David and I visited Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in early July 2014. We were there for 7 days and hiked 8 wonderful trails. Mount Ida Trail was the highlight of our hiking experience in RMNP.
If you like uncrowded trail, a 360-degree view, hiking in alpine tundra where the terrain is open and air is thin, practicing some trail finding skills, and a good chance of seeing bighorn sheep, Mount Ida is your hike. You’ll need to start this hike early in the morning. For slower hikers or those who want to take time enjoying the scenery, this means starting your hike at 7 AM or earlier. RMNP is notorious for having afternoon thunderstorms during summer months. The top of exposed mountains and alpine tundra trails are not the place to be in the thunderstorm due to the lightning risk. Our Mount Ida hike is a bad example of what to do in this situation. Read on.
Mount Ida Trail begins from a trailhead at Milner Pass on Trail Ridge Road. We arrived at the trailhead by 8 AM. It was a clear day with little to no cloud in the sky. Poudre Lake at the trailhead looked like a nice place for picnicking, but we had a more ambitious goal for the day. After using the toilet at the trailhead, we were off hiking.
Before reaching the tree line, we came to a trail junction where Mount Ida Trail separating from a trail to Alpine Visitor Center. There was a sign warning hikers about getting lost on Mount Ida Trail. It was quite unnerving, but I’ve read quite a bit of this hike to feel comfortable about our plan. Nevertheless, it made me be more cognizant about our surroundings for the rest of the hike.
Soon we were above the tree line. The view from this point was unobstructed. The Never Summer Mountains were glorious. The sky was blue. Alpine sunflowers were in full bloom. Camera shutters were snapping. The hills were indeed alive.
We took our time and savored the scenery. Only 3 other hikers passed us on the way. We met maybe two other groups of hikers that day. In fact, we probably saw more bighorn sheep than hikers on this trail.
About 3.5 miles in, the terrain became more rugged with lots of taluses to navigate as we headed up Mount Ida. There was a lot of trail-finding involved. I had a moment when I was tired so we stopped for an apple which gave me the energy boost. Although we saved this hike until almost the last day to allow us time to acclimate to the altitude, it’s still challenging to exert energy at above 10,000 ft.
The clouds looming in the distance made us a bit nervous, but we pushed on up the summit.
By the time we reached the summit, it started showering. So we took some pictures and began our descent. We hiked down for about 40 minutes until we found a spot to have a quick break for lunch. The shower had stopped for a brief moment. There was a herd of bighorn sheep nearby. They didn’t seem to be concerned by our presence. So we quietly ate our lunch and enjoyed the wildlife viewing.
After lunch we headed down the mountain. About 30 minutes before getting back to our car, the sky opened up and it rained hard on us but stopped and cleared up as we arrived at the trailhead.
In hindsight, we were very fortunate that the clouds that rolled in that day were bringing just shower and rain. I didn’t remember hearing thunders. Nevertheless, it was stupid of us for not turning around when the weather changed. We were spending too much time taking pictures among other things and should’ve picked up our pace sooner. It took us 4.5 hours to reach the summit and about 3 hours hiking out including lunch stop.
The next day, we attempted to hike Deer Mountain in the Moraine Park area, but got rained on again with lightning from far away. We wised up and aborted the hike. When we arrived home in Virginia, we learned that, on the same day we hiked to Deer Mountain and the day after, two visitors were killed by lightning strikes in RMNP. These tragic events underlined the real danger of lightning in the mountains of RMNP, something that we all need to take seriously.
If you plan to hike Mount Ida Trail, be sure to research the trail and what to expect during the hike. I recommend reading this page as part of your preparation. I agree with this statement from the author wholeheartedly.
“On the surface this hike might appear to be relatively easy when compared to other hikes of similar mileage or elevation gain. Numbers, however, can be deceiving.”
What about you? Have you been in similar situations?
- Date hiked: July 10, 2014
- Hiking time: Approx. 7h 30m
- Distance: 9.5 mi round-trip (out and back)
- Elevation change: Approx. 2,500 ft gain
- Note: Due to the danger of lightning from afternoon thunderstorms while hiking in a completely exposed alpine tundra, plan to start the hike very early in the morning and be back below the tree line before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive. Carry plenty of water and have sun protection.