Trail Snapshot: Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hike Distance: 8.8 miles Round Trip (from Fern Lake TH)
- Difficulty: Moderate (but demanding)
- Duration: Approx 6hr Round Trip
- Trail Type: Out and Back
- Starting Elevation: 9475′
- Elevation Gain: +2849′
- Seasons: Year Round
- Dogs: Dogs Prohibited in RMNP
- Hike Trail Map: Click for a Map of Flattop Mountain RMNP
- Denver Drive Time: 2 hr
- Driving Directions to Bear Lake Trailhead: Click for Google Map
- Town Nearest Hike: Estes Park, Colorado
- Beauty: Sub-alpine lake, mountain views, panoramic view, wildflowers, aspen trees, ponderosa pine, wildlife: Abert’s squirrel, elk, deer, moose, bear
- Activities: Hiking trails, snowshoeing, photography
- Conditions at Bear Lake Trailhead: Click Here
- Fee: Park Pass Required
Parking & Trailhead Information for Flattop Mountain in RMNP
The Hike: Flattop Mountain in RMNP
Beginning at the Bear Lake trailhead, a paved trail will run along the eastern shore of the lake. Look for signs for the trail leading towards Flattop Mountain. This .4 mile connector trail leads through stands of quaking aspens to the first trail junction. The right-hand trail leads to the Bierstadt Moraine and Lake Bierstadt. The left-hand trail leads toward Flattop Mountain and Odessa Gorge.
After hiking .5 mile on this second trail segment, the trail will fork again. The trail to the left, leads up to Flattop Mountain and the trail to the right leads down into the Odessa Gorge area. This third and final segment is the longest, 3.2 miles. Here, the Flattop Mountain trail begins a series of switchbacks through Spruce Forest. Soon, hikers will come to the Dream Lake overlook with breathtaking views of Hallett Peak and the sheer north face of Longs Peak. Further up the trail, a second overlook reveals Emerald Lake deep in the bottom of Tyndall Gorge.
Near the Emerald Lake overlook, the trees begin to change shape, into what’s called Krummholz forest. It’s a German term meaning “crooked” or “twisted wood”. These windswept pines look like they’ve been sculpted by a master bonsai artist. The trail gets a bit more steep as it climbs above treeline, running through rock and tundra, with cairns (stacked-rock markers) noting the trail where it might become difficult to discern.
At the top, it will make sense how Flattop Mountain got it’s name. It’s less of a peak and more of a broad field of tundra and rock. But the effort to get to the top is worth the views. Hikers can see the Mummy Range to the North as well as Lumpy Ridge. To the Southeast lay peak after jagged peak, with Longs Peak’s leaden north face set against the sky.
From the top of Flattop Mountain, hikers can follow a trail through the tundra to the true peak of Hallett, which is approximately .4 mile away to the south with another approximately 400′ in elevation gain. Be sure to read the tips section below for making this hike up Flattop Mountain as there are a few important aspects to this more demanding hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Tips & Resources for Hiking to Flattop Mountain in RMNP
- Start early in the morning: Afternoon thunderstorms appear suddenly during the summer hiking season. For this reason, hikers are urged to start early enough to be down off the mountain by early afternoon. Many people have ignored this and been caught in really nasty, weather up on this trail. There have been weather-related fatalities here.
- Take it Easy: It’s a demanding walk up Flattop, and should not be approached as a sprint to the summit. Be sure to pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
- Layer: It gets colder as you hike toward the top of Flattop. Be sure to have warm clothing. Hikers are also very exposed to the sunlight and risk sunburn, so be sure to wear sunscreen.
- Food & Water: It probably goes without saying, but be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water to fuel your body for this demanding hike.
- Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
- Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
- Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
- Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
- Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Dick Rochester for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Flattop Mountain in RMNP.
- After the Hike: Baba’s Burgers & Gyros
Map & Driving Directions
Click for Driving Directions