Distance: 11.13 miles (out-and-back; spurs) Elevation Gain: 1,702 ft
Max Elevation: 10,033 ft Min. Elevation: 8,517 ft
For our Fourth of July celebration, we thought what better way to celebrate than by exploring a little bit more of the country on foot. Thus, early on Independence Day morning we awoke from our cool mountain slumber at Estes’s Park Discovery Lodge and headed back to Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. We reached the park entrance at about 8:20 am, and purchased our season entrance pass (40 dollars) and then followed the dirt road for about 1.2 miles to the Wild Basin Trailhead and parking lot. Luckily there were still a few parking spots at the trailhead allowing us to finally set out on foot in the beautiful southeastern part of this park. Seen below is a picture of part of us at the trail head. Our friend Julia from Houston was able to join us on this scenic hike.
The sounds of rushing water can be heard frequently along the early portion of the trail as it follows the St. Vrain Creek closely. The rewards are frequent and early on this hike, and after a mere 0.3 miles, the trail led us to a splendid visual spectacle as it approached Copeland Falls. We paused a brief moment along a rock shelf and absorbed the cool breezes from the swiftly flowing creek. Photos of Lower Copeland Falls can be seen below.
The next 1.5 miles of the trail, led us through a cool shady forest of Lodgepole Pine interspersed with Aspens and firs. There were also many beautiful wildflowers adding color to sides of the brown dirt path we followed. The path made moderate climbs leading over numerous log bridges that crossed the creek and various falls. At approximately 1.8 miles we reached Calypso Cascades which is fueled by Cony Creek and appears to converge with the North St. Vrain Creek further below. This amazing set of falls flows under a log bridge on the trail. The bridge offered us impressive views of the pristine water flowing down the steep granite wall over 200 feet below and refreshing cool sprinkles of water. Gentle thunderstorms over the past several days and fresh snow melt allowed for tumultuous river flow and an impressive spectacle. Top: Bridge over unnamed fall; Bottom: Calypso Cascades
After the cascades, the traffic flow on the trail thinned out a little bit more as we proceeded to Ouzel Falls. The trail gradually gained elevation for the next mile to the landmark Falls and followed a north facing valley wall. The climb was moderately difficult for this brief period but offered us lovely views of Mt. Meeker and Long’s Peak at various points. It really put in perspective for us just how much higher we would have to climb to summit Long’s Peak. After the brief climb, we reached the famous Ouzel Falls. The creek, falls and lake are named after the Ouzel or “dipper” bird native to the area. A very lengthy bridge crosses over the creek here and offers nice views of the powerful falls. We wanted a better look at the water fall, so we climbed up granite boulders alongside the falls that are located on both sides of the bridge to get higher and closer. The climb up wasn’t too easy and rocks were a bit slippery, so exercise extreme caution when doing this. The fall off the edge did not look very survivable. Seen below are photos of the Falls from the bridge as well as our climbs. Notice the sheer size of Ouzel Falls by the photo of us sitting on the boulders.
After about 20-30 minutes hanging out at Ouzel Falls, we knew we needed to keep moving to reach Ouzel Lake and have time to enjoy lunch so we proceeded on. After Ouzel Falls, we saw very few hikers. The hike to the lake began with steady gains in elevation which turned into steep gains in elevation. Our blood was pumping and legs burning, but we all tried to keep a steady pass that we could sustain. Eventually the trail opened up to the once charred hillsides that are remnants of the infamous 1978 fire caused by lightening near Ouzel lake. The fire was thought to be a “cleansing” fire and was left alone but due to high winds it grew dramatically and destroyed over 1,000 acres of land before containment. The fire stricken hillsides without the cover of the trees emanated an eerie vibe. However, the grasses and wildflowers littering the treeless hillsides were a reminder that life does prevail. Photos from the last 2 miles to the lake can be seen below.
We finally approached a trail sign directing us on a spur that led 0.5 miles to Ouzel Lake. Alternatively, the trail continues on to Bluebird Lake 2.0 miles further. The spur was muddy and wet as we gently descended to the lake. It was truly exciting when we reached our tranquil lake destination. Ouzel lake is a very shallow lake and we could clearly see the rock bottom as we searched along it marshy banks for a place to stop and relax. The lake is home to the native Greenback cutthroat and is a work in progress. The park is working on reestablishing a population in many streams and rivers in the park. Since the restock is small, these fish are catch and release only. Pictured below is Ouzel Lake.
We quietly relaxed on rocks overlooking the lake and ate much deserved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank down gatoraide. While relaxing, sneaky little creatures visited our picknick and tried to take our snacks. We encountered multiple chipmunks and a large marmot while resting on the rocks.
The spur that leads to Ouzel lake off of Bluebird Trail only allows for easy access to one small north side section of the lake. Since we had carried along our fly fishing gear, we wanted a chance to snag a decent fishing spot. Thus we proceeded to skirt the edges of the lake towards the west side with no trail for guidance. The land that surrounds the lake is a marshland. As we looked for dry spots to plant our feet, we felt the ground give way like a sponge. There was water everywhere and very thick brush and trees to navigate in between. But, we were quite determined, and at the very least wanted to make it to a small clearing that opened up just past a narrow stream. Branches scraped and stung our skin, and dampness beyond sweat began to creep between our toes. We reached the clearing just as the rain began to come down. What first appeared as just a few light drops on our skin quickly turned into steady downpour of heavy, cold drops. At this point we opted against fishing and decided to try for Bluebird Trail, which according to our map should be just north of us. Unfortunately, the path to the trail, for all descriptive purposes, was a pond hidden to us by grasses and marsh. We briefly attempted a navigation across various logs strewn across the low lying bed, but gave up as the rain did not relent. Slightly disappointed but still proud of our off trail journey, we proceeded back to the Spur trail and headed back toward the Bluebird/Ouzel Spur fork. Along the way, we were greeted with another marmot friend that stared down Julia for a while. Apparently our little friend was not used to people hanging out in this part of the land. Seen below are more photos from the lake, marsh and creek beds that connect to the lake.
We headed back to the trailhead after our exploration of the lake and enjoyed the scenery from a different perspective. It was relatively quiet until we were back to Ouzel falls and then it became pretty crowded. By the time we were past Calypso Falls we were almost never alone on the trail. For the last mile we were part of a long line of hikers with about 10 to 15 hikers in front of us and another 10 behind us. We were glad to be back in the parking lot and felt very accomplished for the day. After our long trek we decided to head into Estes Park and get some well deserved pizza and ice cream. To date Ouzel Lake has been our favorite hike. Our Garmin E-trex 20 recorded our journey at approximately 11.13 miles. If you stick to the trail to the lake and back, the journey will be around 10.5 miles.