You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know where Mount Alice was in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is easily overshadowed by Longs Peak and Mount Meeker - both figuratively and realistically. Sitting in the far corner of the Wild Basin area of the park, the mountain is not exactly easy to get to. Just to reach the base you have to hike nine miles, with the last couple not on a designated trail (woo route-finding) and gain over 4,810 feet in elevation.
But if you are willing to step away from the popular trails, which, in the Wild Basin area are Ouzel Falls, Sandbeach Lake, and maybe, if you are really feeling it, Thunder Lake, you will be rewarded with stunning meadows, alpine lakes and 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains (including the aforementioned Longs Peak and Mount Meeker).
Mount Alice sits at 13,310 feet (4,057 meters), making it the 10th tallest peak in the whole national park (see the nine tallest peaks ranked here). That elevation gives you pretty unbeatable views of the valleys, lakes, and shorter mountains below - especially from the saddle between Alice and Chiefs Head (the third tallest mountain and the closest neighbor), which might just be the prettiest spot in the entire national park.
So have we sold you on conquering Mt. Alice yet? We hope so - it is a fantastic adventure and area to explore, especially if you are looking to get away from people and a bit off-the-beaten-path.
But now for the necessary information - how do you actually summit the mountain? Luckily, we did just that last week, and while the smoke of the nearby forest fires made the views a bit less spectacular, the hike itself was still absolutely amazing.
Here is our personal account:
3:20 AM | Wake Up
Yes, it sucks getting up really early, especially when it is dark outside. But when you are hoping to summit a mountain and beat the worst of the smoky air (not to mention storms) it is 100% worth it. Just as you would want to be on the trail nice and early for a 14-er, you should start around the same time for a 13-er (which Alice is) because the same issues arise: lightning, storms, etc.
4:30 AM | Hit the Trail
We started hiking in the dark, which is actually kind of nice because it gets you moving quicker than you would during the day. Why? Because when hiking in the dark you don’t stop nearly as much to take in the scenery and snap a couple of photos, more often than not, are head down, focused entirely on the trail (and not tripping). The two of us did this hike with Luke’s family: sister, brother, and dad - an absolutely amazing bunch of people. And thanks to starting so early we ended up getting to talk and catch up for the first couple of miles on the trail.
6:30 AM | Get to the Turn Off
If planning to hike Alice, you must start at the Wild Basin Trailhead, at the end of the road that cuts through the Wild Basin area. This trail leads to a lot of different points, including Ouzel Falls, Copeland Falls, and Pear Lake (another perk of getting to the trailhead early is you will actually find parking). To get to Alice you take the trail towards Thunder Lake and then turn off to the right about 4.8 miles up (there is a wooden sign telling you distance and where to go). The sign will say Lion Lakes - which is where the trail kind of “ends.” But don’t worry, you are still on track to reach Alice.
7:30 AM | Reach Lion Lakes
One of the prettier mountain valleys, and some of the most picturesque alpine lakes in the park, the Lion Lakes (#1 and #2) are a great place to stop for a break, fill up on water and just take in the beauty. This is also one of the first places along the trail that you will have an awesome, close up view of Mount Alice (likely being lit up by the first rays of the sun).
From here the trail will start to peter out until it is barely discernible from the tall grass, colorful wildflowers, and dark orange rock formations. This is when you should start to look for trail markers in the form of cairns (little stacks of rock), often spaced about 10-30 meters apart.
Once pass the two Lion Lakes you will cut through a couple of groves of pine trees, climb up a small rock ledge (often with a small waterfall named Trio Falls running along it), and over two or three trickling streams before reaching one more smaller pond, called Snowbank. Now Mount Alice is completely within view and you can even start to see where your feet have to take you next - up a somewhat steep ridge until you reach the famous saddle. Altogether, getting through this valley, with two water fill-ups took us about 30 minutes.
9:10 AM | Make it to the Saddle
Once away from the small alpine lakes, you will start to gradually climb up the ridgeline you saw on the left side of the valley (and smack dab in front of Mount Alice). While it is not exactly steep going, it is somewhat long. Be prepared to walk over small rocks, medium-sized boulders and flat lichen covered tundra.
From here you will be able to (finally) see Longs Peak and Mount Meeker, which would have previously been hiding behind Chiefs Head, a large, bulbous-like mountain. At this point in the hike you will be tired, the sun will start shining brightly on you and it will seem like the mountain isn’t getting any closer. But stay strong. Every step is a step closer to the top.
Eventually, you will reach the top of the saddle and man it will feel good. Make sure to take in the view: 360-degrees of undisturbed mountain scenery. Take a break along the flat saddle, especially if it is not windy. We got super lucky when we hiked it and there was almost no wind to speak of. From the saddle you will have a good view of what the rest of the hike looks like: a somewhat steep, boulder-y climb to the top. While it looks daunting, don’t worry, it is not as bad as it appears.
9:30 AM | Head for the Top
After resting up a bit, and making sure to snap some photos from the saddle (you will quickly understand why this is one of the prettiest points in the national park), start the final climb up to the top. The first bit is probably the most treacherous: a narrow ledge with somewhat loose rocks and a steep drop off on one side. But once past that just make sure to take your time, study the mountain and try to pick the best route. For us, it appeared like the farther to the right you were the easier it was (plus then you didn’t have to worry about slipping off the left side, which would lead to a looooong drop to the valley below). While there aren’t any cairns here (that we saw at least) there seemed to be some trace of a trail.
This part will include some rock scrambling, especially in the second half of it. Again, take it slow and check all rocks before putting your weight on them. Don’t be too eager to reach the top that you make a dumb mistake and hurt yourself - don’t worry, the peak is not going anywhere.
10:20 AM | Top Out
Woot woot, you did it! Congratulations, after hiking for the past ~6 hours you have officially topped out atop Mount Alice. From this vantage point you can see for miles all around, including back into the main heart of Rocky Mountain National Park to the north, over to Grand Lake in the west, Indian Peaks in the south and the Front Range of Colorado to the east.
When we reached the top we were rewarded with good views of the surrounding area, though with a clear veil of haze over top. But because we left so early, we only started to really notice the smoke towards the end. This was likely due to us no longer being surrounded by trees and that we were quickly climbing in elevation where the smoke seems to be a bit thicker. Though we have no scientific base for this thinking and this could have just been a fluke.
You will know you reach the formal top of the mountain when you see a large rock cairn and a metal tube that once held a paper log and pen, allowing you to add your name to the list of Mount Alice conquerors. Sadly, when we reached it the metal tube was missing a bottom and the paper was likely halfway to Nebraska, carried on the gusts of wind that can make summiting somewhat miserable.
From the top of Alice, you have two options for getting back down: either go back the way you came or head more southwest along the tundra and down Boulder Grand Pass, which will eventually lead you back to Thunder Lake and the trail you hiked in on.
We decided to do the latter.
After eating our victory sandwiches, taking some family selfies, and getting one last look at the nearby mountains, we strapped on our bags once again and started the slow descent.
11:15 AM | First Views of Thunder Lake
By now we were all somewhat tired and not in the same chipper, talkative mood as before. Plus, there is something tranquil and calming about hiking along a ridgeline in silence - just you and Mother Nature.
This part of the hike is easier than the climb up, but somehow it seems to make your legs - especially your knees - hurt even more. We completely recommend taking your time here and not getting too ahead of yourself, otherwise, you might regret it later on when your knees are screaming in agony.
If you stay close to the ridgeline on your left you will start to see Thunder Lake way down in the valley below. Next to it will be a couple of other smaller lakes, some with glaciers almost touching them. The pass is not super obvious - we got lucky and saw a couple of hikers coming up it and heading towards Grand Lake (this is a popular trail for doing a cross over from the east to the west side of the park).
11:42 AM | Time to Head Back Down
Once to Boulder Grand Pass it is a rather short, steep descent to the valley below. Be prepared to slip and slide a bit on the loose rock and gravel. Or go the route Luke did and glissade down the snowfield to the left of the trail. At the bottom sits a small, super clear and super cold alpine lake called Lake of the Many Winds. If you are feeling up to it we recommend taking a nice, refreshing soak in it. And by soak, we mean jump in and quickly jump out (it is iccccccy).
Once pass the Lake of the Many Winds you will start to see another clear single-track trail cutting through a small wildflower meadow and along the gently rushing river that heads straight for Thunder Lake. Follow this trail through the woods for another 40 or so minutes.
1:00 PM | Thunder Lake
While the climb down from the pass isn’t super long, it does take a good amount of time. This is especially true if you slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery: glissade down one of the small glaciers, swim in the alpine lake, take LOTS of photos of the colorful wildflowers. This area of the park is not easy to get to and you should act as if you might not make it back there again. This is not the time to put your head down and charge through the hike. You are out in nature to enjoy it, so take your time and take it ALL in.
Once you do make it to Thunder Lake you will be back on a nice, clear designated trail - meaning the going should be quite a bit easier (and likely faster) - it will also be all downhill from here (yay). Thunder Lake itself is a worthy hike on its own: a large clear blue lake with high mountain peaks on three of the four sides. It is beautiful, and because it is not a short hike (11.2 miles round-trip) you will more likely than not, see very little people.
4:30 PM | Make it Back
Yes, this entire hike took us almost exactly 12 hours. 20 miles on the trail. 20 miles of hiking over rocks, tundra and scree fields. 20 miles of absolutely beautiful mountain scenery.
Mount Alice is not an easy hike - if you don’t know that by now then we probably haven’t done a good enough job of describing it. But it is 100% worth checking out. Even if you don’t summit, just getting to the Lion Lakes meadow or up to the saddle is a completely wonderful experience. This area is absolutely stunning and totally worth exploring. So if you are up for an adventure, and looking to explore a lesser-known area of Rocky Mountain National Park, then Mount Alice is definitely the hike for you.
Want to learn more about the technicalities of the hike? Then check this out.