|Trail Features:||Scenic Views, Meadows, Wildflowers|
|Trail Location:||Green Mountain Trailhead|
|Roundtrip Length:||3.6 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||8805 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||740 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||411 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||9485 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||5.08 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.30738|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.84109|
The hike to Big Meadows begins from the Green Mountain Trailhead, located 2.5 miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance.
From the parking area the Green Mountain Trail begins climbing through a lush fir and pine forest. The climb is steady and moderate, but graduates to more gentle grades after the first half-mile, with a few short steeper inclines thrown in every now and then. As the trail levels out you’ll begin passing a couple of smaller meadows along the way. Keep an eye out for moose and elk foraging in these fields as you pass near them.
The Green Mountain Trail is part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, a 3100-mile footpath that traverses the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada. The trail enters the park near Lake Granby and follows the western edge of the park up to Grand Lake. From there the CDT makes a semi-loop up to Flattop Mountain via the North Inlet Trail, before descending back down the Tonahutu Creek Trail and exiting the park by way of the Green Mountain Trail.
Roughly 1.7 miles from the trailhead you’ll pass a side trail that leads to the Green Mountain Backcountry Campsite (one campsite).
Less than one-tenth of a mile later hikers will reach the Tonahutu Creek Trail junction. You can visit Granite Falls by traveling 3.6 miles northbound on this trail. One-tenth of a mile to the south begins a series of campsites, including the Big Meadows Backcountry Group Site, the South Meadows Backcountry Campsite, with one site, and the Paint Brush Backcountry Campsite, which also has only one campsite.
Upon arrival at this junction look for a horse hitch sign. Continue down the hill to the hitch and you’ll find a couple of smaller social trails that lead out to the meadow. There are a couple of large rocks at the edge of the meadow that make for a great resting spot, as well as an excellent place to soak in the views.
Big Meadows is surrounded by 12,216-foot Nakai Peak towards the northeast, 12,274-foot Snowdrift Peak towards the east, and 11,424-foot Mt. Patterson towards the southeast. The two mountains just behind Snowdrift are 12,331-foot Knobtop Mountain and 12,129-foot Notchtop Mountain.
Big Meadows also happens to be the largest montane meadow in the park, and offers ideal habitat for deer, elk and moose. The best time to view these ungulates is in the early morning or during the later evening hours.
If you look closely at the mountains surrounding the meadow you’ll notice a lot of dead trees, a result of the mountain pine beetle infestation that's impacted forests throughout the west. I would estimate that at least 80% of the trees visible from the field are already dead.
Indeed, all those dead trees reaped their potential for destruction. On June 10, 2013 a lightning strike started a wildfire just to the northeast of Big Meadows - along the southern slopes of Nakai Peak. Seven days later, after burning 617 acres, the Big Meadows Fire was considered to be 95% contained. During the week the fire forced the temporary closure of 7 trails in the area, including the Green Mountain Trail. The presence of so many beetle-killed trees allowed the fire to spread quickly, and posed the problem of extreme growth potential during the blaze.
For additional views of Big Meadows and the surrounding mountains you can continue northbound along the Tonahutu Creek Trail for roughly 1.2 miles as it skirts along the western and northern edges of the meadow. The trail offers several good vantage points, as well as access to the meadow. You may want to note that the edge of the meadow can be a bit marshy, especially in the spring.
Flowing along the eastern edge of Big Meadows is the Tonahutu Creek. Tonahutu, by the way, is the Arapaho word for “big meadows”.