and Macgregor Slab/Mountain have a small tendency to distract some of the well-earned attention that this mountain would otherwise achieve.
Bighorn Mountain lies 6.2 miles northwest of Estes Park and 3.1 miles SSE of Mummy Mountain. The summit, at 11,463ft. (3494m) barely pushes past treeline to offer one grand sweeps of the Mummy Range, Estes Park, Castle Mountain and of course, northern Colorado’s premier sentinel, Long’s Peak.
There are no distinguished trails, maintained, primitive or otherwise to this gentle rocky crest of a summit. So, falling in line with its’ contempories: Rowe Mountain, Dark Mountain, and Sheep Mountain etc. Bighorn requires of it’s visitors to earn its’ summit. One can expect some vigorous bushwhacking through Sub alpine Fir, Engleman Spruce and an occasional boilerplate slab that Macgregor Mountain is known for.
Bighorn Mountain and its accompanying ridge, divides the Roaring River Valley (A.K.A. Lawn Lake Trail) from the upper Black Canyon located to the northeast. Eventually, as is prone to all mountain ridges, the Bighorn/Tileston massif quickly demises and dies away just north of Mt. Tileston and disappears into the confluence of the two canyons only ~1.1 miles northwest of Bighorn Mountains summit.
Bighorn Mountain contains two summit registers, an official PVC tube and a mayonnaise jar left by Jennifer and Gerry Roach back in 2005.
Short video pan from treeline on Bighorns western side.
ISOLATION: 3.15 miles
QUADRANGLE: Estes Park
PARENT: Mummy Mountain
RISE: 803ft. (245m)
Getting ThereThe launching point for Bighorn Mountain is the town of Estes Park. This small mountain town is basically the staging area for most of Rocky Mountain National Park. To reach Estes Park, use the following directions:
From Denver: Take I-25 north to exit #243. This is the exit for hwy. 66. It is roughly 22 miles or 30km north of Denver. Head west (left) towards the city of Longmont. Hwy. 66 just skirts the northern edge of Longmont. Continue west for an additional 5 miles to the small town of Lyons. Continue through Lyons, slowly (the police here are eager to hand out speeding tickets) following the signs for Estes Park. Continue west up St. Vrain Canyon for 20 or so miles until you reach Estes Park.
From Loveland/Greeley/Ft. Collins: From I-25, in either direction coming north from Fort Collins or as an alternate route, south from Denver, take exit #257 and merge onto hwy. 34 heading west towards Loveland. From Greeley, simply stay on hwy. 34 into Loveland. As one approaches Loveland, hwy. 34 turns into Eisenhower Blvd. Continue west through Loveland as hwy. 34 progresses west into Big Thompson Canyon, a scenic drive onto itself. Estes Park is 21.7 miles west from Loveland.
Once in the town of Estes Park, There are three choices of trailheads one can utilize for Bighorn Mountain. These are Lawn Lake, Black Canyon and Cow Creek. The later two involve the most (hiking) mileage but do not require an entrance fee into Rocky Mountain National Park since the entrance points for these two trails are via backcountry trails. Lawn Lake trail is the shortest of the three and probably the most scenic. The Fay Lakes, the Y-Couloir on Mt.Ypislon, Hourglass Couloir on Fairchild and the eastern aspect on Mt. Chiquita are also accessible from this trail.
1.) LAWN LAKE: This trailhead lies inside of Rocky Mountain National Park at 8,540ft. This route involves the least hiking mileage of the three but invariably, the busiest of the three. This trail even sees a fair amount of traffic in the winter. Since it is located inside RMNP, the mandatory $20.00 is required. Leave Estes Park on hwy. 34 west for five miles to RMNP Fall River entrance. At the park boundary, hwy. 34 ends and the famous Trail Ridge Road begins. Continue up into the park for 2.6 miles to a “T” intersection. This is the turnoff for Old Fall River Road and it is signed. Turn right (west) and proceed for .1 mile. The trailhead is located off to the right a short distance. There are ample parking and restroom facilities available. As said, this is a popular trailhead, so other vehicles will likely be present.
Lawn Lake Trail starts roughly at the center of Horseshoe Park and climbs rather steadily with some steeper sections as it parallels the Roaring River to the immediate west. This trail is maintained and easy to follow, even in winter. After 1.6 miles, the trail junction for Ypislon Peak and Fay Lakes comes into access. After this junction, the trail will switchback frequently through dense forest with an occasional clearing down to the river below. At ~1.4 miles, look east towards Bighorn Mountain.
It’s western albeit gentle ridge should come into view. This ridge offers a slightly easier choice for scaling it vs. Bighorn’s western face. If you reach Ypislon Creek or Cutbank campgrounds, you’ve gone too far and will have to reverse course .3-.4 miles. The approximate elevation for your exit from the maintained trail is 9,343ft with coordinates of
40° 25’ 323” N/ 105° 38’ 218” W. Please keep in mind, since Bighorn Mountain has no trails leading to it’s summit, this starting location is only an approximate and at most, a suggestion. You will choose the exact ascent route. Expect to reach treeline at roughly 11,266ft.
*At the present (8.09.07), entrance fees to Rocky Mountain National Park are $20.00 per vehicle, good for seven consecutive days. Due to a measure from Washington and from the NPS, many national parks and monuments will be increasing entrance fees over the course of the next three years (calendar end date, 2009). This is due to the government cutting the amount of monies appropriated to national parks and historic sites (Department of the Interior). At this point, Park Administration has no plans to raise entrance fees or pass prices at least through 2007.
2.) BLACK CANYON:
THIS TRAILHEAD IS NOW CLOSED. PLEASE USE THE LUMPY RIDGE TRAILHEAD WHICH IS LOCATED 1/2 MILE FURTHER (EAST) DOWN THE ROAD PAST MACGREGOR RANCH. THERE IS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE PARKING HERE AND BETTER RESTROOMS. THIS NEW TRAILHEAD WILL ADD ABOUT ONE MILE ADDITIONAL TO ANY LISTED MILEAGES IN THE FOLLOWING.
The trailhead is located 1.1 mile from a predominant intersection in Estes Park. Take Wonderview Avenue north past a Safeway shopping complex. It will gently curve to the west in front of the Stanley Hotel. Turn right (north) at Macgregor Avenue and follow north for the remaining .7 mile to the ranch. The road will bend sharply at this point and eventually turn into Devil's Gulch road. Continue heading east for an additional 3/4 to one mile to the new Lumpy Ridge trailhead. This one area serves as the launching point for Black Canyon and Gem Lake.
From this new trailhead, launch out up the trail for .3 mile through some switchbacks to a junction. At this junction, turn left (west) and continue onwards to Black Canyon. Turning right (east) will lead you to Gem Lake. The first 1.4-1.6 miles (updated to reflect new TH) of this trail pretty much just skirts the meadow and parallels Lumpy Ridge. As soon as the trail starts to climb up into Black Canyon, the shade will be a welcome relief as this area can get hot in the summer and water is scarce. The Black Canyon trail segment, from the TH to the junction with Dark Canyon on the west end of the saddle is only 1.6 miles; shorter then following Cow Creek.
I can't say which is more scenic because both have their pluses and minuses. However, Black Canyon TH would make for a more convenient and shorter day. At the junction with Dark Canyon Trail, Dark Mountain, its' SE slope is the first prominent slope you see directly in front of you. From the Dark Canyon junction, Lawn Lake is an additional 5.4 miles west. Bridel Veil Falls is 1.4 miles to the east.
3.) COW CREEK: From the town of Estes Park (central intersection), drive north on Macgregor Avenue as it swings westward past the Stanley Hotel to Devils Gulch Road. This is also Larimer County 43. Turn right onto CR 43. Follow this road north. At 1.7 miles from Estes Park, you'll pass a small (closed) parking area for Gem Lake on the left. At 3.4 miles, the road will turn gently to the right. At this bend, the road will continue straight to McGraw Ranch. Follow this dirt road as it weaves through private land for an additional 2.1 miles to its terminus at the McGraw Ranch and Cow Creek trailhead.
There is enough room at the TH proper for 3-4 vehicles. Because of gradual increased use of this area, additional parking has been implemented along the road. There is no potable water at the TH, however there are restroom facilities and an emergency phone.
The trail starts out as an access road bisecting the McGraw Ranch eventually diminishing to a double-breasted wagon track and finally to a single track. The lower portion of this trail is easy and straightforward. It follows Cow Creek through the meadow passing a few campsites and rock formations such as, "The Pear" and "The Book" along the way until the Bridal Veil spur is reached after 2.1 miles. Continue straight towards Lawn Lake. This second half is the Dark Canyon portion. The meadow will eventually disappear and the canyon will narrow.
The trail continues to weave up the canyon through ever-denser forest with occasional switchbacks until it tops out at a saddle in between Dark Mountain, Sundance Buttress and Macgregor Mountain. The saddle is 3.5 miles from the Cow Creek trailhead.
The trail junction for Black Canyon is .1-.2 mile down the other side of this gentle saddle where the trail continues on towards Lawn Lake and Stormy Peaks. Coming from this direction, that is, from the east vs. from the south as in the case of Lawn Lake, isn’t necessarily the easiest way to ascend Bighorn Mountain. Once you leave the Dark Canyon junction, travel west towards Lawn Lake for 2.1 miles. At this point, Bighorn Mountain’s northeast slopes (actually a low forested saddle) will come into view. Bushwhack through the dense and old forest to the obvious barren highpoint, which is Bighorn Mountain. The hiking isn’t difficult only slow-going. Enjoy the summit!
Red TapeSince Bighorn Mountain and Mt. Tileston lie within the confines of Rocky Mountain National Park, the bittersweet fact is that the mountain is still pristine and undeveloped BUT under the yoke of many rules and regulations.
To name but a few:
•Backcountry fires are strictly prohibited save for within existing fire rings.
•Wood gathering is prohibited.
•Motorized vehicle travel is prohibited on ALL backcountry trails, as are mountain bikes. Road cycling is allowed.
•Climbing, chipping and drilling though permitted, is not recommended. Motorized and pneumatic drills are not allowed and it is also recommended that removable pro is used.
•All trash must be packed out.
•Use existing trails when available.
•Leave no trace ethics.
•Pets are NOT permitted on hiking trails or in the backcountry. They are permitted only in areas accessed by vehicles.
•Things to know before you come.
•Firearms and fireworks are not permitted.
The entrance as said, is $20.00 and is good for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase. An annual pass is also available for purchase for $35.00 and is valid for one calendar year from the date of purchase. Bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians are $10.00.
Fall River Entrance:
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, Colorado 80517
Beaver Meadows Entrance: #(970) 586-1206
Backcountry Office: #970-586-1242
Visitor Information Recorded Message #970-586-1333 (24 hours a day, updated daily)
Visitor Information for the Hearing Impaired (TTY) #970-586-1319 (Daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST)
Campground Reservations: #877-444-6777
CampingThere are six drive in campgrounds of which two take reservations. The remaining three are first come, first serve. The sixth site is a group site. There is no electricity, sewer hook-ups or water available at any campground.
1.) Aspenglen- (8200 ft)- 54 sites. Open from May 17 to noon September 17, 2007. No reservations taken. Camping fee $20/site/night.
2.) Glacier Basin- (8500 ft)-150 sites. Open from May 23 to noon September 10, 2007. Reservations recommended. Camping fee $20/site/night.
3.) Long’s Peak- (9405 ft)-26 sites. Open year round. No reservations taken. Tents only. Camping fee $20/site/night when water is on, May 13-September 16, 2007; $14/site/night when water is off.
4.) Moraine Park- (8160 ft)-245 sites. Open year round. Reservations taken and recommended from May 25 to September 30, 2007. First-come, first-served the remainder of the year. Camping fee $20/site/night during the reservation period. Water is on May 13-October 14, 2007. Fee after water is turned off is $14/site/night.
5.) Timber Creek- (8900 ft)- 98 sites. Open year round. No reservations taken. Camping fee $20/site/night from May 22-September 30, 2007. Fees $14/site/night when water is off.
6.) Glacier Basin Group Site- Open from May 23 to noon September 10, 2007. Reservations recommended. Camping fee $3/person/night. Tents only. Small sites fit 10 - 15 people, medium sites 16-25 people, large sites 26- 40 people. No limit on number of tents. No more than five vehicles per site.
Further Camping Beta
Rocky Mountain National Park also offers 120 backcountry sites for camping ranging from 8,100ft. all the way to 12,760ft. Backcountry permits are now $20.00 and attainable at the Backcountry office. The permit is good for seven consecutive nights and is good at one location or spread out over multiple locations. Look at this link:
Backcountry Guide Campsites.
It is absolutely invaluable. I would normally have reproduced the information contained therein but the sheer amount of information is enormous.
Use this for temperature conversions:
External LinksLeave no trace Some interesting beta.
Further RMNP beta
National Park Service
Pott’s Puddle This is a picture of Pott's Puddle from Mummy Mountain. Bighorn Mountain & Mt. Tileston can be seen in the middleground.
The story of how Pott's Puddle was named is an interesting little tidbit. A old Forest Ranger by the name of Jack Moomaw played a stunt on a fellow NPS employee back in the 1950's. Jack Moomaw had the 'lake' stocked with roughly 2,000 Rainbow Trout but witheld this info. from his friend, Merlin Pott's who was a very avid angler. Knowing that Merlin would see this small pond/lake while on backcountry studies in the northern confines of 'The Park' on Bighorn Sheep, Merlin would think he had hit upon a veritable treasure-trove of fish that assumingly, only he knew about! Jack Moomaw never had the heart to tell his friend about what he did and so stayed silent in the face of Merlin's excitement. But of course, word got out and a few years later, the lake was quite literally 'fished out'. But, the name stuck and it ended up on a 1961 USGS map and has since been used.
Summits within RMNP Gerry & Jennifer Roach's site.
Lawn Lake This ties in with the Alluvial Fan Flood of the early 1980's.
Bighorn Mountain Trip Report The H-Bar Omega Hiking Club