Fall Mountain sits on the northern boundary of Rocky Mountain National park with Comanche Peak Wilderness (administrated by Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the US Forest Service). Fall Mountain offers a variety of climbing options, which range from a class 1 walkup with a little boulder hopping to unexplored technical routes on its north face. Fall Mountain consists of two distinct summits. The westernmost summit is the official summit with a summit log. Some of Fall Mountain’s greatest features are the incredible views it offers from its summit. The entire Mummy Range spreads out to the south and east and many of the summits are visible. They look so close you could almost reach out and touch them.
While climbing Fall Mountain, you might consider also bagging Comanche Peak. A pretty, gently sloping, tundra-covered ridge connects the two mountains. Excellent loop hikes can be made when the two are combined into a day hike.
There are three trailheads you could use to access Fall Mountain for a day hike. You would have to be one hell of a hiker to make it from any other trailhead to Fall Mountain and back in a day. Emmaline Lake Trailhead Beaver Creek Trailhead access Comanche Peak Wilderness from the northeast. Coral Creek Trailhead accesses Rocky Mountain National Park from the northwest. Driving directions are as follows:
- Emmaline Lake Trailhead—There are two ways to get to the Emmaline Lake Trailhead. I've driven both and am still not sure which way is fastest. Here they are:
- Poudre Canyon—From downtown Ft. Collins go north on U.S. 287 to mile marker 22. Turn west on Hwy. 14 going up Poudre Canyon. Stay on Hwy. 14 to mile marker 96 which is the turnoff for Pingree Park (CR-63E). Turn south across the bridge and drive on a gravel road for about 15 miles until you see the sign for Tom Bennett Campground on the right side of the road. Turn right onto this road and about a quarter mile past Tom Bennett Campground you'll see the Emmaline Lake Trailhead.
- Pennock Pass—From Ft. Collins, take Harmony west. After you pass Taft Hill, Harmony becomes CR-38E. Take CR-38E past Horsetooth Mountain Park to Masonville. Continue through Masonville and go about 10 miles until you see the sign for Pennock Pass (this is CR-44H). Take CR-44H approximately 15 miles over the top of the pass and down the other side until you run into CR-63E. Turn left on CR-63E and continue up this road until you see the sign for Tom Bennett Campground on the right side of the road. Turn right onto this road and about a quarter mile past Tom Bennett Campground you'll see the Emmaline Lake Trailhead. Pennock Pass may be closed in the winter so contact Canyon Lakes Ranger District to make sure it's open if you want to use it during the winter.
- Beaver Creek Trailhead--Drive to Emmaline Lake Trailhead. Continue another mile or so down the road Sky Ranch Lutheran Church Camp. The official trailhead is right before you enter Sky Ranch on your right. However, if you drive through the camp you can cut another mile and a half off the hike by parking at the upper trailhead (any passenger car can do this). I specifically called Sky Ranch to ask if they minded if people drove through the ranch to the upper trailhead and they said it was no problem at all. If you’d like to verify this yourself you can call their Fort Collins office at (970) 493-5258.
- Coral Creek Trailhead--From Fort Collins go north on Highway 287 to “Ted’s Place” and turn west onto Highway 14. Take Highway 14 west up Poudre Canyon to near the top of Cameron Pass (somewhere around 55 miles). Look for signs on the left indicating Long Draw Road. If you pass Joe Wright Reservoir you know you’ve gone too far. Go south on Long Draw Road until you come upon Coral Creek Trailhead on your left. If you pass Long Draw Campground or Long Draw Reservoir you know you’ve gone too far. Long Draw Road is probably closed during the winter. Contact Forest Service Canyon Lakes Ranger District to confirm that it’s open.
Walk-up Route Overview
From Emmaline Lake Trailhead hike up Emmaline Lake Trail until it intersects with Mummy Pass Trail. Take Mummy Pass Trail up to the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary. When you get to the boundary leave the trail and head directly west along the ridge. You won’t be able to see the true summit, but you will be confronted with a large hillock covered with boulders. Go ahead and climb up boulder-strewn hill (class 2), when you get to the top of the hillock you should be able to see the two distinct summits of Fall Mountain. The furthest one is the true summit with a summit log.
Starting from either of the other two trailheads results in a class 1 walkup. From the Beaver Creek Trailhead hike up Beaver Creek Trail until you get to Comanche Reservoir. Take a left and hike across the top of dam and take Hourglass Trail to the top where it intersects with Mirror Lake Trail. Take Mirror Lake Trail south for a little while and then veer off to the left and angle west toward Fall Mountain. The last hundred yards involve a little boulder hopping. (If you come this way you might as well bag Comanche Peak as it would take very little additional effort.)
From Coral Creek Trailhead hike up Coral Creek Trail until you run into a T. Take right so you’re heading south on Poudre River Trail. Follow this until you come to the next trail junction. Take a left on Mummy Pass Trail so you’re heading east. Follow this until you come to the next trail junction. Take a left on Mirror Lake Trail. Instead of going to Mirror Lake take the branch that heads north and when you have gained sufficient elevation angle to the east toward Fall Mountain. The last hundred yards involve a little boulder hopping.
Technical Route Overview
I don't know anything about technical climbing, so consider that when you read this. Never the less, it looks to me like Fall Mountain's north face offers myriad of technical climbing options. The last vertical two hundred feet or so leading up to the summit are pretty shear. The three hundred or so feet below that are also pretty steep, but not quite vertical. The rock is also incredibly stable and solid. I took many photos of the face as I rounded the ridge that connects Fall Mountain with Comanche Peak. It’s my hope that these photos might inspire somebody to explore a technical route up Fall Mountain’s north face.
To get to the base of the north face it would be easiest to start at Emmaline Lake Trailhead. Hike up Emmaline Lake past the junction with Mummy Pass Trail, and pass the meadow where the trail re-crosses Fall Creek to the north side. After you’ve gone a ways past the meadow and the trail begins to get a little steeper, leave the trail and angle around to the south side of the ridge that bisects the large cirque. You’ll immediately have to cross Fall Creek. Keep heading in a general southwesterly direction until you meet up with another creek. Follow this stream uphill to the base of Fall Mountain’s north face.
If you start from either Emmaline Lake Trailhead or Beaver Creek Trailhead you can’t help but notice the large swath of forest that were burned by the Hourglass Fire in 1994. Lightning started the blaze on July 1st. By the end of the day 170 people were evacuated from CSU’s Pingree Park campus, the fire destroyed 13 buildings, and consumed hundreds of acres of lodgepole pine forest. The fire was declared contained on Tuesday July 5th, having burned an estimated 1,275 total acres. It took 602 firefighters, nine air tankers, four helicopters, and fifteen fire engines to put out the fire at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. The fire caused and estimated $2.2 million in damages to CSU’s Pingree park campus, which included the total destruction of 13 buildings and partial damage to two others.
When To Climb and Mountain Conditions
Fall Mountain is best climbed June through October to avoid large amounts of snow and access issues. Below is a weather forecast for Estes Park, the nearest major town. Contact Rocky Mountain National Park or Canyon Lakes Ranger District for specific conditions.
WARNING: It's worth noting that hunting season can draw many hunters into Roosevelt National Forest. If you plan to hike in the area during hunting season it might be a wise idea to wear bright clothing avoid breaking trail through dense vegetation where visibility is low. For details about hunting season contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife (http://wildlife.state.co.us/) or Roosevelt National Forest.
No permit is required to climb Comanche Peak. If you begin your hike from Coral Creek Trailhead you may have to pay the park entrance fee. Camping within Rocky Mountain National Park is only allowed in designated campsites and requires a permit.
Camping in Comanche Peak Wilderness is allowed anywhere outside of travel zones. Inside travel zones, camping is only allowed in designated camping spots and fires are not allowed. Permits are not required regardless of whether you camp in a travel zone or not.
Contact Rocky Mountain National Park
The rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park are super-friendly and are happy to answer all your questions. Here is the contact information I pulled off of their website (www.nps.gov/romo).
*e-mail messages will be responded to in the order received and usually within 24 hours of receipt.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517-8397
Visitor Information Recorded Message
Visitor Information (TDD)
Contact US Forest Service Canyon Lakes Ranger District
For information regarding Comanche Peak Wilderness, Roosevelt National Forest, Long Draw Road, and Pennock Pass contact the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. Here is the contact info I pulled off of their website (www.fs.fed.us/arnf/districts/clrd).
- Address: 1311 South College, Fort Collins, Colorado 80524
- Phone: (970) 498-2770
- TTY: (970) 498-2727
- Fax: (970) 498-2769