In Colorado, one can find sand in the most unexpected and/or unusual locations. Much like the aftermath of a day at the beach.
Case in point: Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Case in point #2: Sandbeach Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The trail to Sandbeach Lake departs from the parking area immediately to the right of the Wild Basin entrance station. It’s not a large parking area, and my friend Kaylyn and I snagged one of the last spots at 7:00am on a Saturday. There really isn’t any overflow parking for this one, so arrive early and have a backup plan.
This is a 9 mile (14.5 km) round trip hike with just over 2000 feet (600 m) of elevation gain, and it’s uphill essentially from the first step. However, we found it to be a fairly gradual trail with the elevation gain spread evenly throughout the 4.5 miles (7.3 km) to the lake.
If you’re looking for expansive views, you won’t find too many on this trail. It’s mostly in the forest, with just a couple spots where the trees part enough to see back into Wild Basin.
Around mile 3.5 (5.6 km) the trail crosses Hunters Creek. This early in the season (mid-June) it was raging. Throughout the final mile, we also encountered wet and muddy sections of trail and even a few lingering patches of snow.
And then Sandbeach Lake came into view! The trail exits the woods on the eastern shore of the lake where there is in fact a sandy beach. It’s very out of place high in the mountains like this, but also very neat. I tried to research why there happens to be so much sand in this one particular area of Rocky but I wasn’t able to find a clear explanation. I would guess that something about the way the surrounding mountains eroded resulted in the formation and accumulation of the sand.
The popular thing to do is hang out on the beach… which we did for a few minutes. In search of a little more solitude, we then followed the trail around to the left and out onto a small peninsula about halfway across the lake. No one else was out here and there’s a boulder just off-shore that provided a perfect snack spot. From here we could refuel while enjoying the view of the towering Mount Meeker and watching the ripples in the crystal clear mountain water.
There is also an unmaintained trail to Lyric Falls that can be accessed from this hike. It splits off at the Hunters Creek crossing and parallels the water for just shy of 1 mile (1.6 km) up to the falls. On our way back to the car, we attempted to find it.
We were not successful.
The thing about following an unmaintained trail is, well, the lack of maintenance. There were downed trees everywhere and so many spider webs. After about 0.3 miles (0.5 km), the path vanished beneath a huge jumble of logs… and we gave up. I’m sure the falls is pretty but we didn’t want to see it that badly.
And that’s Sandbeach Lake. Another Rocky Mountain lake checked off the to-do list and a little bit of sand in my shoes as a souvenir. After the last couple months spent mostly exploring the plains and the high desert, it was so wonderful to be breathing the fresh mountain air again.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: this trail departs from the Sandbeach Trailhead at the Wild Basin entrance station in the southeast corner of Rocky; arrive early, parking often fills by 7:00am
- Fees and passes: admission to Rocky is $25/car for a 1-day pass or $35/car for a 7-day pass; interagency passes are accepted. Through October 2021 you also need a timed-entry permit if you plan to arrive after 9:00am. Prior to 9:00am no permit is needed to enter Wild Basin. More info here
- Hiking: the round trip distance (without the side trip to Lyric Falls) is 9 miles (14.5 km) with about 2000 feet (610 m) of elevation gain
- Where to stay: there are no campgrounds in Wild Basin, though there are Forest Service campgrounds in the vicinity. There are 4 backpacking sites at Sandbeach Lake. Permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry of Rocky ($30/permit) and most sell out far in advance