Overland’s Best Day Hikes: Shadow Mountain Lookout Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you’re looking for a great day hike in Rocky Mountain National Park read on to learn more about the Shadow Mountain Lookout Hike.

PART ONE: BASICS

  • Name of Hike: Shadow Mountain Lookout
  • Location of Hike: Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Location of Trailhead: We left directly from our campsite in Greenridge Campground (which was one of my favorite campgrounds all summer!). 
  • Trail Notes: Begin at Greenridge Campground, change onto East Shore Trail, then pivot to Shadow Mountain Lookout Trail. 
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Roundtrip Miles: Approximately 9.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: About 1,800
  • Route highlights: The route is highlighted by two components: hiking along Shadow Mountain Lake (which feeds Grand Lake) and the summit of the mountain, which features an abandoned fire lookout. Fire lookouts were a prominent feature in the 20th century within national parks, as over 3,000 were obstructed across the United States; however, only few are still operational today. Hikers will see a relic of the past when they come upon this abandoned lookout and glimpse into the solitary life of a fire lookout—a once a coveted position in the National Park Service. 
  • Typical duration: ~ 4-5 hours

PART TWO: FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT BY VETERAN OVERLAND LEADER ABBY GRIFFITH

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado has some beautiful day hikes. If you’re headed to RMNP, and want to get out on a great day hike, then read on!

The Shadow Mountain Lookout hike is always one of Overland’s favorite hikes in the Rockies. This post gives you a first-hand account of the hike from the point of view of veteran Overland leader Abby Griffith. Abby led three Overland groups of teens on this hike during the summer of 2023.

What It’s Like 

This hike starts right from Greenridge campground (where we stayed the night before). It begins following the shoreline of Shadow Mountain lake where the trail is flat and easy and has views of the lake and the mountains beyond it. The trail then begins winding its way up the side of Shadow Mountain. Here it gets steep and filled with switchbacks. You are in pretty dense trees and the view is blocked for some time but it is all worth it when you get out of the trees and find yourself on an open ridge that allows you to see miles in every direction, overlooking the valley below and the peaks to your other side. From here there is another steep ascent through the trees that brings you to the Shadow Mountain Fire Lookout overlooking the valley and lake below. There is a nice clear area at the top with rocks and logs to sit on and enjoy a snack.

Why I Love It 

Shadow mountain was the perfect day hike for our second day together with our students! The proximity to our campground made it possible to get an early morning start. The beginning of the trail is briefly on a service road allowing us to hike side by side with students and get to know them a little better, also giving them the opportunity to bond with one another. The access to streams on this hike allowed us to carry less water than usual as we could purify water on the trail. The hike was difficult at times and required us to push our students some, but the reward of the view at the top and the sneak peeks at the view throughout were worth the push. This hike was a perfect pick for our second day because it showed our students that while hiking can often be difficult, it is also fun and has big payoffs (often in the form of a beautiful view)! Setting the scene for the rest of our trip with this hike helped get our group ready for the next two weeks of hiking!

Veteran Overland leader Abby Griffith led Overland’s Rocky Mountain Expedition in 2023. Abby led three groups of teens (the students were 15 and 16 years old) for two weeks at a time. During their stays in RMNP, Abby led the groups on the Shadow Mountain Lookout hike.

Overland Leader Abby Griffith At-A-Glance

  • Hometown: McCall, Idaho
  • College, Major, Year of Graduation: Kenyon College, Gender Studies and English, 2023
  • Summers on staff: 2023, 2024
  • Trips led: Rocky Mountain Expedition ’23, Norway Expedition ’24

A quote from a co-leader

“Abby was a great co-leader. Abby has a ton of leading and backcountry experience and is well organized. We are very similar in terms of being enthusiastic, having a lot of backcountry experience, and being detail oriented which meant that we got along well.” – Maggie McDow

PART THREE: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The National Park Service offers this storm warning: Weather in Colorado can turn in an instant. Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Check the forecast before heading out. Lightning can strike anywhere in RMNP. Watch for building storm clouds and return to the trailhead immediately if you hear thunder. As a general rule, try to be back at the trailhead by noon.

Here is a selection of some relevant online resources:

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    Tom Costley

    When Tom Costley founded Overland in 1984, he sought to create experiences for young people that were fun, where new friendships could grow, where natural beauty was embraced, where there were real and varied challenges, and where Overland’s students would achieve something of importance to them. Overland’s focus on small groups, carefully crafted trips, and superlative leadership has made it a leader in the summer camp world. Overland’s commitment to excellence in everything it does has led to its success: over the past four decades, Overland has served 40,000 students and 5,000 trip leaders. Tom writes about the outdoors and travel from Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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