Thunder Lake, or; Backpacking Isn’t Always a Sufferfest


“Oh, no, we’ve got a spot up at the end,” Robbie said to the park volunteer waving us into a parking spot. The man snorted.

“Yeah. You wish,” he said incredulously.

“No, we really have a spot. At least, your buddy up there put a cone in the spot for us,” Robbie replied, and he started moving the car forward.

“See you in a bit!” the man called.

“We won’t see you later!” Robbie called back.

Luckily for us, we did have a spot at the Wild Basin trailhead. Not that parking at the other available spots further up the road would have been heinous or anything (there’s a trail that follows the road all the way!) but it was still nice to not add another 1.5 miles of flat walking to our day.

The plan was to do a simple walk into Thunder Lake in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Thunder lake copy

Robbie had entered a lottery to get a backcountry permit for Labor day weekend at Thunder Lake and Ouzel Lake, however, Claire and I would not be able to join him and Teal for the Ouzel Lake day. So for us, it was a simply walk in 6 miles, eat, sleep, and walk out 6 miles.

That being said, I still took an hour long nap the moment we had our tent set up at the campsite.

The campsites for Thunder Lake are designated backcountry sites about a quarter mile away from the lake. There is a nice little Ranger cabin on the shores of the lake, but that, obviously, is reserved for park rangers.

The lake was still as glass, which made for good fishing, and there were a surprising number of 13-15″ greenback cutthroat trout rising as we cooked our dinner on the lakeshore. Or rather I should say we were cooked dinner on the lakeshore. Our other companions had arrived by dinnertime, and some of them just happen to be extremely skilled, NOLS trained backcountry cooks. So, for my first time I was served pizza in the backcountry, and damn it was fine.


As it goes with the mountains, despite the heat from the day, the temperature plummeted once the sun went down. We were treated with a simultaneous moonrise/sunset which resulted in a stellar view of the moon’s reflection in the still lake. The ranger came to see us while we were still huddled on the shore in the dark, no doubt making sure we weren’t planning on sleeping there, but we assured him we had a stuff set up at the campsites.

The night was cold, but the dawn was warm and we descended back to the parking lot, passing the crowds of day hikers. Turns out that not all backpacking has to be full of suffering!



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