Baker Pass, Bowen-Baker Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Baker Pass - 13.0 miles
|Round-Trip Length:||13.0 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,864' - 11,253' (11,253' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,389' net elevation gain (+2,673' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Baker Pass - 13.0 Miles Round-Trip
Baker Pass (11,253') is located 6.5 miles from Bowen-Baker Trailhead in the Never Summer Wilderness. It spans a broad, open saddle along the Continental Divide between Baker Gulch and South Fork Michigan River.
This long but moderate trail shares the first 4.35 miles with Parika Lake, then splits N-NE through expansive meadows framed by the 'cloud mountains' of Stratus, Nimbus and Cumulus to the pass.
The final 2.2 miles are faint in many places and can be difficult to follow, though terrain is generally mild with intuitive navigation through treeline.
The meadows are covered in lilies and frequented by moose. There are innumerable places to camp and crowds are usually light, even during peak season. Higher points on the Divide and climbing routes to Cumulus and Nimbus are easily accessible. Skiers will enjoy big open bowls on both sides of the pass.
Note: The trail begins 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); turn right on Baker Gulch to the Never Summer Wilderness Boundary (.7 miles). Dispersed camping is permitted beyond this point and you'll find several good sites along the creek.
The trail moves quickly through a beetle-marred forest with many small, verdant glades (1.5 miles : 9,240'). Grades steepen briefly through 2.45 miles, then ease across open talus with upper valley views (2.9 miles : 9,790').
It re-enters the forest and makes a short, steep push up the north valley wall into the lower subalpine (3.5 miles : 10,160'). Travel steepens again to Grand Ditch Road (3.8 miles : 10,310'); turn left then immediately right over a log bridge to regain the trail (3.82 miles). This bridge has some flex to it - cross one at a time.
The trail rises steadily through an open subalpine forest with large meadows and crosses a creek to the Parika Lake - Baker Pass Trail split (4.35 miles : 10,470'). Turn right for Baker Pass. Avalanches have obscured this area and you'll have to pick through debris.
Grades are now quite moderate but the trail loses clarity in many places and deadfall gets in the way - log cuts often provide the most reliable guidance from point to point.
The trail traces a meadow and hops a stream (4.98 miles : 10,645') to reach a prominent cairn at the base of a larger meadow with views up to the pass (5.25 miles : 10,780').
Cross another creek (5.5 miles) and level across a low ridge separating two very large, long meadows leading to second prominent cairn at treeline (5.95 miles : 11,080').
Take note of these large cairns, which provide critical guidance from open space to patchy forest on the return. The trail fades but is intuitively followed up the right side of the valley to Baker Pass (6.5 miles : 11,253').
Grades are notably mild through stunning, spacious meadows on this final approach. A sign on the pass points down the far side to S. Fork Michigan River, and left to Jack Creek and Parika Lake.
The Baker Pass Trail continues counter-clockwise from the pass and joins the Parika Lake Trail to form a loop; though depicted clearly on maps, it's difficult to follow. Only experienced hikers with good navigation skills should attempt this route.
Scheduled 2017 maintenance should help clarify this highly compelling and lightly traveled route through the Never Summers. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District for trail condition updates.
- 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 21.553 W105 52.115 — .7 miles : Never Summer Wilderness Boundary
- N40 21.659 W105 52.406 — 1.0 miles : Fast, level travel
- N40 21.925 W105 52.792 — 1.5 miles : Moderate climb in forest with glades
- N40 21.925 W105 53.206 — 2.0 miles : Moderate climb in forest with glades
- N40 22.065 W105 53.669 — 2.5 miles : Steep segment up to 2.5 miles
- N40 22.234 W105 54.158 — 3.0 miles : Cross open talus and re-enter forest
- N40 22.283 W105 54.609 — 3.5 miles : Steep push into subalpine forest
- N40 22.394 W105 54.873 — 3.8 miles : Turn left on road
- N40 22.416 W105 54.890 — 3.82 miles : Cross bridge to trail
- N40 22.538 W105 54.962 — 4.0 miles : Moderate travel in open subalpine
- N40 22.643 W105 55.233 — 4.35 miles : Parika Lake - Baker Pass split
- N40 22.840 W105 55.228 — 4.65 miles : Faint trail along meadow
- N40 23.065 W105 55.238 — 4.97 miles : Cross stream to right
- N40 23.270 W105 55.091 — 5.27 miles : Large cairn
- N40 23.472 W105 55.045 — 5.5 miles : Cross small creek
- N40 23.687 W105 54.853 — 5.95 miles : Cairn at base of large meadow
- N40 23.936 W105 54.795 — 6.3 miles : Cairn in open meadow
- N40 24.115 W105 54.811 — 6.5 miles : Baker Pass (11,253')
- The Never Summer Range's position and prominence captures high amounts of precipitation, which may linger well into summer (which gives rise to the name, 'Never Summer Wilderness').
- Baker Pass sees fewer visitors than Parika Lake, and is a great choice during busy summer weekends.
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.
- 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.
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