Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Access: From Lyons, drive north on Hwy 7 through Allens Park, and continue north 3 miles to the Wild Basin Entrance Station on the west side of the road, right across from the Wild Basin Lodge. From Estes Park, drive south on Hwy 7 13 miles to the Wild Basin Entrance Station. Trailhead is at the entrance station.
Trail: 4.3 miles one-way with elevation gain of 1,990' (8,351' to 10,340')
Trailhead: UTM NAD83 zone 13 454519e 4452287n
Maps: USGS 1: 24,000 quad: Allens Park
Fees: $20 week pass ($35 annual pass) + $20 backcountry permit if camping
Dogs: Not allowed (the biggest failing of the National Park Service plan)
Webcam: 10 miles north in Estes Park
Weather: Current and recent conditions Local forecast
June 13, 2008
I drove down to Loveland early in the morning and picked up Christine for a hike. It was a fabulous June morning, and thereís no better place to be on such a day than high up in the mountains, certainly when compared to the typical alternative of work that follows from it being Friday. I drove us west on Hwy 34 to Estes Park where we stopped at Safeway for a pastry, then we headed south on Hwy 7, passing by St Catherineís Church, which is just about the most idyllic-looking church Iíve ever seen. We pulled into Wild Basin under sunny skies and Stein flashed her park pass and we were in. Because we were talking, I failed to think about exactly where the trail to Sandbeach Lake began, so by habit I drove to the end of the road where the trails for the western part of Wild Basin have their origin. After consulting the map at the trailhead, we realized the error of driving so far, and backtracked in the car a bit to the Sandbeach Lake TH which lies essentially at the entrance station. We parked, shouldered packs, and headed up the trail.
Initially the path led through a stand of aspen, freshly-leafed out, then into a mixture of Douglas fir and lodgepole pine as it crossed over a nice log bridge that spans Hunter Creek. The trail was dry most of the way, but as we neared the lake, the snow from the spring that had not yet melted began to slow us down. It was a warm day, and though most of the time we floated on top of the crust on the snow banks with ease, occasionally a foot would punch through, filling a boot or a sock with slushy snow. I hadnít thought to bring gaiters. It wasnít a big deal, though, and despite the snow, we arrived at the lake in good time and high spirits. The sky was still very clear, and the sun was warm enough to banish long-sleeved shirts.
Sandbeach Lake is aptly named, since the shore is circled by a wide swath of white sand. It's apparent that at one point the lake was larger and the water level much higher. What isn't apparent is that there was once a concrete dam holding the water back that was removed only about 20 years ago, in 1988. Even after 20 years, there's very little growth along significant portions of the former lakebottom, but 20 years is but a speck of geologic time, and it will heal on its own schedule. I was interested to read about the removal of several dams in the backcountry of Rocky Mt National Park, all at lakes I've visited, from this page published by the Montana Water Center.
We followed the sandy shore to the south and then turned about to look north. The view of Mt Meeker from the shore of Sandbeach Lake is very impressive. We headed out on a thin rocky spit that juts into the middle of the lake and ate PBJ sandwiches that Stein had thoughtfully brought along. While packing at home, I always underestimate the deliciousness of PBJ sandwiches, and hardly every make them. The forest makes PBJ sandwiches taste 200% better. As we sat in the sun, watching Mt Meeker sit solidly under a veil of snow, the wind kicked up and we decided that maybe it wasnít so warm to shed long sleeves after all, and in a few minutes, they were back on. I fished for awhile, but got no action at all. Meanwhile Stein sat nearby and admired the view across the shimmering waters of the lake.
We walked further south to the outlet of the lake, then back north to the inlet where the receding snow had given way to a forest of yellow avalanche lilies in bloom. I fished a little more here, but only succeeded in getting sand grit in my fly reel that seized it up, necessitating a quick field-disassembly to get it reeling again.
A few other hikers appeared at the lake, but it was largely a quiet day. We began to head back and encountered a group of folks who had ridden horses as far as the deep snow, and were then obliged to walk it. Later, we passed the horses chilling out in the dappled shade of aspens lining a small clearing off the trail.
The sun stayed constant the entire way
down the trail, with hardly any clouds to be seen. I enjoyed the many flowers
in bloom, and showed Stein how the bark of a ponderosa pine in warm sunlight
smells like vanilla, a pleasure only enjoyed if you put your nose within
an inch of the tree, giving the outward appearance of not just being a
tree-hugger, but a tree-kisser. Nothing wrong with that.