Rocky Mountain National Park - Twin Sisters Peaks from Twin Sisters Trailhead (#5)
Twin Sisters is a hike to a summit that will present you with outstanding views of the Longs Peak and the eastern plains. For those that want to go beyond valley loops and lesser peaks, this is a great beginner summit hike. Locals also use it for training / exercise. Topping out at 11,332, it’s below 13’er status, but with nearly 2,500 of elevation gain it’s still formidable mountain. As a bonus it’s outside of the park fee gates, so there is no pass needed and still accessible during federal shutdowns. There’s not a lot of scenic viewpoints along the way, so unless you’re prepared to go to the summit, other nearby hikes such as Lulu Mountain or Estes Cone are better options if you want less elevation gain.
Once past the official trailhead, you’ll make your way through a few miles of Lodgepole Pines. Walking through trees, there isn’t much to see. You’ll then encounter a break in the trees with a good view of Longs Peaks. Many people will stop and take pictures here. But just a little farther, and slightly downhill, is an even better break in the trees with a better view. Take your pictures here instead.
Soon after those views, you get to the massive landslide. In September 2013, a year’s worth of rain fell in just a few days. This caused massive flooding and landslides through the Colorado Front Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park. On Twin Sisters mountain, there were large debris flows (landslides) on both the east and west sides of the mountain. The trail crosses the west landslide. It’s a good place to take a rest and contemplate the power of nature. Grasses are now starting to take hold in the scar. In a decade or so, aspens will grow. It will take more decades for the lodgepole pines to return. Even a hundred years from now, the scar will still be noticable.
Once across the landslide, you’ll encounter many steep switchbacks that touch the south end of the slide. Trail maps from before the flood will show the trail as an easier grade across the landslide debris. The new route stays to the south of the debris, and is steep. Because of this horses are no longer permitted on the trail. The new trail follows pieces of the old trail, and some new sections have been improved with rock steps.
Once past the slide area, the trail continues up. Take care to notice that the trees will slowly switch from tall lodgepole pines to limber pines and aspens. You’ll then know you’re close to treeline. Along the journey you’ll also see that views are now looking mainly north instead of west. You’ll then see a couple of big rock outcroppings, twisted pine, and southern views. Treeline is soon.
At treeline, you’ll make your way across the rockfield. The trail is pretty easy to follow but could be confusing at a couple of points. If it doesn’t look right, just stop and look around. Since you’re above treeline, it’s easy to get back on the trail again. You’ll have views of Longs Peak and Estes Park.
You’ll then approach a saddle. At the saddle, in front of you, there’s a nice view of the plains. Maybe you’ll have cell phone reception (this a rarity in the park). To the RIGHT, there will be a communications tower and shed, and a peak. This is not the true summit of Twin Sisters north. But many people still summit it. The true summit is to the LEFT. Getting to the summit requires some basic, low exposure, scrambling.
Once on the summit you have 360 views. The view of Longs Peak is extraordinary. You can likely spot many of the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. On clear days, you can see downtown Denver, Longmont, Loveland and Fort Collins.
You’re on the north twin peak. Getting to the south twin peak is harder and farther than it looks. There's no designated route and few people venture that way. The views are similar, but you’ll have the satisfaction of going where few go.
In the summer, when the gate is open you can park on the uphill side of the road, but this can fill quickly. In the winter and busy periods you’ll likely need to park down by Lilly Lake. Since Lilly Lake is frequented by tourists a parking space will likely open up quickly, and people are usually very friendly. Parking usually is not an issue.
Most children will find this trail very boring.
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