If you remember one thing about the hike to Haynach Lakes, it should be this — The turnoff to the lake doesn’t say Haynach Lakes, it only says Haynach with an arrow, a tent sign and ‘llamas permitted.’ It looks like every other camp site turnoff on the Green Mountain Trail, so you need to know the turnoff for the Haynach Lake Trail is the turnoff for the Haynach campsite trail.
Now, let’s talk about the rest of the hike.
If you like meadows, waterfalls, lakes and great scenery – you’ll like the Haynach Lakes hike. There’s lots of variety on this trail. There’s also two burnzones and lots of beetle kill. While the beetle kill is sad to see, the burn zones are actually quite interesting and photogenic. If you’re still interested in the hike, let’s go.
The hike starts at the Green Mountain Trailhead on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, near Grand Lake (directions below). Be aware, the trailhead parking lot has a reputation for having a lot of mosquitoes. While there weren’t mosquitoes in the parking lot the day we hiked, we did find them right away on the trail.
Now, let’s talk about the trail. Just steps from the parking lot, you’re immediately in the forest and you’re immediately climbing. Even seasoned hikers have mentioned that the trail is steep in the beginning. According to my GPS, we gained 300 feet in the first 0.3 mile on this trail.
After the first 1.8 miles of hiking in the forest, you’ll come to a clearing of sorts with lots of signs. You’ve arrived at Big Meadows. This place is aptly named — it’s a big meadow. And soon you’ll see it’s actually two big meadows.
Follow the main trail as it turns left and parallels Big Meadows. When there are breaks in the trees, enjoy the mountain scenery in the distance, the meadow in front of you and look for moose, elk and deer.
As you walk the trail, you’ll pass an old cabin on your left, then one on your right. The trail continues to skirt around Big Meadows for about a mile with short ups and downs.
When the meadow ends, you’ll be back in the thick forest with occasional views of Tonahutu Creek next to the main trail.
About four miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to a burn zone. The Big Meadows Fire in 2013 burned 653 acres. You’ll hike through the burn zone for about a half mile. Look closely at the trees. In 2015, some still had their burned bark on them, others had lost their burned bark and were yellow/orange underneath.
As the burn zone ends, the climbing begins again. About 5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll pass a sign for Lower Granite Falls — that’s a campsite. Go another 0.12 miles to the sign that says Granite Falls — that’s the waterfall.
Take the time to walk over to the falls. This is a beautiful cascade that tumbles over a flat rocky area, occasionally jumping in the air and even creating a mist that floats over the area.
The main trail goes to the top of the falls. Take a few steps off trail at the top. While Tonahutu Creek looks like your typically creek up here, when it hits this drop, it creates an impressive waterfall. This is a nice place for a snack.
When you’re ready, hike on.
The trail climbs up a section, passes another meadow and then hits more of the burn zone from the 2013 fire. You’ll hike through the burn zone for another half mile, then walk through a meadow, before entering the thick forest again.
About 7 miles from the trailhead, you’ll cross over a cascade in the forest. Remember this point. The turnoff for Haynach Lakes is only about a tenth of a mile from here.
The turnoff for Haynach Lakes is marked with a sign that says Haynach with an arrow, a tent sign and ‘llamas permitted.’ THIS IS YOUR TURNOFF. A park ranger told us later that there is no sign for the lake because it’s not an official park trail and it’s not maintained. They called it a “fisherman’s trail.” Now the trail climbs steeply through the forest, gaining about 350 feet in the first half mile.
You’ll hike through several very scenic meadows with mountain peaks. Fortunately, the trail mellows out a bit before climbing again next to a cascade. The cascade looks like it comes from the lake, but it doesn’t. Soon the trail turns away from the creek, passing through more meadows and passing by several ponds. While these ponds are not the Haynach “lakes,” they are worth a stop and a photo because you can often get a reflection shot with the nearby mountain peaks.
The trail took a few turns we didn’t expect and it passed a couple spots where we expected the lakes to be, before finally, 1.5 miles from the main trail turnoff, we arrived at Haynach Lakes. The trail ends at the largest lake, but look down the valley and you’ll see more lakes. This is a great spot to find a rock, have lunch, take lots of photos and maybe even take a nap.
Details: The hike to Haynach Lakes is about 17 miles roundtrip with about 2300 feet of elevation gain to the lakes, and another 200 extra on the way out. Because of the distance, I backpacked to the lakes. There are several campsites along the Green Mountain Trail. I recommend the Lower Granite Falls sites because the campsites are next to the creek. Make sure you get a permit ahead of time!
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Directions: From Winter Park, take U.S 40 to Granby. Just past town, turn right on U.S. 34 towards Grand Lake. At Grand Lake, turn right to go into town or left to go towards the park. At 2.6 miles past the park entrance station, you’ll see the Green Mountain trailhead on your right.