Bowen Lake, Bowen-Baker Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Bowen Lake - 15.8 miles
|Round-Trip Length:||15.8 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,864' - 11,019' (11,028' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,155' net elevation gain (+2,842' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Bowen Lake - 15.8 Miles Round-Trip
Bowen Lake (11,019') is located 7.9 miles from Bowen-Baker Trailhead in the Never Summer Wilderness. It fills a steep-walled bowl east of the Divide surrounded by some of the oldest spruce and fir trees in the NSW.
The Bowen Gulch Trail parallels Kawuneeche Valley for 2.5 miles, then turns west up Bowen Gulch for 4.15 miles to the Bowen Lake Trail. The Bowen Lake Trail runs 1.25 miles south to the lake.
Steep switchbacks continue up to the CDT, which can be followed north (clockwise) to Fairview Mountain and down to Parika Lake on a ~20-mile loop across the Never Summer Wilderness. (Loop hikers should consider counter-clockwise travel, as Bowen Gulch is decidedly less scenic than the Parika - Baker Gulch side.)
Though net elevation gain is modest, much of the trail is rocky and the majority of climbing occurs beyond 5 miles. Numerous large trees have fallen across the trail and are difficult to pass, particularly with overnight packs. Allow extra time to negotiate steep grades and deadfall on the Bowen Lake Trail segment.
An arguably more interesting route to Bowen Lake begins at North Supply Trailhead and follows the Blue Ridge Trail to the CDT, from which you can drop into the bowl. Call ahead for road conditions and closures before making the drive to North Supply.
Note: The Bowen-Baker Trailhead is in Rocky Mountain National Park and entrance fees apply. No fee or permit is required to camp in the Never Summer Wilderness. Dogs are not permitted in RMNP, but it's generally accepted that those heading into the NSW can walk the short distance with their leashed pets across the Park - Wilderness boundary:
A service road heads west from Bowen-Baker Trailhead across Kawuneeche Valley to the Bowen Gulch - Baker Gulch split (.3 miles). Keep straight for Bowen Gulch and cross a bridge to the RMNP - NSW Boundary (.7 miles) and Never Summer Wilderness Backcountry Board (.87 miles).
The trail bends south and parallels Kawuneeche Valley with partial views into the meadows. The canopy is badly marred but the forest floor is verdant with clutches of columbine. The trail runs quickly on an old road bed to an intersection with access back into RMNP (2.53 miles : 9,155'); turn right up Bowen Gulch.
The road-trail joins the creek (3.35 miles) and moves fast through intervals of forest and glades to a long bridge over the creek (4.25 miles : 9,460').
It crosses back to the north bank (4.45 miles) and steepens on a rocky path bisected by several streams, notably Blue Lake's outlet (5.1 miles : 9,750'). This is unmarked and indistinguishable, but a useful / interesting point of reference (GPS Point #14).
Steady climbing continues past the Blue Lake Trail split (5.92 miles : 10,170') into a subalpine meadow. It crests, drops and crosses a creek to meadows with desirable campsites tucked just inside (6.25 miles : 10,190') .
Travel intensifies with increasing amounts of deadfall to the Bowen Lake Trail split (6.65 miles : 10,355').
Note large trees with mature forest characteristics in this area. Several trees have simply obliterated the trail and take time to work through.
The Bowen Lake Trail turns south and steepens with numerous, tedious obstructions up to Bowen Lake (7.9 miles : 11,019'). The shore is narrow and hemmed by steep walls, but paths circle much of the lake and there's ample room to cast and explore.
Camping is not permitted at Bowen Lake (room is limited on the shore); social trails lead to numerous established sites just above the lake.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N40 21.290 W105 51.471 — 0.0 miles : Bowen - Baker Trailhead
- N40 21.368 W105 51.754 — .3 miles : Bowen - Baker Gulch Trail split
- N40 21.202 W105 52.104 — .7 miles : Never Summer Wilderness Boundary
- N40 21.080 W105 52.187 — .87 miles : NSW Backcountry Board
- N40 21.084 W105 52.307 — 1.0 miles : Fast, level travel
- N40 20.675 W105 52.303 — 1.5 miles : Fast, level travel
- N40 20.305 W105 52.342 — 2.0 miles : Fast, level travel
- N40 19.964 W105 52.508 — 2.53 miles : Turn right at sign into Bowen Gulch
- N40 19.971 W105 53.010 — 3.0 miles : Mild, rocky climb along creek
- N40 20.009 W105 53.570 — 3.55 miles : Mild, rocky climb along creek
- N40 20.146 W105 54.015 — 4.0 miles : Short steep interval
- N40 20.208 W105 54.243 — 4.25 miles : Cross creek on bridge
- N40 20.263 W105 54.405 — 4.45 miles : Cross creek back to n. side
- N40 20.481 W105 55.041 — 5.1 miles : Cross Blue Lake outlet stream
- N40 20.429 W105 55.474 — 5.5 miles : Steady, rocky climb
- N40 20.567 W105 55.667 — 5.92 miles : Blue Lake Trail split
- N40 20.596 W105 56.048 — 6.3 miles : Cross creek
- N40 20.713 W105 56.349 — 6.65 miles : Bowen Lake Trail split
- N40 20.621 W105 56.314 — 6.8 miles : Cross creek
- N40 20.469 W105 56.327 — 7.0 miles : Cross creek
- N40 20.039 W105 56.341 — 7.6 miles : Steep climb in subalpine forest
- N40 19.859 W105 56.622 — 7.9 miles : Bowen Lake (11,019')
- There's a lot of deadfall on this trail and some spots are difficult to pass, especially with large packs. Down trees along the steep Bowen Lake Trail can be particularly difficult to pass.
- The perimeter around Bowen Lake is narrow. Camping is not permitted around the lake. There are several established sites located just above the shore, beyond the required 100' distance.
- Moose are very active in Bowen Gulch and sightings are common. Keep a safe, respectful distance from wildlife.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Backcountry Camping in the Never Summer Wilderness
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Never Summer Wilderness. No fee or permit is required.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake, stream or road. Group size is limited to 15 individuals (people + dogs and stock combined).
- Campfires are permitted in the Never Summer Wilderness below 10,800'. Campfires are not permitted within 1/2 mile of Parika Lake.
- Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact. Practice strict Leave No Trace camping.
- Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) or Rocky Mountain National Park (970.586.1242) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.
Backcountry Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park
- 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.
- There's a $26 fee to backcountry camp in Rocky Mountain National Park (May 1 - October 31). This administrative fee covers each party (defined as an individual or group) for the duration of the trip. Note that park entrance fees are applied separately and in full.
- Fishing is permitted in Parika Lake, Bowen Lake, Baker Gulch and Bowen Gulch with a valid Colorado fishing license. Contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife or Rocky Mountain National Park to learn more about fishing the Colorado River within RMNP, and special restrictions that apply to greenback cutthroat trout.
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, however they are allowed on all trails in the Never Summer Wilderness. Dogs must be under control at all times in the NSW.
- Fires are not permitted within 1/2 mile of Parika Lake, and within 100' of Bowen Lake.
Directions to Trailhead
The Bowen - Baker Trailhead is located 6.7 miles north of the Kawuneeche Entrance Station on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is on the west side of the road.
Coming from Estes Park, the Bowen Baker trailhead is approx 10.6 miles south of Milner Pass.
Limited roadside parking is available when the lot is full.
Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446
Rocky Mountain National Park