Bowen-Baker Loop is a 19 mile trail that takes you past Parika Lake and over the Continental Divide through the mountains of the Never Summer Wilderness. Though the trailhead is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, the trail will soon take you out of the park and well away from the crowds—making it a great hike for a long weekend.
We picked this hike with our friend from Missouri in mind, who wanted to do a long overnight hike that wouldn’t quite get up to 14er elevation. The Bowen-Baker loop still provided all of the hiking and gorgeous views with less of the risk of altitude sickness!
We pulled up to the trailhead at 10 a.m. eager to knock out the first 6 miles of the hike before camp. The first mile is just dirt road, but soon you hit the sign for Never Summer Wilderness and you know good times are in store.
You’ll trek up a gradual but steady grade for the next few miles. It is incredibly lush and green this time of year. While the trail is mostly obvious, you will regularly find yourself splashing through puddles and crossing streams. This time of year, I would highly recommend waterproof shoes. With good balance, all of the crossings were perfectly safe. Soon the forest opens up to reveal a beautiful view of the mountains at the end of Bowen Gulch. In addition to lots of water and mud, you’ll travel over a couple of well-packed scree fields as you follow the valley uphill toward Parika Lake.
We got to camp at 4 p.m and set up our tents and hammocks. We accidentally stopped just short of Parika Lake at the large pond right downstream from it. With lots of trees providing shelter from the wind, it turned out to be an even better camping spot. A moose joined us at the lake for a couple hours while we made dinner and built a fire. Unfortunately there weren’t any fish at all in the pond, but that didn’t stop us from playing around with the tenakara rod we brought along. After a little star gazing, we hit the hay before 11 p.m.
On day two we packed up and hit the trail first thing in the morning. About a half mile down the trail we made it to Parika Lake, where we had breakfast and tea before the 13-mile hike ahead. The view of Parika Lake framed by the Continental Divide was worth every uphill mile we’d done so far.
The hike up from Parika Lake to the Continental Divide is steep but fairly short. We made short work of it with our flatlander friend before running smack into a five-foot-tall wall of snow between us and the saddle. Anyone behind us would have had a funny view as we scrambled over it.
We would hike another short, steep section up to the Continental Divide several miles later as we left Bowen Gulch and entered Baker Gulch. After a somewhat sketchy scramble through snow and scree, we were able to hop back on the trail and finish out the rest of the day going downhill. Just a half mile before getting back to the trailhead, the almost perfect weather turned on us and started dumping rain. We were a happy crew as we practically ran back to the car, put on our flip flops and cranked up the air.
Bowen-Baker Loop past Parika Lake was one of the longer hikes in the area, but the setting couldn’t have been better with streams, wildlife, lakes, and wildflowers blooming all around. For anyone looking to do this hike, I had a hard time finding a good map of the area. I used three different maps and, while none of them were great, I included a picture of the most accurate one below that we found a few miles into the hike.