Lake Nokoni, North Inlet Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Lake Nokoni - 19.6 miles
North Inlet Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||19.6 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,545' - 10,773' (10,773' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,228' net elevation gain (+3,120' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Lake Nokoni - 19.6 Miles Round-Trip
Lake Nokoni is located 9.8 miles from North Inlet Trailhead on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It fills a large, steep-walled bowl carved from Ptarmigan Mountain (12,324') in the upper reaches of an isolated NW-SE valley.
This long but moderate trail follows North Inlet Creek 7.45 miles before splitting off on a 2.35 mile, 1190' climb to the lake. Camping is not permitted at Lake Nokoni or nearby Lake Nanita, which limits traffic and gives each a decidedly natural feel.
Ten backcountry campsites along the way offer staging points for reaching the lakes, though Nokoni is accessible in a day for strong hikers with an early start (see map for all campsite locations).
Visitors will enjoy miles of fishable streams, large meadows, abundant wildlife and stops at Cascade Falls, The Big Pool and North Inlet Falls on the hike to Lake Nokoni:
The trail begins on a level dirt road across private property to the edge of Summerland Park (1.2 miles : 8,530’). It narrows onto single track and arcs NE around large meadows partially veiled by thin bands of timber - ideal habitat for seeing wildlife.
The trail undulates mildly into a lodgepole forest badly marred by pine beetles, though the herbaceous layer and creek corridor remain healthy and verdant.
It rises nominally to Twinberry Backcountry Campsite (2.93 miles : 8,740’), then high along the north valley wall before leveling back to the creek and a spur for Cascade Falls (3.4 miles : 8,845’).
Social trails branch down to viewing areas of the voluminous cascade; exercise caution when scrambling about this oft-slick area. The trail continues above the falls around a large meadow, another great place to step out and scan for wildlife (4.0 miles : 8,950’).
It reaches a bridge over Big Pool (4.8 miles : 9,080’), where the powerful North Inlet is funneled through a narrow granite chute and slows into a large swirling pool. This scenic area is a fine turnaround point if not aiming for the lakes.
Mild grades expedite travel along the creek through damaged swathes of forest, with more frequent intervals of healthy spruce and fir deeper in the backcountry.
The trail skirts another large meadow complex (6.0 miles : 9,295’) to Grouseberry Backcountry Campsite (6.3 miles : 9.315’), North Inlet Group Site (6.4 miles : 9,330’) and a bridge over Ptarmigan Creek (6.65 miles : 9,345’).
A faint social trail splits NE up Ptarmigan Creek to Wardance Falls and its source at Bench Lake.
The main trail continues east to Porcupine Backcountry Campsite (6.75 miles : 9,378’), past which it climbs away from the creek on switchbacks to the Lake Nanita Trail Split (7.45 miles : 9,585’).
Here the North Inlet Trail veers NE on a 4.6 mile climb to Flattop Mountain (12,234’) on the Continental Divide, and the Lake Nanita Trail drops south to a scenic bridge across North Inlet Falls (7.6 miles : 9,515’). It rises to the Pine Marten Backcountry Campsite (7.8 miles : 9,590’), the last and closest campsite to the lakes.
Grades steepen considerably on long switchbacks with emerging views of the Divide, peaks over the Nokoni-Nanita basins and Lake Solitude valley below.
It eases only upon reaching a bridge over the Lake Nokoni outlet (9.8 miles : 10,773’). Exploration is limited by steep walls and rugged terrain, though large rock slabs and outcrops offer nice perches around the lake. Lake Nanita is just 1 mile away at virtually the same elevation, but requires a 300' climb over the east shoulder of Ptarmigan Mountain, and again on the return.
Even if not aiming for Lake Nanita, consider continuing a short distance up the switchbacks for aerial views of the Nokoni basin and valley below.
- N40 15.393 W105 48.875 — 0.0 miles : North Inlet Trailhead
- N40 15.378 W105 48.331 — .5 miles : Level dirt road through private property
- N40 15.673 W105 47.717 — 1.2 miles : Summerland Park Group Campsite
- N40 15.851 W105 47.322 — 1.65 miles : Summerland Park Backcountry Campsite
- N40 15.993 W105 46.804 — 2.25 miles : Steady, mild rise in lodgepole forest
- N40 16.167 W105 46.322 — 2.93 miles : Twinberry Backcountry Campsite
- N40 16.292 W105 45.965 — 3.4 miles : Cascade Falls
- N40 16.746 W105 45.957 — 4.0 miles : Trail skirts edge of large meadow
- N40 17.103 W105 45.526 — 4.8 miles : 'Big Pool' on North Inlet
- N40 17.290 W105 45.026 — 5.5 miles : Moderate climb with brief healthy spruce-fir intervals
- N40 17.214 W105 44.551 — 6.0 miles : Opening to large meadow with small pond
- N40 17.141 W105 44.272 — 6.3 miles : Grouseberry Backcountry Campsite
- N40 17.193 W105 44.149 — 6.4 miles : North Inlet Group Backcountry Campsite
- N40 17.094 W105 43.927 — 6.65 miles : Cross Ptarmigan Creek | spur for Wardance Falls
- N40 17.070 W105 43.835 — 6.75 miles : Ptarmigan Backcountry Campsite
- N40 17.058 W105 43.803 — 6.78 miles : Porcupine Backcountry Campsite
- N40 16.885 W105 43.280 — 7.45 miles : North Inlet - Lake Nanita access trail split (9,582')
- N40 16.731 W105 43.274 — 7.6 miles : Bridge across North Inlet Falls to North Inlet Camp
- N40 16.687 W105 43.199 — 7.8 miles : Pine Marten Backcountry Campsite
- N40 16.339 W105 43.085 — 8.25 miles : Steady-Steep climb on methodical switchbacks
- N40 16.230 W105 43.308 — 9.0 miles : Views of lake basin peaks and Lake Solitude valley
- N40 15.880 W105 43.589 — 9.8 miles : Lake Nokoni (10,773')
- N40 15.728 W105 43.363 — 10.45 miles : Trail crests over Nokoni, begin descent to Nanita
- N40 15.457 W105 43.098 — 10.8 miles : Lake Nanita (10,780')
The North Inlet Trail is part of the greater Continental Divide Trail, which runs over 3100 miles from Mexico to Canada. It's also part of a 17.2 mile thru-hike route across Rocky Mountain National Park, connecting Grand Lake (west) with Bear Lake (east).
The trail is easy-moderate to the Lake Nokoni - Lake Nanita junction. It then climbs 1258' in just 2.2 miles from the low point over North Inlet Falls to Lake Nokoni.
- Backcountry campsites fill up quickly during peak summer months. Plan ahead and arrive early for reservations. Mosquitoes can be a nuisance on this trail. Long sleeves and repellant are recommended.
- Moose are common along the North Inlet and can be dangerous if startled, with calves or during the rut. Enjoy all wildlife from a safe, respectful distance.
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. Contact the Backcountry Office for details: 970.586.1242.
- 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.
- Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red flags on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail.
- Fishing is permitted along the North Inlet and at Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita with a valid Colorado fishing license. Specific rules may apply to each lake and various sections of the North Inlet. Consult the RMNP backcountry office for the latest rules and regulations.
- Fishing is not permitted on the Lake Nanita outlet stream.
Rules and Regulations
- Camping is not permitted at Lake Nokoni or Lake Nanita.
- Fishing is not permitted on the Lake Nanita outlet stream.
- There's a $20 entrance fee to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Directions to Trailhead
North Inlet Trailhead is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, just off West Portal Road on the north side of Grand Lake.
From Highway 34, turn east for Grand Lake on Highway 278 / West Portal Road. Drive approximately .75 miles and turn left up a steep, narrow dirt road at the sign for Tonahutu and North Inlet trailheads. In .2 miles take the quick right fork and continue another .25 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
The dirt roads off West Portal Road are narrow and steep in places. Drive slowly. The roads are suitable for all cars, though subject to flooding, ruts and mud.
Rocky Mountain National Park