Cache la Poudre River Trail Hike


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A few Saturday’s back we drove into Rocky Mountain National Park with the intention of taking in a little bit of nature. Three years ago, when we had first established Base Camp in Grand Lake, we had stumbled upon a small group of bull elk just to the northeast of Milner Pass along the Cache la Poudre River. This day, we were lucky to have found a parking spot at the pass, which is somewhat notable because it sits atop of the continental divide.

Starting out, we took a short trek along the Ute trail, before deciding to reverse course and head toward the Cache la Poudre River Trail. From the parking area at Milner Pass, we crossed Trail Ridge Road and headed northeast to the trailhead. Stella was looking forward to exploring this particular trail, as it was a first for us, but also in anticipation that we may happen upon an elk or two. The trail is an out and back, roughly 4 plus miles, however for those more adventurous you could continue along the overland trail to the Mummy Pass Trail and the Corral Creek Trail. That trek could be accomplished in a day, but it would be best to plan on camping overnight.

The trail itself is unmanaged, and runs along the the forest edge of the river valley. It really is more of a game trail. The trail itself is a very easy trek with an elevation gain near 350′, so this would make for a great family trek with young children. Stella especially enjoyed this trail because it provides a unique view of the valley that is not as visible from the road, and other trails. Stella enjoyed looking over the vast stretch of valley, as she took in the meandering creeks and looming mountains all around her.


The Cache la Poudre river meanders for 126 miles from its source, Poudre Lake, a small alpine lake deep inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Cache la Poudre is French for “Hide the Powder”, referenced to a time when French trappers were caught in a snowstorm and forced to stash their gunpowder in the banks of the river. The river flows east through Poudre Canyon and into the high plains north of Fort Collins before emptying into the South Platte river east of Greeley.

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As Stella and I had made our way back to Milner Pass, we trekked along the backside Poudre Lake and broke trail before rejoining the Ute Trail back to the parking area. As we approached the trailhead, everyone was rushing towards us in a flurry of excitement. Unbeknownst to us, there was a large bull moose on the trail we had just exited. The moose entered the lake as hoards of people gathered to observe this magnificent creature. However, the moose was more concerned about finding solace away from the gathering crowds, so it eventually escaped back into the woods west of Trail Ridge Road. We are accustomed to regularly seeing moose at Base Camp, within an arms reach. But seeing that giant creature swimming was something else entirely, and to know that it had been directly behind us while we were on the trail….hhhmmm….




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