I ended up backpacking to Bowen Lake almost on accident as a result of not being able to get permits in time to go where I originally wanted to in the Indian Peaks region.
But hiking in from the Blue Ridge Trail turned out to be one of most beautiful trails I’ve been on in Colorado AND I didn’t even need a permit or to pay a fee, so it’s a win-win.
This post may contain affiliate affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosure for more info.
Bowen Lake Trail specs:
Length: 4.2 miles one-way from North Supply Trailhead; 7.5 miles one-way from Bowen/Baker Trailhead
Elevation change: Up 1,100 ft to Blue Ridge, then down 500 ft to Bowen Lake from the North Supply Trailhead; or up 2,175 ft from the Bowen/Baker Trailhead to Bowen Lake
Best time of year: Summer
Permits: No permits required to hike or camp, however, National Park entry required to access the Bowen/Baker Gulch Trailhead. No fee/permit required for the North Supply Trailhead.
Buy the topographic map that includes trails to Bowen Lake and much more of Grand Lake plus Rocky Mountain National Park
Planning a day hike to Bowen Lake:
If you’re planning on a day hike, I do recommend starting early and hiking in from the North Supply Trailhead. Much of the hike from this direction is above treeline which a) makes it freaking beautiful and b) puts you at higher risk of lightning storms in the afternoon – just some things to keep in mind!
Don’t be intimidated by the distance and elevation change, if you think doing this entire trail out and back to the lake is too much for one day you have some options.
You could choose to stop at the highest point, which makes for a wonderful lunch spot and turnaround point with views of the lake instead of going the additional mile+ and almost extra thousand feet down to the actual lake.
Or you could do this as a one-night backpacking trip from either trail head.
Or you could hike up from the Bowen/Baker Gulch Trailhead, however, you will need a national parks pass or to pay to get into Rocky Mountain National Park to get to this trailhead.
Always be sure to pack the essential day hiking gear you need for the day, especially layers and rain gear – even in the summer!
Planning a backpacking trip to Bowen Lake:
You could also do this as a one-night, two-day trip from the Bowen/Baker Gulch trailhead, however, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee into the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Or if you have the time, the entire Bowen/Baker Gulch loop is a pretty amazing backpacking trip, but I would plan on two or three nights out to complete that loop, including the side trail to Bowen Lake.
Be sure to pack all your essential overnight gear to keep yourself safe and comfy in the backcountry!
Getting to the trailhead
Getting to the Bowen/Baker Gulch trailhead is very easy and reasonable, driving on the paved road, US 34 through the National Park, it will be on your left hand side coming from Grand Lake. It is a lot longer of a trek if you’re coming from the Estes Park side of Rocky Mountain National Park, check your map and GPS ahead of time to plan accordingly.
Getting to the North Supply trailhead is slightly trickier – haha, says the girl who got epically lost on county road 4 trying to get up there! Nah, it’s actually really not that hard, just look over a map before you head out and try to follow GPS on your way because there are a lot twisty-turny-not-clearly-marked dirt roads and Jeep trails back there.
From US 34 in Grand Lake, near Cutthroat Bay on Lake Granby, turn onto County Road 4. Follow 4 for only 3 miles and then turn right onto County Road 455. Follow 455 for about 8.5 miles until you arrive at the North Supply Trailhead – once you get close there will be signs for the trailhead – follow the signs, they don’t lie.
It’s also worth mentioning that the road to the North Supply trailhead is on a jeep road, so be sure to watch out for 4-wheelers and a high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
Bowen Lake Trail Review
I highly recommend hiking in from the North Supply Trailhead via the Blue Ridge Trail, which then connects to the Bowen Lake Trail. It starts off on 4×4 trails but quickly turns into a non-motorized foot trail through high alpine forest, complete with wildflowers in the spring and summer and some open meadows along the way.
There is a long stretch of very wet, muddy trail, just a heads up! I did ok in my regular hiking boots, rock hopping through it, while my husband wore Chacos and just embraced having wet feet for a while.
Then the trail pops out above treeline and provides panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains, the Continental Divide and Grand Lake and the Shadow Mountain Reservoir.
After hiking about 1 ½ miles along the ridge, you’ll see Bowen Lake down off the right hand side and the trail splits to either go down to Bowen Lake or continue along the ridge.
The Bowen Lake Trail continues down steep(ish) switchbacks for another 3/4 mile or so and then you’ll arrive at the lake! There are plenty of sweet camping spots and areas to explore here.
I’ve done this both as a day hike, only to the top of the ridge for views of Bowen Lake and also as a one night backpacking trip and both were lovely and highly recommended. Just be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and bug spray in the summer – the bugs were horrendous around the lake!
Also, be prepared for snow and cold weather. We hiked this the first week of July and had to trudge through some long, deep patches of snow still on the way down to the lake.
For more Colorado hiking trails and hiking tips, check out:
- Hiking Columbine Lake in Fraser, Colorado
- How to hike the Manitou Incline
- Hiking Monarch Lake in Granby, Colorado