|Trail Features:||Alpine Lake, Outstanding Views, Wildflowers|
|Trail Location:||Bowen/Baker Trailhead|
|Roundtrip Length:||11.1 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||8860 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2510 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||452 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||11,365 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||16.12 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.35486|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.85767|
The hike to Parika Lake begins from the Bowen/Baker Trailhead, located 6.1 miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance. Although the hike starts in Rocky Mountain National Park, most of the route travels through the Never Summer Wilderness of the Arapaho National Forest.
The hike begins by crossing over the Colorado River, and then proceeds to travel across the Kawuneeche Valley along a gravel road. This valley is prime habitat for elk and moose, especially near the river and surrounding wetlands where sightings are fairly common. Both the Ute and Arapaho Indians used the Kawuneeche Valley as a summer hunting ground.
After walking about a quarter-of-a-mile hikers will reach the western edge of the meadow. Just past the tree line you'll notice a sign that reads "Baker Gulch / Bowen Gulch Trailhead to the left". Simply continue on the gravel road at this point. At just over one-third of a mile you'll reach a gate blocking the road. The Bowen Gulch Trail continues past the gate, while the Baker Gulch Trail branches off to the right. Hikers should turn right at this junction to continue towards Parika Lake.
At roughly three-quarters of a mile you'll exit Rocky Mountain National Park and enter the Never Summer Wilderness of the Arapaho National Forest. At the boundary is a kiosk to register your party, which is always a good idea in case you were to ever become lost or injured.
The Never Summer Wilderness receives its name as a result of it being located within the Never Summer Mountains. The Arapaho Indians called these mountains "Ni-chebe-chii", which translates into “Never No Summer”. Wishing to avoid the use of a double negative, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Board on Geographic Names settled on Never Summer Mountains. Prior to its official naming, the mountains were known as the Rabbit Ear Range.
During the early portions of the hike the trail travels over mostly easy to moderate terrain, while passing through dense lodgepole pine forest. At roughly 3 miles the trail enters a fairly large boulder field where the route becomes a little more rugged. The terrain also begins to open up here, with views of Peak 12,442 almost straight ahead. Hikers will likely notice many aspens throughout this section. As you pass through this area you should also keep an eye out for scraps of old rusted equipment, presumably remnants from the mining era.
At just over 3.4 miles hikers will reach the Grand Ditch, an irrigation canal that diverts water from the Never Summer Mountains, over the Continental Divide, and into the Cache La Poudre River where farmers on the eastern plains use the precious commodity for crops. Begun in 1890, and completed in 1936, the ditch runs for 15 miles and diverts between 20% and 40% of the runoff from the Never Summer Mountains.
Paralleling the ditch is a service road. Hikers should turn left onto this road and walk about 100 feet to reach a rickety footbridge that crosses over the Grand Ditch. Once across the footbridge you should veer towards the right to continue along the Baker Gulch Trail.
At 4 miles hikers will cross over a stream without the benefit of a footbridge. During the late summer and fall months you shouldn't have any issues with this ford; however, during the spring run-off you'll likely get your feet wet. Shortly after crossing the creek you'll reach the Parika Lake Trail junction. The Baker Gulch Trail continues to the right, and heads towards Baker Pass. To continue towards Parika Lake hikers should proceed straight ahead at this junction.
A couple hundred feet beyond the junction the trail crosses another stream without the benefit of a footbridge. From here the trail begins to climb steeply towards the lake. As you climb higher, and the trees begin to thin, views of the surrounding mountains will begin to emerge. Once above tree line views of Peak 12,442 and Fairview Mountain will dominate towards the southwest.
Further along, Baker Mountain, Mt. Stratus and Mt. Nimbus will be visible towards the east and northeast. If you look towards the southeast, almost directly behind you, Longs Peak will be visible in the far off distance.
At just over 5.3 miles hikers will reach the Baker Pass Trail, which also leads to Baker Pass on a route that travels below the Continental Divide. As of 2016 this junction was unmarked. To continue towards Parika Lake you should veer to the left here. From the junction the trail makes a short moderate climb to the lake. After walking another two-tenths of a mile you'll finally reach the eastern shore of the lake.
Parika Lake sits in a spectacular cirque basin surrounded by 12,246-foot Fairview Mountain towards the southwest, 12,394-foot Parika Peak towards the west, and Peak 12,253 towards the north, which is sometimes unofficially referred to as "Paprika Peak". The area surrounding this beautiful alpine lake is also known for its spectacular wildflower displays after the winter snowpack melts.
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 higher elevations before noon in order to avoid the notorious afternoon thunderstorms that frequent the mountains 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.