Ute Trail, Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Ute Trail - 13.0 miles
Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||13.0 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,440' - 11,465' (11,656' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+3,025' net elevation gain (+3,518' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Ute Trail - 13.0 Miles Round-Trip
The Ute Trail connects the Beaver Mountain Trail with Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. It follows a SE-NW route from Beaver Meadows to summer hunting grounds in the tundra used by prehistoric tribes, Utes and Arapahos for thousands of years.
This lightly used trail passes through an exceptionally diverse landscape highlighted by large meadows, mixed forests, rich wildlife, and open tundra.
The Ute Trail is strenuous with sparingly marked segments on the climb through Windy Gulch into the tundra. Anticipate rugged terrain and a range of weather conditions along the way, and plan travel time and resources accordingly.
Hikers will enjoy solitude, excellent wildlife viewing and extended travel in open tundra on the Ute Trail:
The trail splits just a few steps from the Beaver Meadows Trailhead; the forks are virtually equidistant and rejoin at a sign for Trail Ridge Road - Ute Meadow Campsite .6 miles ahead (8,568'). Distances below follow the left fork through Beaver Meadows to this sign.
The Beaver Mountain Trail soon leaves the meadow and climbs into a mixed pine-fir forest. It wraps around a large outcrop (1.3 miles), crosses a stream, and heads SW up a narrow gulch to the Ute Trail split (1.65 miles : 9,025').
The low rise to your left is the top of a moraine between Moraine Park (s) and Beaver Meadows (n). Moraines are ridges of glacial till pushed aside by glacial movements. Scale the ridge for views across Moraine Park before pressing on.
The Ute Trail rises on a narrow and rugged path that clings to a steep valley wall over the Big Thompson River. The trail undulates to a crest (2.15 miles : 9,169'), then drops beside a trickle that is Windy Gulch Creek.
It gradually levels into a healthier forest and skirts the edge of lower Ute Meadows, a damp, tall grass complex ideal for seeing fox, coyote, elk, deer, bear, and even mountain lion (2.35 miles : 9,245').
The trail steepens back into a thinly treed forest to the Ute Meadows Backcountry Campsite (2.9 miles : 9,423'). The forest breaks here on the edge of upper Ute Meadows with a good look up Windy Gulch. The meadow is wide, cluttered, dry, and dotted with a handful of aspen.
Note the introduction of white pine, a hardy conifer =not typically found at these elevations in the Park. Their presence is indicative of the harsh conditions and poor soil beds of Windy Gulch.
The trail heads northwest on a clear, moderate grade back into the forest (3.35 miles : 9,745') that quickly grows prohibitively steep and ill-defined on a twisting, oft-obstructed track. Cairns provide some guidance, but are difficult to find and follow. Note that you'll gain nearly 780' in just .4 miles upon re-entering the forest (3.75 miles : 10,205').
In the likely event you feel off -course, follow natural contours of the land and steer yourself into the center of the gulch. The trail is quite easy to find once above treeline, and the heading intuitively followed to the top of Windy Gulch at Timberline Pass (4.5 miles : 11,495').
Here the trail levels abruptly in the wide open tundra with well-earned views back across Windy Gulch and the southeast quadrant of Rocky Mountain National Park.
A wide, flat path continues northwest along Tombstone Ridge with sweeping views across miles of open tundra and Forest Canyon to the west. Look for elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat as you progress. The trail rises gently to a crest (5.0 miles : 11,656'), and rolls mildly through open tundra to its terminus on Trail Ridge Road (6.5 miles : 11,465').
- N40 22.372 W105 36.845 — 0.0 miles : Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead
- N40 22.116 W105 36.850 — .35 miles : Follow signs to Trail Ridge Road
- N40 21.893 W105 37.298 — 1.0 miles : Steady climb into mixed forest
- N40 21.615 W105 37.886 — 1.65 miles : Beaver Mountain Trail - Ute Trail split
- N40 21.443 W105 38.380 — 2.15 miles : Undulating climb over Big Thompson River
- N40 21.799 W105 38.957 — 2.9 miles : Ute Meadows Campground
- N40 22.067 W105 39.290 — 3.35 miles : Meadow tapers into patchy forest
- N40 22.135 W105 39.430 — 3.55 miles : Grade steepens on rugged trail
- N40 22.238 W105 39.602 — 3.75 miles : Steep, shifting trail up Windy Gulch
- N40 22.414 W105 39.750 — 4.0 miles : Strenuous climb on rugged, ill-defined path
- N40 22.485 W105 40.315 — 4.5 miles : Timberline Pass
- N40 22.739 W105 40.825 — 5.0 miles : Mild grade to crest at trail's highest point
- N40 23.026 W105 41.256 — 5.5 miles : Rolling travel in open tundra
- N40 23.325 W105 41.576 — 6.0 miles : Gentle descent to Trail Ridge Road
- N40 23.599 W105 41.720 — 6.5 miles : Ute Trailhead on Trail Ridge Road
- Binoculars are highly recommended for tundra wildlife viewing that includes elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.
- Hiking poles and a good topographic map are recommended to assist with steep sections and navigation above Ute Meadows.
- Get a very early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms in the exposed tundra, and to allow extra time for the steep descent through Windy Gulch.
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.
- The Ute Meadow Backcountry Campsite is located 2.9 miles from the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead. There is one site available, located in a sandy area on the lower edge of Ute Meadows in a thin stand of white pine, fir, and spruce. Water is available from a small brook off trail in the center of the meadow.
- Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the silver metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail.
Ute Meadow Backcountry Campsite - designated llama site (9,423')
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs are not permitted on any backcountry trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Horses are permitted on the Beaver Mountain Trail to the Ute Trail split. Horses are not permitted on the Ute Trail.
- Llamas are permitted on the Ute Trail up to Ute Meadows Campground, but not beyond this point.
Directions to Trailhead
The Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead is located 2.3 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station in Rocky Mountain National Park.
From the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, drive .3 miles on HWY 36 / Trail Ridge Road to the access road for Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead. Turn left on the groomed dirt road and travel 2 miles to the parking lot. The dirt road is gated-off to automobile travel in the winter, however you can park in designated areas near the gate and walk yourself in.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517-8397