|Trail Features:||Outstanding Views|
|Trail Location:||Bear Lake|
|Roundtrip Length:||8.9 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||9475 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2850 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||640 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||12,324 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||14.60 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.31196|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.64581|
"Mountaineering, in its broader sense, promotes the health and strength of the body, it teaches self-reliance, determination, presence of mind, necessity for individual thought and action, pride of accomplishment, fearlessness, endurance, helpful cooperation, loyalty, patriotism, the love of an unselfish freedom, and many other qualities that make for a sturdy manhood and womanhood."
- Roger Toll, superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park from 1921 to 1929, and charter member of the Colorado Mountain Club.
The hike to Flattop Mountain begins from the Bear Lake Trailhead, located at the end of Bear Lake Road, 9 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. Due to the extreme popularity of the area you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to access the trailhead during the peak tourist season.
From the trailhead hikers will immediately make a right turn onto the Bear Lake Loop Trail. After a short walk along the eastern shore of Bear Lake you'll make another right turn onto the trail that leads towards Flattop Mountain. From here the trail passes through a nice aspen grove as it begins ascending the slopes of the Bierstadt Moraine.
Roughly one-half mile from the trailhead you'll reach the trail that leads to Bierstadt Lake and the Mill Creek Basin. Hikers should turn left at this junction to continue on towards Flattop Mountain.
From here the route begins heading due west. As it climbs higher you'll have spectacular views of Longs Peak, the Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Peak and Chiefs Head Peak as you look towards the south.
At just over one mile from the trailhead hikers will arrive at the Flattop Mountain Trail junction, which forks off to the left and begins ascending the eastern slopes of the mountain.
According to Rocky Mountain National Park: A History, the Arapaho and Ute Indians likely traveled across the park using east-west routes such as Trail Ridge, Forest Canyon, Fall River and Flattop Mountain, in order to reach traditional hunting grounds on the Great Plains. The Arapaho Indians called the Flattop Mountain corridor "The Big Trail". At one time the Flattop Mountain Trail was also known as the Grand Trail. A pathway was formally constructed in 1925, was rehabilitated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940, and is now currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once on the Flattop Mountain Trail the climb becomes steeper, and the grade becomes moderately difficult for much of the remainder of the route. Roughly 1.7 miles from the trailhead, at an elevation of 10,480 feet, hikers will reach the Dream Lake Overlook where you'll have a great view of Longs Peak. This is also a great place to take an extended break.
At 2.4 miles, and an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet, hikers will finally emerge from the tree line and enter the scrub pine / krummholz zone. At this point outstanding panoramic views begin to open up, especially towards the east where you'll be able to see Bierstadt Lake, Sprague Lake and much of the Glacier Basin area.
At 3 miles you'll reach the Emerald Lake Overlook, another spot that offers stunning views. This vantage point sits more than 1200 feet above Emerald Lake. Off to your right is Hallett Peak. From here, as you continue to climb higher, the trail begins to enter the more barren and rocky terrain of the open tundra.
Just below the summit of Flattop Mountain, roughly 3.9 miles from the trailhead, hikers will reach a horse hitch rack where you'll have outstanding views of Hallett Peak and the Tyndall Glacier. From this point you'll have less than 200 feet of climbing left to reach the top. You'll also notice that the slope begins to become progressively shallower, and almost levels out over the last third-of-a-mile.
Hikers will reach the end of the Flattop Mountain Trail when they reach the junction with the North Inlet Trail and Tonahutu Creek Trail. Although there are no signs indicating that you're at the top, this is usually recognized as the summit of Flattop Mountain. At this junction, roughly 4.45 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, you'll be standing at an elevation of 12,324 feet. The views from the summit are simply outstanding. Towards the south is 12,713-foot Hallett Peak, towards the north is 12,129-foot Notchtop Mountain and the Mummy Range, and looking towards the northwest is 12,363-foot Ptarmigan Point with the Never Summer Range in the far off distance.
If not interested in hiking the additional seven-tenths of a mile, and climbing another 389 feet to reach the summit of Hallett Peak, you will have the option of walking about a quarter-of-a-mile south to the Tyndall Glacier area, which will give you a spectacular view of the Tyndall Gorge. Hopefully it goes without saying, but it would be an extremely bad idea to step foot anywhere near the glacier.
Hikers should always be aware of lightning risk while hiking in the Rocky Mountains, especially at higher elevations. As a general rule of thumb you should plan to be off the summit before noon in order to avoid the notorious afternoon thunderstorms that frequent the Rockies during the summer months. Hikers should also be prepared for extreme sun exposure, wind, cool temperatures, and rapidly changing weather conditions while on the trail. Make sure you have the proper gear with you, and know what safety precautions you need to consider beforehand.