Mt Ida, Poudre Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Mt Ida - 9.6 miles
Poudre Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||9.6 miles (distance may vary slightly by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,753' - 12,889' (12,889' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,136' net elevation gain (+3,012' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Mt Ida - 9.6 Miles Round-Trip
Mt Ida (12,889') is located 4.8 miles from Poudre Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s arguably one of the Park’s finest alpine treks, but receives little attention because the trail does not appear on most maps, and the trailhead itself makes no mention of Mt Ida as a destination.
Despite its classification as a cross-country route, the Mt Ida Trail is in fact well-defined (save the final approach), and quite moderate by Rocky Mountain standards.
Note that trail signs suggest the summit is only 4.0 miles, a small but significant discrepancy at these elevations. Plan travel time accordingly.
3.6 miles of the trail run through open tundra - get an early start to avoid thunderstorms that reliably develop each afternoon throughout the summer. The last 1.3 miles are not well defined, but follow cairns and an intuitive route up to the summit.
Visitors will enjoy spectacular landscapes that include expansive tundra flats and panoramic views across the Never Summer Range, Gorge Lakes and lightly traveled interior mountains:
The trail begins on the south edge of Poudre Lake, where you’ll find signs for Milner Pass and Mt Ida a few steps from the trailhead on the lakeshore. It turns sharply uphill and winds through a pretty subalpine forest to the Milner Pass – Mt Ida Trail split (.6 miles : 11,072’).
The Mt Ida Trail turns south and climbs steadily before moderating through the vestiges of treeline (1.2 miles : 11,392’). Here you’ll have stunning views across the Never Summer Range, and south along the Divide. Look for bighorn sheep and elk, which frequent these high slopes.
The trail heads S-SE just west of and below the Divide on a variously mild and moderate grade. Though very clear, be mindful of equally well-defined game trails that follow a similar route.
The trail undulates to a cairn-marked fork on the edge of an expansive flat (2.8 miles : 12,140’) - bear right. It dips across the flat to a saddle on the Divide (3.4 miles : 12,015’), which overlooks a pretty alpine meadow down the east side (GPS Point #10).
Though seemingly accessible, snow cornices make the tempting drop-in only for the skilled and equipped. The trail reaches the far side of the saddle, where it begins to fade in decidedly rockier terrain (3.5 miles :12,037’).
Here you’ll begin the 1.3 mile cross-country portion of the hike, which follows cairns and a decent boot track on an arcing push to the summit.
It’s difficult to pick out every cairn in this indistinguishable terrain, but obvious where you must go - up. Tread lightly on delicate grasses and step on rock whenever possible.
Mt Ida (4.8 miles : 12,889’) is just a small rocky nub atop the Continental Divide, but optimally located with exceptional views of the Never Summer Range (west), and Gorge Lakes basin (east).
Maneuver about the summit for views of Highest Lake, Azure Lake, Inkwell Lake, Arrowhead Lake and their glacial benefactors. These lakes form the headwaters of a major tributary to the Big Thompson River, which cuts through Forest Canyon below.
It’s possible to drop into this idyllic basin, but requires significant route finding and athleticism.
A razor-thin saddle connects Ida with neighboring Chief Cheley Peak (12,504’), which joins Cracktop (12,766’), Mount Julian (12,928’) and Terra Tomah Mountain (12,718’) to form the massive Gorge Lakes cirque. Julian Lake is also visible in an adjacent cirque to the southwest.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N40 25.220 W105 48.683 — 0.0 miles : Poudre Lake Trailhead
- N40 25.080 W105 48.489 — .6 miles : Milner Pass - Mt Ida Trail split
- N40 24.874 W105 48.505 — 1.05 miles : Emerging views of the Never Summer Range
- N40 24.741 W105 48.529 — 1.2 miles : Clear treeline
- N40 24.576 W105 48.306 — 1.5 miles : Moderate travel across open alpine slopes
- N40 24.289 W105 47.939 — 2.0 miles : Look for sheep and elk on grassy slopes
- N40 23.972 W105 47.557 — 2.5 miles : Mild travel heading south
- N40 23.736 W105 47.538 — 2.8 miles : Cairn marked split - bear right
- N40 23.571 W105 47.522 — 3.0 miles : Trail moderates across broad flat
- N40 23.242 W105 47.468 — 3.4 miles : Low point of saddle
- N40 23.179 W105 47.434 — 3.5 miles : Trail fades on cairn marked route to summit
- N40 23.056 W105 47.298 — 3.75 miles : Summit approach mark #1
- N40 22.841 W105 47.216 — 4.0 miles : Summit approach mark #2
- N40 22.749 W105 47.086 — 4.2 miles : Summit approach mark #3
- N40 22.495 W105 46.967 — 4.5 miles : Summit approach mark #4
- N40 22.326 W105 46.730 — 4.8 miles : Mt Ida
- The Poudre Lake Trailhead is located on Milner Pass (10,759') along the Continental Divide. The 'Great Divide' separates drainages that flow into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
- Just north of Milner Pass, the Cache La Poudre forms and drains into the Platte River, which flows into the Missouri River and eventually the Mississippi before reaching the Gulf of Mexico (Atlantic).
- Just south of Milner Pass, Beaver Creek drains into the Colorado River, which flows through the Grand Canyon and into the Gulf of California (Pacific).
- Bighorn sheep are common along the Mt Ida Trail, drawn to the western slope's lush alpine grasses. Lichen play a big role in this ecosystem, breaking down rock into mineral-rich soil that can support alpine vegetation.
- 3.4 miles of the trail run above treeline, fully exposed to wind, sun and weather. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Carry versatile layers, extra water, a hat and sunscreen.
Rules and Regulations
- A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
- Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Directions to Trailhead
The Poudre Lake Trailhead is located 25 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance on Trail Ridge Road. The parking area is located just south of Poudre Lake on the east side of the road.
Rocky Mountain National Park