N40 14.358 W105 47.991
Out and Back
The East Inlet Trailhead is positioned on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park and just to the east of Grand Lake. The trailhead is 2.35 miles east off of Highway 34 on West Portal Road.
From Highway 34, take the turnoff for Grand Lake on Highway 278 / West Portal Road. Drive down on West Portal Road for about 2.35 miles to the East Inlet Trailhead. The trailhead is just across from the boat launch on Grand Lake. Since this is located within Rocky Mountain National Park you are required to pay the access fee of $20 for the day, or for 7 days a fee of $30. Unlike many other trailheads in Rocky, the East Inlet Trailhead has a large parking area with a comfort station.
I went on a solo overnight backpacking trip on September 19 to 20, 2020. One of my co-workers, Rebecca, had a number of permits for a series of weekend backpacking trips with her daughter, who just graduated from College. When they found that they were getting tired of backpacking every weekend, they asked me if I would like to use the permit. Rebecca transferred the wilderness permit to my license plate number at the NPS Headquarters Wilderness Office (beside Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on Highway 36 west of Estes Park, CO.
This was my first time taking this trail. According to Rebecca, the East Inlet trail has tranquil pine forests and beautiful wetlands that are home to a variety of animals including moose, elk, moose, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. There are a number of small sub-alpine lakes, streams and waterfalls that lead up to Lake Verna.
After making this wonderful trip, I will encourage everyone to hike to Lake Verna (or one of the many backcountry campsites along the East Inlet Trail) for the weekend to enjoy life along the peaceful lakeside. These are amazing places to chill out, use as a basecamp for additional day-hikes, photography, or fishing (*with a valid Colorado fishing license).
This is a beautiful hike and nice place for backpacking with many water sources along the way. Be aware that it is a pretty strenuous hike with a full backpack. I would not rate it as a beginner trip….more like intermediate due to the long, steep climb up to Lake Verna.
It should also be noted that there are lots of downed trees along this trail. Many of which were downed during the late summer winter storm that occurred just a couple of weeks prior to my hike. These trees were still fallen across the trail with National Park Service crews just starting to cut them off the trail.
East Inlet Trail Wilderness Camping Guide:
In order to camp in the Backcountry at Rocky Mountain National Park (Or any National Park for that matter) you are required to secure a permit that will allow for backcountry camping. For more information on how to obtain a Wilderness Permit in Rocky Mountain National Park, see the National Park Service Wilderness Camping Guide. It’s a great resource and provides current information on road and trail closures.
The East Inlet Trail is a well established trail that has good signage to all backcountry campsites. It can be noted to camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the metal arrowhead posted at each site. Look for the Red flags on trees for direction to each campsite off the main trail. Furthermore, fires are not permitted (only use gas stoves).
There are a number of awesome destinations for backpackers and hikers on the East Inlet Trail. Here is a listing of those destinations and wilderness campsites:
Adams Falls (0.3 miles)
East Meadow (0.6 miles)
Lower East Inlet backcountry campsite (2.35 miles)
Cats Lair backcountry campsite (3.8 miles)
Gray Jay Group backcountry campsite (5.1 miles)
Lone Pine Lake (5.4 miles)
Slick Rock backcountry campsite (5.7 miles)
Solitaire backcountry campsite (6.0 miles)
Upper Inlet backcountry campsite (6.6 miles)
Lake Verna backcountry campsite (7 miles)
Spirit Lake (8.0 miles)
Boulder-Grand Pass (9.5 miles)
Stay Nearby with Airbnb:
A brief glance at Airbnb’s lodgings shows some very promising options close the the trailhead.
Campgrounds near the Trailhead:
View options for roughing it near the East Inlet Trailhead near Grand Lake, Colorado on The Dyrt PRO app. The Dyrt PRO is the largest campground search platform with the most campground reviews and tips. Now accessible offline for finding camping on the road. Here are a few of my favorites:
This first-come, first-served campground sits on the shores of Lake Granby within the Arapaho National Recreation Area near Grand Lake, Colorado. There are 25 non-electric shaded sites that will accommodate tents, trailers and RVs.
Green Ridge Campground is located on beautiful Shadow Mountain Reservoir, southwest of Grand Lake in north central Colorado. Visitors enjoy the area for its great boating, fishing and hiking opportunities.
Find the perfect vacation at Winding River Resort near Grand Lake, CO. Winding River’s Cabin Rentals and camping options are surrounded by the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapahoe National Forest. This mountain setting delivers an array of activities, including horseback riding, snowmobiling and hiking.
The Stillwater Campground is located in the Arapaho National Recreation Area and is the largest campground on the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest. It is located on Lake Granby, six miles southeast of Grand Lake.
The Climb to Lake Verna Wilderness Campsite – September 19, 2020:
The trail begins with stops at Adams Falls and the East Meadow. Then the trail climbs steadily up 6.9 miles with an elevation gain of more than 2,100 feet through the East Inlet Creek valley to Lake Verna. Thankfully, it’s a much lower grade close to the trailhead.
The start of my hike yielded some spectacular views of fall in its full glory. The leaves were changing and the Rocky Mountains were showing off her “true” colors. The climb up to Adams Falls starts a few hundred feet from the trailhead.
At around 0.3 Miles into the hike, I encountered the Adams Falls Trail, which is a short loop that reconnects with the East Inlet Trail after less than 0.2 miles. Turn right at this junction and walk the short distance to Adams Falls overlook. The water drops approximately 55 feet in a series of steps through a narrow rock gorge.
From the overlook the trail climbs to the top of the falls where you’ll have another outstanding view from above. Looking off into the distance to the west, I can see Grand Lake. From the top of the falls the loop portion of the hike continues for a very short distance before linking up with the East Inlet Trail once again. Turn left at this junction to return back to the parking area. Adventurers turn right towards Lake Verna, of course.
After about 0.6 miles from the trailhead, I encounter the outskirts of East Meadow, which is another nice view point. The trail above the falls turns into a meadow, wide open and flanked on both sides by the splendor of an early fall. Here you’ll enjoy outstanding views of East Inlet Creek as it snakes through the valley under the gaze of Mount Cairns (2.5 miles to the east), Mount Craig (10,421 feet; 3.7 miles to the east) and Mount Wescott (10,421 feet; 2.5 miles to the southeast). From these vantage points along the East Meadow, you will have a great opportunity to spot a moose or elk near the creek or grazing in the grass. The slopes along the northern side of the valley feature the vibrant color of the Aspen trees entering their fall transition.
The trail then circles around the northern edge of this immense meadow. As I continued down the trail (which was mostly flat), the incline and climb begins on the slopes on the north side of the valley.
After about a 1.25 from the trailhead, there is a rock outcropping that offers expansive views of East Inlet Creek and East Meadow. It is quite the view and worthy of pausing for a picture, the fall colors make for a very photogenic landscape.
What goes up, must go down. After making my way down the rock outcropping, I stop in the Meadow near East Inlet Creek. Here, I was presented with a wonderful opportunity to view reflections of the surrounding hills on the calm waters of the inlet. Another great location for a few photographs. I’m closer to the Aspen covered slopes on the northern side of the valley. Mount Craig is straight to the southeast about 3.25 miles away.
I take several photos of the fall colors reflecting in the East Inlet Creek.
Moving further down the trail a Fly Angler was wading out with pole in hand. He had found his spot for the day.
The still waters of East Inlet Creek are reflecting the nearby trees and the golden grassland.
The Climb to Lake Verna
As I exited the meadow I entered a pine forest and began another climb, THE climb.
The climb is pretty gradual at this point. I love the golden brown light on the pine trees.
I’m starting to encounter those rocky outcroppings that I saw in the distance when the meadow first began. They are now right before me and under my feet. There is something special about seeing up-close what you once took in from afar.
The forest is so peaceful…
I took a moment while on the climb to pause and catch my breath. Looking back to the west, I could see where I had come from and the view of Grand Lake.
The layers of rock are weathering to make a very interesting outcrop as we skirt the northern edge of the valley.
The work had only just began. I was soon greeted with a series of steps that were built into the trail and 2,000 feet of elevation gain continues. When you add in the fact that I was hiking with a backpack in order to stay comfortably overnight, the climbing fun had just begun. Being in the backcountry requires one to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and this effort will be no different.
The climb continues and seems to never end. I’m treated again with another look of East Inlet Valley as it moves through carving the rocks. Seeing the valley become a little wider in a much needed flat area as I entered another pine forest. This was a great opportunity to catch my breath and give my now burning legs a chance to relax a little.
A Game of Twister
A recent late summer a snow-storm wreaked havoc in this area. The wind and weighted snow caused hundreds of trees to fall all along the trail. Crews have just started working to clear the area but a sort of obstacle course was now in my path. It reminded me a lot of playing a game of Twister mixed with some gymnastics to traverse the downed trees with my backpack. The pack of course doing me no favors as I moved through the downed trees.
Another large tree has fallen across the trail.
Lone Pine Lake
With still more elevation and miles to put behind I continued up, up, and away. The climbing had started again. After 5.4 miles behind and climbing for hours, I set eyes on Lone Pine Lake. The view of the lake made it abundantly clear how badly I wanted to reach Lake Verna. Seeing a beautiful sub-alpine lake while hiking to another beautiful lake really motivates me to press on and get to the final goal.
The climb of course is not over, and continues on to Verna lake. Going up a pass I was treated with yet another beautiful view of Lone Pine Lake. Seeing it from above really brings it home how all the effort the trail has been but how much it has been worth every uphill step.
I ended up having a rather close encounter with a deer at this point in the trail. It was clear that she was concerned about something above. While I wanted to keep moving, I quickly realize that it will best to give her some space to sort out whatever was going on with her.
The look she was giving me made it clear she was not sure if I’m friend or foe. She’s quite bothered by my presence. Her look up the northern slope tells me she’s not alone. I wait…
I figure that She’s waiting for her companion to come down the hill to join her.
She looks back at me. I assure her as if she can understand English that I’m being patient and will not rush her and her companion off the trail.
Not long after starting each other down a yearling comes into view. It was just a mamma looking after her baby. All is clear now mamma doe! The doe immediately notices me as he/she follows the mother into the valley towards the creek.
After ensuring that they are well clear of the trail, I continue up the trail.
They take a good look at me as I head up the trail towards Lake Verna.
Finally I made my way into my destination, with only an hour before sunset. With the trail behind, and the pack off my shoulders the next phase of work/effort had begun. No rest for the wicked, it was time to set up camp. Of course I still took an opportunity or two to snap a few pictures of Lake Verna before dark.
Returning to the Trailhead – September 20, 2020:
After a night of rest I was up and prepared some coffee before sunrise. There is nothing better than enjoying a hot cup of Joe while you take in the morning sunrise as it ascends over the cascading mountains, and starts to reflect off the lake. This is why I am here.
Lake Verna at Sunrise
Packing up camp and starting back down the trail it was not long for me to have yet another encounter with some wildlife. A cow moose and her little calf feeding along the banks of the inlet fed from Verna Lake.
The Moose Encounter
Climbing down presents its own set of challenges, especially on the knees under the weight of a pack. With the sun still low I made my way down the trail and was take in by the view of the sun coming into full brightness lighting up the valley below.
The view of the pass as I moved forward gave way to stunning views of the reflections off of Lone Pine Lake.
Lone Pine Lake
Making my way back down the trail the full splendor of the fall colors were out in force. The sun was a little better that day for much more photogenic opportunities. The descending trail made for a much faster pace and allowed for a lot of moments to take in the amazing views from above. Something I notice about Out and Back trails is how different everything looks on the return trip. It might have very well been the exact same trail but seeing it from another direction makes it feel like uncharted waters. I made it back to the parking area and headed home. Leaving behind another wonderful adventure. The mountains were calling, so I went.
East Inlet Trail – The Movie
On October 11, 2020, experienced hiker, David Spates hiked to Lone Pine Lake, Lake Verna, Spirit Lake, Fourth Lake and Fifth Lake. This epic 20-mile day hike is an a very difficult adventure that should only be attempted by the most experienced adventurers. Check out David’s film here: