Granite Falls, located on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, from the Green Mountain Trailhead, is about an eleven-mile out and back hike. So, what does one do on the second day of summer with the threat of rain, snow and/or thunder on the return portion of the hike? Well, Stella, who does not like hiking during the warmer summer months said, “Let’s go for it.” After finishing a quick breakfast, we gathered our gear and headed to the trailhead.
As we approached the trailhead and prepared for the ascent to Big Meadows, Stella set the pace. On our first foray to the falls two years ago, we had paced ourselves too quickly and had found the need to stop to catch our breath a few times. We have since learned to pace ourselves accordingly so that we don’t have to stop as often. Now, if we were able to partake in these outdoor activities every day versus only on the weekends, we both would be in better shape. But alas, we are still full-time working folks, who dream of early retirement.
The trail that day was *extremely* muddy, but was in fairly good condition considering the amount of rain and snow that had recently fallen. Throughout the trail, there were some areas where large trees had fallen over the path. One could either hop over them, or find a way to circumvent the fallen timber. I would anticipate that later in the year, those obstacles would be removed from the path.
The most difficult part of the hike is from the Green Mountain Trailhead to Big Meadows because there is roughly a six-hundred foot elevation gain over the course of about a mile and a half, which is where one could become winded if trekking too quickly. From there, the trail becomes a relatively easy hike to the falls.
Big Meadows is appropriately named: large and open! At that point, there are several spots to step off from the trail and take a peak into the lush open space, while keeping a keen eye out for wildlife, particularly moose. Unfortunately, we did not spot any wildlife in Big Meadows that day. At the northern end of Big Meadows, begins the easterly trek towards Granite Falls and Tonahutu Creek. The sound and beauty of the creek teases hikers with its meandering flow as it winds through Rocky Mountain National Park, before spilling into Grand Lake.
Just before the final push to Granite Falls, hikers will pass through “the burn,” as I like to describe it. That area is the remains of the Big Meadows fire from June of 2013. On the trek that day, it was refreshing to see the rebirth of that area, as just two years ago it had still looked like scorched earth. And, it was there where we noticed a lone bull moose forging in the grassy meadow below the trail (on the opposite side of the “the burn”).
As we continued along the trail, our ears began to pick up on the magnificent roar of Granite Falls. You will know you are getting close when you happen upon the Lower Granite Fall campsite, which is along the Tonahutu Creek. Imagine falling asleep to the sound of the rushing water that has fueled the forest and wildlife for so many years – amazing!
A short climb later, we had reached the mighty Granite Falls. As we climbed down and off of the trail to gain a better view of the falls, I would advise everyone to be very cautious. Getting closer to the falls is somewhat steep, and one miss-step would definitely ruin the day. We spent a bit of time watching the water thunder over the rocks and boulders, the winter runoff in full effect.
While I was close to the action taking pictures, Stella had been keeping an eye on the sky. Just after she had yelled, “Larry, we need to go now,” a resonating clap of thunder shook the ground, with a bolt of lightening that lit up the sky! From that point on, the five-and-a-half mile trek back down to the trail head was comprised of deep mud, rain, snow, sleet, thunder, and lightening. That is why I always remind Stella, and others, to bring gear for all of the elements when hiking in the mountains because the weather in high elevations is always unpredictable. Who would’ve thought that type of weather would occur on June 23rd?