The Four Tops, Rocky Mtn National Park

Saturday saw me re-visiting an old favorite of mine: Flat Top Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Flat Top contains many aspects of the Colorado Rockies in one hike: Aspen and pines (sadly succumbing to pine bark beetle), a large sub-alpine lake, permanent snow fields and magnificent above treeline views on the Continental Divide.

This hike starts at the very popular and crowded Bear Lake trailhead.

Once up the trail, the crowds mainly vanish.

Elaine (cool gaiters and sandals!) and Mickey

The original plan was to shwack up Chaos Canyon and then up to Flattop. A combo of boot problems my friend Elaine had and large snow levels, made us decide to go up via trail to Flat Top instead, then to proceed for the rest of the hike as planned.

The revised plan was to get to Flat Top and the go to Notchtop (or rather on top of it), Knobtop and then Gable Top (The Four Tops! 🙂 ) then continue off trail to down to Tourmaline Gorge down to Odessa Lake and then back on trail to Bear Lake.

The hike up Flat Top went quickly. The views of course were phenomenal on this clear day. Once we walked away from the summit area, the crowds were non-existent.

We continued on to all the tops and started our steep hike down Tourmaline Gorge.

The gorge is very dramatic, but steep! Elaine, having only Chaco sandals, picked her way down. Luckily, I was able to lend her my poles. What a trooper she was!

About halfway down the gorge, we reached the small, but pretty Tourmaline Lake. Its inaccessibility added to the beauty of the lake in my opinion. Hundreds of people go to the popular sites of Longs Peak, Flattop and other places in the park in a day. Perhaps a handful of people see this lake in week or even a season. On a sunny July day we had the lake to ourselves.

Off-trail travel can be difficult at times, but the rewards are worth every step: Isolated vistas and places that only a few people see. Something truly off the beaten path..for there is no defined path at all! Simply awesome.

After some more off trail hiking (following the creek) we found our way back to trail and enjoyed the view from Odessa Lake.

Odessa Lake has one of my favorite views in park. Surrounded by the steep mountains with Little Matterhorn forming a dramatic background, it is the perfect place to relax, contemplate the hike we just had and to get read for 4 miles or so back to Bear Lake.

After four miles of rolling terrain, we arrived back at the still crowded trailhead. After so many hours of solitude, seeing all the people was jarring. Again makes me realize how almost all national park use is concentrated into a few small areas. And by walking a small ways off, a sense of wild can be easily found.

Another satisfying day of enjoying my adopted home.

All the photos


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