Traversing the Twin Sisters Peak

Having the ability to escape to the mountains in less than an hour is one of the main reasons that we moved to Colorado, and the current pandemic has made us appreciate that quick escape even more. I personally can’t imagine being stuck in a place where there isn’t nature around to explore during these times, where the feeling of being cooped up is amplified. The playground that is the Rocky Mountains offers endless socially distanced adventures, and I’m certainly grateful for the beautiful state we now call home.

As I scanned the AllTrails map on Friday, the goal for my hike this weekend was fairly specific in what I was looking for, but not necessarily specific about where. I wanted to find a lightly trafficked trail that offered good views of the front range, a challenging hike, all while avoiding the trails still covered in snow this early into the summer. Given my affinity for the Nederland/Boulder area, it’s not surprising that I found what I was looking for not that far from where we were last weekend. I promise I tried to look elsewhere!

View of the mountains before me driving to the trailhead

I woke up and gathered the necessities as quickly as I could, packed up, and set out, arriving at the trailhead just before 8am. There were maybe 10 cars in the parking lot and plenty of open parking spots, which was something I was grateful for, and was glad that I set out as early as I had. From the parking lot, you are presented with a beautiful vista of Gross Reservoir below, and I immediately wanted to go towards it. It probably didn’t help that the only other people I saw setting out for the day were taking the trail going towards it.

View of the trailhead parking lot early in the morning
Panoramic view of the lake, trails, and picnic areas

I didn’t make it too far before realizing that I was already off the trail I intended to be on and hadn’t paid close enough attention to the map. Despite going the wrong direction, it wasn’t a total loss, as it afforded me some pictures of the lake and gave me an idea of what the trail down was like.

Trail heading down to Gross Reservoir
View of Gross Reservoir from the trail

I hiked back up to the parking and realized the trail that I actually wanted went beyond the restrooms, more or less along the road. I set out for the second time, glad that it was early and not too hot, and walked past several fairly private picnic tables that all had gorgeous views of the lake.

Sign warning of hiking in bear and moose country

I didn’t take a picture (for obvious reasons), but, about a half mile in, I passed a deer leg that had clearly been eaten by something, reminding me that there are in fact large predators in the mountains – something I take for granted all too often on our hikes. It wasn’t long, though, until I was walking along a dirt road that was, in fact, the trail, which allowed me to relax a little. It felt like deja vu from the hike last week, although it was significantly more “interesting” from the standpoint that it wasn’t a perfectly flat road. I guess it made me feel like I was hiking a little bit still, even though I was clearly on a road.

Sign warning against trying to drive standard vehicles down the path
“No soccer mom SUVs” Definitely true!!
Rocky terrain heading up the trail
I don’t think the Subby would do too well on this, and this wasn’t even the worst of it

Once again, I passed my turn off, but realized quickly yet again that I was going the wrong direction, turned around, and got back on my way. With all the private property on either side of the road, I was expecting something more well defined for the trailhead turn off, but it was just a gap in a fence. The trail quickly narrowed and steepened slightly. After this point, I didn’t see a single other person until I was at the top. I never saw any wildlife other than birds and chipmunks, but I certainly was keeping an eye out after my grisly discovery earlier, and I kept thinking to myself that I wish I wasn’t hiking alone. The trail was very narrow in spots and the trees thick on either side, adding to the feeling that I wasn’t in my natural terrain anymore.

Turnoff from road to the Twin Sisters trail
This is me coming back to the turnoff for the trail. It’ll normally be on your right and you just scoot through the fence to continue on your way!
Heavily wooded hiking trail with pine trees
Narrow hiking trail through trees
Imagine me scanning for bears and mountain lions through this!
Rocky hiking trail to the Twin Sisters peak
View of mountains in the distance from the trail

It did eventually open up into a magnificent meadow, filled with wildflowers, aspens, and pines. The wind was whipping through the trees at a decent pace today, and the leaves of the aspens let you know it.

Looking back down the trail over the meadow just crossed
Pine trees and aspens coming together in one forest
Pine trees on the left giving way to an Aspen grove on the right. I thought it made for a cool picture!
Don’t miss the turnoff when you see this pile of rocks. It’s hard to see to the left, and easy to keep going past the Twin Sisters peak.

It was a fairly gradual climb to the top once you turn off the road and it made for a good workout on the legs. I reached the top and had the place all to myself. It felt like I was the only one taking the trail today and the mountain was mine to enjoy. I took several pictures and videos, which don’t really do it justice due to my irrationally strong fear of heights, but it was an amazing feel standing on top, looking out over the mountains in the distance, with the wind blowing harder than ever.

View of snow topped mountains in the distance
From the top of the mountain looking out over the lower lying areas
If you can’t tell, that’s a cliff… I know it looks like I’m a long ways away from the edge, but I wasn’t about to get any closer!
A slightly different view from the top with mountain in the distance.
Another drop off on the other side of these rocks too. Maybe one day I won’t be so scared to go look over the edge..
Selfie at the top of the mountain with the peaks behind me
Trying to not look nervous with my back to the cliff and the wind blowing!

I spent maybe 20 minutes sitting on a rock at the top (sufficiently away from the edge), enjoying the sounds all around me and rehydrating, before the people started to show up. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to take the trail today, but it appeared that I was perhaps the first. I was thankful for the time and solitude that I was able to enjoy on top, but it was time to start heading back down. That’s when I realized that this was far from a “lightly trafficked” trail, as AllTrails had indicated. I started running into groups of people what seemed like around every turn. After not seeing anyone else on the way up, I saw probably 10-15 groups of people on my way down. It made me wonder if it would even be worth it at top with all of those people crawling the rocks all around you. I’m sure it would be, but still wouldn’t be the same as it was being up there alone. This made me even more thankful for the peace and quiet I was able to enjoy.

Mountain bike ramp heading down the trail over some logs
I guess people mountain bike this trail? I can’t imagine riding up, but maybe if you walked it over the more rough parts.

Once I got back to the dirt “road”, I started to run into large off-road rigs taking the OHV trail and determined that it probably wasn’t initially designed for both hikers and those kinds of vehicles. I had to step off the road to let them pass a couple of times, and it made me nervous every time I heard someone coming up around a corner that they would be going too fast to see me.

Scenic view perched above Gross Reservoir
Once last lake picture on my hike back!

I made it back to the parking lot around 11:30, and realized just how good of a decision I had made arriving as early as I had. I didn’t even know you could park on the other side of the parking lot, but now both sides were completely full, and there was a sheriff at the entrance to the parking lot turning people away. It became apparent that this parking lot was popular for folks hiking down to enjoy the lake, many with kayaks in tow. I would highly recommend arriving as early as I did.

Full parking lot at Gross Reservoir trailhead

All in all, I would definitely do this hike again, but would absolutely keep in mind to arrive early to avoid the crowds, find a parking spot, and not have to dodge cars. I honestly just wish so much of it wasn’t on a dirt road, but I’m starting to discover that that’s a thing.. Once I took the turn-off, it was an incredibly rewarding hike and rates highly for views and solitude. We’re going to have to come back and check out the lake next time too – I never did get any closer than I did taking the wrong trail at the beginning.

Summiting Bald Mountain Near Boulder

As a result of a very long series of events, we didn’t end up making it to the mountains to hike for Carly’s birthday last weekend, forcing us to reschedule to this weekend. Going for a hike for our birthdays has become somewhat of a tradition the past few years and it was better late than never! I already had the hike picked out, so it made it easy to decide where we were heading – the Sugarloaf Mountain trailhead near Boulder. Only we weren’t there for Sugarloaf Mountain. Although I’m sure we’ll return someday to tackle that magical sounding mountain, our sights were set a little further to Bald Mountain. This is not to be confused with my failed attempt at Old Baldy last year (I still plan on going back and conquering that one!) I chose this hike because this part of the state, near Nederland and Boulder, is one of my favorite parts of the state to hike because I usually see some sort of wildlife and every hike has offered a challenge, with spectacular views as the payoff. The perfect combination if you ask me.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 10am on Saturday, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little concerned that there would be no parking that close to Boulder on such a nice day. There were maybe 10-15 cars there, and there were already people making their own spots amongst the trees. We were lucky, though, and someone left a more “designated” parking spot right when we were wondering what to do. It’s nice when things work out like that.

As I mentioned before, there are two trails from this same trailhead, Sugarloaf Mountain, which was much shorter, and Bald Mountain that was about 5 miles. Since this was actually the first time we’ve been up to the mountains hiking this year, we decided we better make the most of it and go for the longer one, and just hoped that the rain we could see all around us would hold off.

The first part of the trail wasn’t exactly promising, and we had to stop and ask people if we were even going the right direction. The cars driving down the road didn’t give us much hope either, but we pressed onward, and despite the less than stellar “trail” situation, the views were still spectacular

We eventually realized that we missed the first turn-off for the trail, which would take you around the loop counterclockwise and the way the arrows pointed on AllTrails, but we did find the second turn off that took us clockwise. Looking back, I wish we would’ve seen the first turnoff, because this direction seemed like it was much more difficult.

There were cars at the bottom of the turnoff for the trailhead going this direction, which made it easier to spot.
Starting to get steep!

The route was steep, with many rocks and loose dirt to make the risk of slipping that much higher. Looking at the pictures, it doesn’t really give it justice. We also realized (again, after the fact) that we went off the trail for a little bit, taking a shortcut which proved to be the steepest part. It would’ve been easier to stay on the correct trail if we were going around the loop in the correct direction, but again, lessons learned for next time!

Up and up we go!

We reached what we thought had to be the top of the mountain because of how steep the climb had just been, and how spectacular the views were!

Like everything else up to this point, we were also wrong about this being the top of the mountain, and continued upward. The wildflowers continued to amaze throughout our entire journey, adding that extra sparkle of beauty to an already magnificent hike. As always, at a certain point, I have to let the pictures do the talking for me, otherwise I could go on and on!

Had to stop for a quick selfie, of course!
It just kept getting better and better the further up we went!

We did finally make it to what was actually the top of the mountain, and let me tell you, the payoff at the top was worth the hard climb! We didn’t see another hiker the entire time, and could’ve spent all day at the top in the solitude, listening to the chirps of the few birds that were around us up there.

As any seasoned hiker can tell you, the worst part of any hike is coming back down. That was certainly true of this one, where the descent was almost as steep as our climb. It made every single step treacherous, and we took the tiniest steps we could as we made our way down, just hoping that our knees didn’t give out on us. As you can imagine, I wasn’t taking pictures during the worst of it, but hopefully these pictures do it a little bit of justice.

Despite there being a few spots where the steepness of the terrain made us slightly uncomfortable, it was still one of our favorite hikes we’ve been. Between the wildflowers and the spectacular views, it was everything we could hope for, and I could definitely see us coming back to do this hike again or to tackle the Sugarloaf Mountain peak. There may have been more people on that trail, but we didn’t see a single other hiker on our trail the entire time, except for right at the beginning when we asked for directions. That’s hard to achieve this close to Boulder. We found the only problem with doing a really long hike during a pandemic, though, is not being able to stop at a restaurant at the bottom for a beer! Time to start planning the next adventure!!