As a recovery hike from the 14,259 ft Longs Peak, we turned our gaze to the predominantly uncharted (at least to us) area of the Wild Basin. After the general lack of flowing water along Longs Peak Trail, the corner of the park designated “The Land of Many Waters” was vastly appealing. While most likely a random choice, I will attribute our decision to check out Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake to Dave’s mild bird obsession. At any rate we were raring to go. From previous research we were sure this was going to be a great waterfall hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hiking the Wild Basin Video Part 1
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Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park
Our alarm at 4AM was such a treat after our 11PM Denver departure for Longs Peak, and soon we were bumping down the dirt road headed for the Bluebird Lake Trailhead. We strapped on the headlamps for an hour through a wooded area until we arrived at our first waterfall of the day. Calypso Cascades – a charming waterfall gracing a tributary of North St. Vrain Creek.
Calypso Cascades stands only 2 miles from the Wild Basin trailhead with gradual elevation gain, a great day hike for families. Hiking in the dark with headlamps we didn’t get to see much of the scenery on the way there, but the Calypso Cascades were pretty scenic.
After leaving Calypso Cascades, sunlight filtered through the trees to illuminate the forest around us in a most spectacular way. A mile of switchbacks brought us to the next waterfall on the agenda – Ouzel Falls.
At first the eye is drawn to a short, squat waterfall front and center (maybe this section is how the falls earned its name from a fat grey bird), but the real treat is the massive waterfall partially hidden in the trees. Staying on the trail does not do this waterfall justice, in order to obtain a good view of this we turned left off the trail and climbed over a fallen log.
We were able to enjoy the Ouzel Falls without company for some time in the early morning before a pair of hikers arrived. It’s an easy climb directly up to the waterfall which makes for a good picture, but the water was fierce enough to get us a bit damp.
Hike to Ouzel Lake
Shortly after Ouzel Falls we arrived at a crossroads – the trail to Lion Lakes, Thunder Lake and a multitude of campsites continued straight, while the Bluebird Lake/Ouzel Lake Trail curved to the left. After a gradual uphill, we found ourselves on a ridge that paralleled Ouzel Creek below.
The trail itself was monotonous during this stretch, as there was no change in elevation, nor were there any points of interest. However, during this 1.5 miles we were treated with an excellent view of Copeland Mountain to our left and Longs Peak on our right.
We had covered nearly 5 miles of hiking before reaching the Ouzel Lake deviation point. We decided to take the left to Ouzel and (if no other route could be found) double back to the fork before continuing to Bluebird Lake. An additional 0.5 miles along Ouzel Creek led us directly to the mouth of Ouzel Lake.
Ouzel Lake flaunts admirable views of surrounding peaks, including Copeland Mountain, Ouzel Peak, Mahana Peak and just a flicker of Isolation Peak. The banks of Ouzel Lake brought to mind Odessa Lake, with lush green grass in abundance. While Dave removed his shoes and tiptoed in the water for the perfect shot, I consulted the map to find a possible shortcut back to Bluebird Lake Trail. I figured it would be easy enough to travel to Chickadee Pond nearby, then continue upward to reconnect with the trail.
We were fortunate to encounter a woman camping nearby, and she was nice enough to lead the way to Chickadee Pond. The easiest way to access this location is to hike directly through the campsite, but tread carefully, as there may be people camping (which happened to be the case this morning). Our friendly acquaintance showed us a route that avoided the campsite, and she also expressed that a mama moose and twin babies had been frequenting the pond. Though it would have been such a treat, the moose remained ever-elusive to us at Chickadee Pond.
Despite lack of moose, the lily pads blanketing Chickadee Pond was a unique feature and we were glad to have paid a visit. Although there is no path between the two, it’s an uncomplicated ascent from Chickadee Pond to the Bluebird Lake Trail with no bushwhack required. I would highly recommend taking this route, especially since traveling back to the fork tacks on an additional mile round trip if you plan to bag both lakes.
Bluebird Lake Trail
A left onto the path, and we were reunited with the Bluebird Lake trail – only 1.7 miles, 900 feet of elevation gain and one snowfield stood between us and our destination. Believe me when I say this section of the trail is one of the most beautiful in Rocky Mountain National Park. Wildflowers of all colors grew thick in every direction, while peaks painted the sky. The Bluebird Lake trail was diverse and a joy to hike. There was no shortage of falling water and we had the pleasure of being close to Ouzel Creek for a half mile before reaching Bluebird Lake. Most of the elevation gain occurs in the last mile and should not be underestimated.
Directly below Bluebird Lake we encountered the snowfield. While this portion of the trail was steep, the snow was beginning to soften under the late morning sun and we were able to walk up sans microspikes (in fact, we didn’t even pack them). Crossing over a final flat expanse of bedrock marked our arrival at Bluebird Lake, a total of 7.2 miles one way.
Bluebird Lake (10,978′)
Though I suspect no photograph will ever do it justice, Bluebird Lake is a photographers dream (as Dave would say). Mahana Peak looms to the right, while Isolation Peak, Ouzel Peak and Copeland Peak round out the skyline to the left.
A bluebird sky mirrored onto this bluebird colored lake truly makes it a worthy destination. Immediately upon our arrival, we vowed to snag a campsite at the nearby Ouzel Creek next summer. With future intentions to visit the marginally less popular bird-themed lakes: Pipit Lake, Junco Lake and Isolation Lake.
Return to the Wild Basin Trailhead
We spent the better part of an hour relaxing at Bluebird Lake before turning around and heading back. I suspect the long haul deters many day hikers from attempting this one; we saw three others at the lake and perhaps four other groups ascending until we returned to Ouzel Falls. Our seclusion did not last long after passing Ouzel Falls. More and more hikers populated the trails and on some narrow parts it was difficult to pass slower moving groups.
The trail was crowded with other hikers but by some grace of God, I saw my first moose! The trail edged close to North St. Vrain Creek and in a thicket of bushes a cow moose munched on some leaves. She was feeling shy that day I suppose. Because neither of us could get a good look at her, but we were still elated. (or at least I was, Dave was probably rolling his eyes since I talk about moose nonstop)
Since it was too dark at the onset of our hike, we skipped over Upper and Lower Copeland Falls. Now was a good time to pay them a visit. Both Copeland Falls were short but powerful – water rushed over the precipice with alarming vigor. The flat rocks surrounding both falls are a good place to rest weary legs. That’s exactly what I did while Dave unpacked the camera to capture footage.
Copeland Falls is a stones’ throw away from the trailhead, and 0.3 miles later we were back in the parking lot. The lot in this area of Wild Basin is small and awkwardly shaped; in order to visit the magnificent lakes stemming from this trailhead, well, the early bird gets the worm!
Do you plan on doing a day hike in the Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park? Have you hiked the Wild Basin before? We love conversation! Please share your experience with us or ask us any questions that you may have!