Spirit Lake, East Inlet Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Spirit Lake - 15.8 miles

East Inlet Trailhead

Spirit Lake (10,298') on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park

Spirit Lake (10,298') on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park

Round-Trip Length: 15.8 miles (distance may vary slightly by route)
Start-End Elevation: 8,391' - 10,298' (10,335' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,907' net elevation gain (+2,910' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Spirit Lake - 15.8 Miles Round-Trip

Spirit Lake is located 7.9 miles from East Inlet Trailhead on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, accessible by a short unimproved trail past Lake Verna. Mild grades make this long trail achievable in a day, and only a moderate overnight effort. Visitors will enjoy miles of deep backcountry travel on the varied hike to Spirit Lake:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail passes spurs for Adams Falls (.27 miles) and levels around the north side of East Meadow, an expansive meadow cut by slow moving oxbows on the East Inlet. This is a popular destination for anglers and great place to see moose.

The trail enters a thinned-out lodgepole forest to Lower East Inlet backcountry campsite (2.35 miles : 8,685’), where grades steepen on rugged terrain up the valley’s north wall.

It crests at 3.45 miles (9,220’) and drops to the creek, where healthier fir trees appear and soften the aesthetic loss from pervasive beetle kill. The trail levels by a slow section of water before rising away to the Cats Lair backcountry campsite (3.8 miles : 9,210’).

It edges back to the creek and undulates to a bridge over to the south side of East Inlet (4.35 miles : 9,405’), just past which are a series of powerful cascades. The trail steepens away on a rocky-rooted path to the Gray Jay Group campsite (5.05 miles : 9,805’), then crosses a debris field created by a recent avalanche.

The NPS has done a great job making it passable, but expect fallen trees and vague spots on this short segment. Travel eases on the final run to Lone Pine Lake (5.4 miles : 9,885’). The trail turns sharply up Lone Pine's kinetic inlet falls to open rock slabs with aerial views of the lake, crossing back to the creek's north side on this scenic climb.

Grades moderate between Slick Rock backcountry campsite (5.7 miles : 10,040’) and Solitaire backcountry campsite (6.0 miles : 10,145’) through a slot in the valley where the creek is dammed up into three large pools by logjams and talus.

This interesting stretch continues to the Upper Inlet backcountry campsite (6.6 miles : 10,190'), then crests and drops to the NW shore of Lake Verna (6.9 miles : 10,200'), the Lake Verna backcountry campsite and beginning of unimproved travel.

The unimproved trail is initially quite rugged and difficult to distinguish from social trails; when in doubt, err along the waterline - it's much easier than the steep, cluttered forest above. Proceed cautiously through intervals of deadfall, running water and slippery rocks.

The terrain moderates and path clarifies considerably upon reaching the open east inlet of Lake Verna (7.5 miles). The trail rises nominally on a shifting path through drier bands of timber to the edge of Spirit Lake (7.9 miles : 10,298').

Spirit Lake is comparable in size to Lake Verna, but positioned better in a wider section of the valley to capture its scale. Andrews Peak (12,565'), Mt Alice (13,310'), Boulder Grand Pass (12,061'), Isolation Peak (13,118') and Mt Craig (12,007') frame the basin.

The unimproved trail continues on mild terrain to Spirit's open NE shore, and similarly through a patchy forest up to Fourth Lake (8.5 miles : 10,360'). Fourth Lake's east side opens to an idyllic meadow, a point worth reaching.

The unimproved trail grows steep and is lightly traveled beyond this meadow en route to Fifth Lake (10,840') and Boulder Grand Pass (12,061'), which leads to Thunder Lake in Wild Basin.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 14.358 W105 47.991 — 0.0 miles : East Inlet Trailhead
  • N40 14.241 W105 47.621 — .5 miles : Trail skirts large meadow
  • N40 14.262 W105 47.159 — 1.2 miles : East Meadow backcountry campsite
  • N40 14.160 W105 46.383 — 2.0 miles : Trail re-enters forest
  • N40 14.078 W105 46.112 — 2.35 miles : Lower East Inlet backcountry campsite
  • N40 13.664 W105 45.328 — 3.45 miles : Trail crests and drops to creek
  • N40 13.630 W105 45.064 — 3.75 miles : Cats Lair backcountry campsite
  • N40 13.576 W105 44.569 — 4.35 miles : Cross bridge to south side of creek
  • N40 13.828 W105 44.179 — 5.05 miles : Gray Jay backcountry campsite
  • N40 13.877 W105 43.968 — 5.4 miles : Lone Pine Lake
  • N40 13.990 W105 43.641 — 5.7 miles : Slick Rock backcountry campsite
  • N40 13.886 W105 43.558 — 6.0 miles : Solitaire backcountry campsite
  • N40 13.720 W105 42.956 — 6.6 miles : Upper East Inlet backcountry campsite
  • N40 13.663 W105 42.653 — 6.9 miles : Lake Verna | begin unimproved travel
  • N40 13.521 W105 42.134 — 7.5 miles : Unimproved trail passes Lake Verna Inlet
  • N40 13.511 W105 41.869 — 7.9 miles : Spirit Lake
  • N40 13.346 W105 41.247 — 8.5 miles : Fourth Lake

Worth Noting

  • There are some minor distance discrepancies among map sources for the section of unimproved trail between Lake Verna and Spirit, 4th and 5th lakes. While these are nominal, conditions can be more challenging and impede travel.
  • Moose are frequently seen along the East Inlet corridor. Enjoy wildlife from a safe, respectful distance. Mosquitoes can be a nuisance on this trail. Long sleeves and repellant are highly recommended.
  • The East Inlet Trail has 8 backcountry campsites that fill up quickly throughout the summer. Advance reservations are necessary.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • A permit is required for all backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Permits may be obtained from the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center Backcountry Office, or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake. Day-of-trip permits may be obtained in-person, year round.

  • Reservations may be secured by mail or in person anytime after March 1 for a permit to be used in that calendar year. Phone reservations are accepted from March 1 - May 15, and anytime after October 1 for a permit in that calendar year.

  • Camping is permitted in designated sites only. Fires are not permitted. Gas stoves only.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along the East Inlet and at each lake with a valid Colorado fishing license. Specific rules may apply to each lake and various sections of the East Inlet. Consult the RMNP backcountry office for the latest rules and regulations.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $20 fee to enter Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Camping is not permitted at Lone Pine Lake.
  • Horses are not permitted beyond Lake Verna.

Directions to Trailhead

The East Inlet Trailhead is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park on the east side of Grand Lake. The trailhead is 2.35 miles east of Highway 34 on West Portal Road.

From Highway 34, turnoff for Grand Lake on Highway 278 / West Portal Road. Remain on West Portal Road 2.35 miles to the East Inlet Trailhead, just across from the boat launch on Grand Lake.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:

Backcountry Office:

Campground Reservations:

Emergency Dispatch:

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Mosquitos are vicious in the meadows. Repellent is needed or wear long sleeves and pants. This is not a moderate trail be prepared to climb for at least two and a half hours straight. "
John Muir  -  Grand Lake  -  Date Posted: July 24, 2016
"Great hike. Strenuous day hike and next time would reserve one of the campsites, they all seem to be in great locations. Lake Verna unimproved trail is underwater in places, suggest trail sandals. Fishing on both verna and spirit lake was good for brookies"
Nolan  -  Tabernash  -  Date Posted: June 20, 2016


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