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Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park features the best hiking throughout Rocky Mountain National Park - from easy, family-friendly strolls to popular panoramic vistas.

Shadow Mountain Lookout

Trail Features: Panoramic Views, Historic shadow-mountain-lookout
Trail Location: Grand Lake East Shore Trailhead
Roundtrip Length: 9.6 Miles
Trailhead Elevation: 8390 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 1635 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 341 Feet
Highest Elevation: 9923 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 12.87 (strenuous)
Parking Lot Latitude 40.24027
Parking Lot Longitude -105.82551

Trail Description:

This hike to the Shadow Mountain Lookout begins from the Grand Lake East Shore Trailhead, located between Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake, just south of the town of Grand Lake. Hikers also have the option of starting their hike from the East Shore Dam Trailhead, located on the south end of Shadow Mountain Lake. Both routes are roughly equal in distance and elevation gain.

To reach the Grand Lake East Shore Trailhead turn east off Highway 34 (Trail Ridge Road) towards Grand Lake, and take the very first right onto Center Drive. After driving 0.2 miles turn left onto Marina Drive, and almost immediately make a right turn onto Shadow Mountain Drive, which soon turns into Lakeside Drive. Drive another 0.2 miles and turn right onto Jericho Road, cross the bridge and drive 0.4 miles to Shoreline Way. Turn left at this intersection to park at the trailhead.

shadow-mountain-lakeThe hike begins in the Arapaho National Forest. Because it begins outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, no fees are required to hike this trail. From the trailhead hikers will travel south along the East Shore Trail. This section of trail is also part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, a 3100-mile footpath that traverses the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada.

For the most part the East Shore Trail travels over fairly flat terrain as it follows along the eastern shore of Shadow Mountain Lake. As you proceed southward you'll enjoy intermittent views of the lake. While near the shoreline keep an eye out for ospreys, which are known to nest in this area. In addition to the osprey we saw, we also spotted a couple of mule deer along this stretch.

Hikers will also notice a lot of dead trees along this route. Looking at the mountain from afar it appears that at least 80% of the trees are dead, likely the result of the pine beetle infestation that's impacted forests across the west.

At seven-tenths of a mile you'll pass the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary, and at just over 1.5 miles, will reach a fork in the trail. The path to the right continues towards the Shadow Mountain Dam, while the Shadow Mountain Lookout Trail branches off to the left. You should turn left here to continue towards your destination.

grand-lakeAs you might expect the Shadow Mountain Trail begins climbing almost immediately. For the most part it travels along a fairly moderate grade. Other than a couple vantage points along a couple of brief treeless sections, the entire route travels under the canopy of the forest.

At 4.8 miles, and an elevation of 9923 feet, hikers will finally reach the Shadow Mountain Lookout. This three-story structure, also known as the Shadow Mountain Patrol Cabin, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, and was manned through the 1968 season. According to a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places, the fire lookout was "usually occupied by a married couple that would share turns keeping watch over the nearby forested lands."

In 1978 the lookout was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and was completely restored in the mid-1990s. Today it's the only surviving fire lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park.

From the lookout hikers will enjoy outstanding panoramic views of Shadow Mountain Lake, Grand Lake, the Never Summer Mountains, as well as the towering mountains along the Continental Divide. Unfortunately, on the day of our hike, the third-story catwalk on the lookout was closed due to rotting wood. As of 2015 the park was planning to refurbish the catwalk at some point, but no timeline has been published.


From the base of the stone fire lookout you'll still have some pretty good views, but nothing outstanding as a result of tree cover.

The actual summit of Shadow Mountain is located towards the southeast of the tower, and reaches a height of 10,155 feet.