North Boundary Trail, Cow Creek Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

North Boundary Trail - 12.1 miles

Cow Creek Trailhead

Views of the Mummy Range along the North Boundary Trail

Views of the Mummy Range along the North Boundary Trail

Round-Trip Length: 12.1 miles
Start-End Elevation: 7,855' - 9,272' (9,735' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,417' net elevation gain (+3,895' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

North Boundary Trail - 12.1 Miles Round-Trip

The North Boundary Trail stretches 6.1 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead in the northeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park to the North Fork Trail intersection along the North Fork Big Thompson River. This strenuous, lightly used trail climbs three major hills and crosses several major drainages en route. Visitors will enjoy solitude, abundant wildlife and 3-season accessibility:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Head west on Cow Creek Trail through McGraw Ranch to the North Boundary Trail split (.15 miles : 7,875'). The North Boundary Trail rises steadily through a ponderosa park, joining aspen and spruce as you progress. Well-spaced trees provide good viewing lanes for active wildlife in this area.

Travel steepens considerably through a confining gulch topped by large granite promontories to a divisive ridge between the Cow Creek and West Creek drainages (.78 miles : 8,457').

Take in rangy N-S views before descending steep, tightly wound switchbacks that moderate near the valley floor (1.25 miles). Note contrastingly thick lodgepole and fir on this north-facing slope.

The trail crosses West Creek (1.45 miles : 7,905') and follows it to the West Creek Falls Trail split (1.65 miles : 7,953'). Here it bends north and rises away from the creek, leveling briefly through an open rocky area with northwesterly views of the Mummy Range (2.0 miles : 8,347').

The trail rounds a second major hilltop (2.45 miles : 8,595') and drops across a small tributary and Fox Creek in quick succession (2.75 miles : 8,459').

The North Boundary Trail turns uphill and begins its third and most challenging climb, gaining nearly 1,300' in just 1.5 miles through uniform lodgepole. It reaches a thin ridge - the trail's highest point (4.25 miles : 9,735') - and levels with commanding views of the valley below.

The trail drops gradually through mixed pine and crosses an unnamed creek to the Silvanmere Backcountry Campsite (5.6 miles : 9,360'), past which it eases to the North Fork of Big Thompson River and its terminus at the North Fork Trail junction (6.1 miles : 9,272').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 25.871 W105 30.060 — Cow Creek Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • This is a strenuous trail with several major hill climbs. Plan travel time accordingly and account for comparable elevation gains and losses on the return.

  • Those with time should consider traveling a short distance east on the North Fork Trail to Kettle Tarn, a small pond that fills a shallow depression in the bordering moraine. You may also consider a more ambitious but highly recommended 1.5 mile excursion to West Creek Falls.

  • Portions of the North Boundary Trail pass through the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area where hunting is permitted. Stay on designated trails and wear bright clothing during the hunting season.

Camping and Backpacking Information

    Silvanmere Backcountry Campsite
  • The Silvanmere campsite is located at 9,360', 5.6 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead. There are 2 sites available. Water is available from a small stream east of the site, however it's typically dry by mid-summer; water can alternatively be found on the nearby Big Thompson River. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. The site is located in a mixed pine-aspen forest on the east side of the North Boundary Trail. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.

  • Kettle Tarn Backcountry Campsite
  • The Kettle Tarn campsite is located at 9,200', 4.9 miles from the North Fork - Dunraven Trailhead and 6.2 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead. There are 2 sites available and a privy. The site sits on top of a moraine above a small tarn. The site is located on the south side of the North Fork of Big Thompson River, surrounded by pine trees and well hidden from the trail. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.

  • Boundary Creek Backcountry Campsite
  • The Boundary Creek campsite is located at 9,120', 4.6 miles from the North Fork - Dunraven Trailhead and approx 6.3 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead. 2 sites and a privy are available. Water is available from Boundary Creek and the North Fork of Big Thompson River. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. The site is located north of the North Fork Trail, just over a small footbridge on Boundary Creek. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.

  • Halfway Backcountry Campsite
  • The Halfway campsite is located at 9,520', 6.35 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead and 5.6 miles from the North Fork - Dunraven Trailhead. 2 sites and a privy are available. Water is available from the North Fork of Big Thompson River. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. Wood fires are allowed in metal grates. The site is located .25 miles west of the North Boundary - North Fork Trail junction, across the stream from a small meadow. Note that you will be traveling through the Comanche Peak Wilderness to reach this site. Adhere to wilderness regulations posted at the TH while hiking in this area.

  • Rabbit Ears Backcountry Campsite
  • The Rabbit Ears campsite is located at 8,100', 1.4 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead and 5.5 miles from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. There is 1 site and a bear box available. Water is available from Cow Creek. The site is located south of the Cow Creek Trail in an open area surrounded by trees. It sits below the ridge where two upright rocks simulate rabbit ears. A rock bench behind the site makes a natural seating area.

  • Peregrine Backcountry Campsite
  • The Peregrine campsite is located at 8,480', 2.0 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead and 5.2 miles from the Lump Ridge Trailhead. There is 1 site and a bear box available. Water is available from Cow Creek. The site is located off the Cow Creek Trail, approx. 100 yards past the Dark Mountain Trail junction.

  • McGregor Mountain Backcountry Campsite
  • The McGregor campsite is located at 9,040', 4.1 miles from the Cow Creek Trailhead and 5.1 miles from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. There are 2 sites available; no bear boxes are provided. Water is available from Black Canyon Creek. The site is located in a thick pine forest south of Black Canyon Creek off the Black Canyon Trail.

  • Wood signs mark campsite spurs, which may also be marked by red arrowheads on trees. Pitch tents as close to the indicated site as possible, safely away from standing dead trees. Boil or adequately treat all water. Stoves only. Fires are prohibited, unless staying in a wood fire site with visible metal fire ring.

Directions to Trailhead

The North Boundary Trail is accessed from the Cow Creek Trailhead in the NE section of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Cow Creek Trailhead is located within McGraw Ranch, north of Estes Park off Devils Gulch Road.

Head north from downtown Estes Park on Devils Gulch Road for 4 miles to the McGraw Ranch sign on the left. Bear left onto McGraw Ranch Road and travel another 2.1 miles to the Cow Creek Trailhead. Park only within designated spaces at the trailhead and be cognizant of nearby private property.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:
970.586.1206

Backcountry Office:
970.586.1242

Campground Reservations:
800.365.2267

Emergency Dispatch:
970.586.1203

Comanche Peak Wilderness Area
Canyon Lakes Ranger District
2150 Centre Ave. Bldg. E Fort Collins, CO 80526
Monday - Friday 8:00 am -5:00 pm
970.295.6600
970.295.6796 TDD

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