Hiking Lion Lakes & Snowbank Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Flowers of Lion Lake Area
This lush cascading creek area can be found between Lion Lake 1 & 2.

Jennifer and I did a three-day backpacking trip into the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first day’s adventure led us to Thunder Lake and the gorgeous Lake of Many Winds high into the Rocky Mountain terrain. If you missed that part of the journey check it out now. The second day of our journey saw us climb from our North St. Vrain campsite to three stunningly beautiful lakes known as Lion Lake #1, Lion Lake #2, and Snowbank Lake. Hiking Lion Lakes is no easy feat but as grueling as the trail is and even though we got caught in a hail storm this is still one of our all-time favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hiking Lion Lake #1 Stats:

  • Location: Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: 12.6-miles (total round-trip) 
    • The signage in Rocky Mountain has different distances listed, but that is if you take the trail via Ouzel Falls.
  • Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation: 8,510’ – 11,108′
  • Elevation Gain: 2,598′
  • Trailhead: The Wild Basin Trailhead
  • Permits: Required if Backpacking

Hiking Snowbank Lake Stats:

Snowbank Lake
Snowbank Lake has a natural rocky peninsula bisecting much of the lake rimmed by the snowbank.
  • Location: Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Rating: Strenuous (Moderate from Lion Lake #1)
  • Distance: 14.2-miles (total round-trip) 
  • Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation: 8,510’ – 11,523′
  • Elevation Gain: 3,013′
  • Trailhead: The Wild Basin Trailhead
  • Permits: Required if Backpacking

Day 2: Hiking Lion Lakes and Snowbank Lake Trip Report

North St. Vrain Campsite
Jennifer and I enjoying our North St. Vrain Campsite.

We awoke early at the North St. Vrain Campsite a little stiff after the first day’s push to Thunder Lake and the Lake of Many Winds. Today’s itinerary included hiking Lion Lakes (#1 & #2) as well as Snowbank Lake. About a 4.8-mile long hike (one-way) from where we were camped. We got an early start because the forecast called for inclement weather in the afternoon which is normal for a summer’s day in the Colorado mountains.

The tent hammock that was left at our site was still there and as the forecast called for rain today I decided to tuck it in under our tent flap to protect it from the elements. At this point I had decided that I had acquired a hammock should no one come looking for it. I had been wanting to buy a hammock so this was a nice gift from some unseen stranger in the woods. 

Permits are required when camping in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a real-time permit availability tracker provided by our friends at Outdoor Status. They track cancelations so no permit goes unused. Sign up today to get emails sent directly to your inbox when your campsite becomes available.

Back to the Thunder & Lion Lake Intersection

After our usual backpacking breakfast of oatmeal, we set out for the lakes and back up the path to the Thunder Lake / Lion Lakes Junction. The climb up to the junction is about 1.3 miles and seemed slightly tougher than the previous day… we were stiff. Remember to stretch 😉

The Climb

At the junction the trail to the right towards the Lion Lakes is steep. I thought to myself, I hope it tapers off. It does not! The path ahead climbs steeply and strenuously through the woods and over rocky terrain for most of the next 2 miles. It occasionally has some decent views of the surrounding mountainous terrain, but for the most part, the trail is nondescript, and hiking Lion Lakes through this section is a slog through the woods. The trail briefly tapers off in a bog before finishing with a more moderate climb up to the first lake.

Hiking Lion Lakes #1

Hiking Lion Lake RMNP
Lion Lake #1 in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The first of the two Lion Lakes sits at 11,075’ and is 2.2 miles from the Thunder Lake intersection and 3.5 miles from our North St. Vrain campsite. That is 500 feet higher than the previous day’s Thunder Lake journey.

Prior to the trail arriving at the first Lion Lake, we were treated to views across a few small ponds with views of Mount Alice rising in the west. A few more yards down the trail and we had our first encounter with snow covering our path in early July. This wasn’t a big issue as it was level terrain and the snow traverse was only about ten feet in length. Once on the other side, the first Lion Lake spread out before us. It is a beautiful lake in an alpine bowl with rocky cliffs running along the north and western edges. As the lake spreads out to the south the terrain surrounding it opens up in meadowlands with the various peaks of the rocky mountains rising in the background. This is truly a stunning lake and worth every bit of the effort it took to arrive here.

Lunch and the Weather

Hiking Lion Lakes #1
This boulder at the first Lion Lake made for a perfect picturesque lunch spot.

Jennifer and I sat down on a big boulder overlooking the picturesque lake and partook of our lunch. We were watching the clouds and debating whether or not to proceed with the danger of inclement weather possible and tree cover diminishing quickly along the perceived trail. Deadly lightning storms can roll in quick in Colorado’s mountains but we decided to push on as the cloud cover didn’t look overly ominous. 

Hiking Lion Lakes #2

The clearly defined trail heading towards the second Lion Lake skirts the eastern shore of the first. Along this traverse, we conversed with several of the resident marmots. They chirped at us and we talked back to them… a lovely conversation although I don’t think either they or we got our points across. 

Trio Falls

Trio Falls
Two of the three Trio Falls crash into the snowpack below. I love the way the one on the left twist through the rock face.

On the northern side of the lake, the trail crosses over one of the inlets for the first Lion Lake before climbing up the wildflower-covered hillside following the cascading creek to the apply named Trio Falls. The creek in this section is especially gorgeous and the views back over Lion Lake #1 are stellar. The Trio Falls is a set of three thin waterfalls that careen over the cliff’s edge and then disappear behind a large mass of snow. The most unique of the three falls has carved itself into the cliff and as it flows over the edge it seemingly spins in the inset of the wall.

A Snow Obstacle

Hiking Lion Lakes on Snow
Jennifer climbs the steep snowpack that still covers the trail in early July.

Leaving the Trio falls the trail skirts to the west side of the cliff. At the edge of the cliff wall, the trail turns north and begins to climb. Unfortunately for us, this climb was covered in a deep section of snow. This was the first time on our entire journey that I wished I had not listened to the ranger and had brought our micro-spikes. Jennifer and I made our way cautiously onto the icy snow, dug our shoes in as best we could, and made our way slowly up the slippery terrain. The snow-covered about 20 yards of the trail, but we were able to venture off the snow after about 20’ and make our way up the rocky terrain adjacent to the snow. 

The Final Ascent to the Second Lake

Once at the top of the snowpack we turned back east and followed the trail as it first descended into a small meadow and then ascended to the second lake. The last little bit of the trail was covered in a thick bush, but it was easy enough to push through and make it to the lakeshore.

Lion Lake #2

Hiker Overlooks Lion Lake
Jennifer stands at the edge of the second Lion Lake taking in the majestic Rocky Mountain landscape.

I love the first Lion Lake, but the beauty of the second one (11,413’) only half a mile further made the first pale in comparison. The second Lion Lake is about half the size of the first but has stunning beauty along every inch of the shoreline. To the northwest, the edge of the lake was covered in deep white snow. A waterfall plunged out of the snowpack on its way towards the lake. The southeastern edge was shallow and covered in bouldery rocks protruding from the glassy water. The eastern edge rolled out into a meadow covered in green grass and wildflowers. Our timing seemed to be perfect and I found this lake to be the prettiest on this journey and one of the best lakes in the park. The final lake, Snowbank Lake, puts up a fight for the title and Jennifer thought it was the prettiest.

Hiking Snowbank Lake

Hiking Lion Lakes #2
Ironically the snowbank on the far side of the second Lion Lake obscured the path ahead to Snowbank Lake.

After sitting along the shore of Lion Lake #2 for a while taking in the amazing scenery we decided we had better push on before the weather turned on us. The trail ahead was obscured by the massive amount of snow on the northeastern edge of Lion Lake #2. There was one lone cairn standing out above the snow that caught our attention and showed us the way forward. We once again cautiously made our way out onto the packed snow. The incline here wasn’t nearly as steep and although the distance is further we had no issues crossing this section.

Looking Back at Lion Lake #2

Rocky Mountain National Park's Lion Lake #2
Although this lake has a snowbank around it, it is actually Lion Lake #2.

Safely on the other side of the snowpack and foot back on terra firm we climbed over the rocky terrain and onto the bench overlooking Lion Lake #2 adjacent to the cascading creek running between the two lakes. This too provided excellent views of the picturesque lake below.

Snowbank Lake

A short distance of moderate climbing and we arrived at a small pond on the south side of the much larger Snowbank Lake. Continuing up the trail and over a small ridge, the lake revealed itself to us. Again the individual who named this lake hit the nail on the head. The entire northwest end of the large lake is covered in a giant snowbank. I can only assume from the name that it is there most of the year-round. It does have some blue tent to it leaving me to believe it might be a bit glacial in nature. 

Snowbank Lake (11,523’) is less than half a mile from Lion Lake #2. While I think Lion Lake #2 is the prettiest of the three lakes, Snowbank Lake is the most fun to explore. It is larger than the other two and has a natural peninsula of stones that allows hikers to stand in the middle of the lake. I also hiked to the north side of the lake and investigated the massive snowbank. The northern edge is very bouldery and is a lot of fun to photograph with the cliffs that rise in the east reflecting in the waters. 

Snowbank of the Lake
The massive snowbank at the aptly named Snowbank Lake beautifully rims the lake.

Heading for Treeline and Safety

While at Snowbank Lake the clouds cleared and we were elated to get a bit of sunlight. But, before long the clouds closed back in and began to darken so Jennifer and I took off back down the trail towards safety. As we arrived at the south side of Lion Lake #1 it started to sprinkle and about another mile down the trail the sky opened up first with full-on rain, followed by thunder and a little lightning as well as dime-sized hail. We were safely at treeline at this point and did our best to take shelter in a thick cluster of dense trees. This kept most of the hail off, but I took a few to the back of the head before making it in.

Back at North St. Vrain

North St. Vrain Falls
This waterfall is located just below the turnoff to the North St. Vrain campsite.

The inclement weather passed by fairly quickly and we finished the descent back to our campsite. Upon arrival, we sat for a spell and then filtered water out of the creek, made dinner, and called it an early night. After two days of Rocky Mountain exploration, we were exhausted!

Day 3 and back to YOLOM (Our truck)

On the final day, we packed up the site including my new/used hammock. The 2.8-mile trail out was a moderately-easy downhill trek. We made it back to the truck with no incidences. Only stopping briefly to check out the set of waterfalls known as Copeland Falls. At our campsite a few days later I pulled out my new/used prize and strung it between two trees. The hammock itself was in good shape, but the tent aspect had been shredded. The bug net was tattered and unusable which is fine by me because I really just want a hammock for our truck campsites. I love it when the forest supplies me with free gifts :).

Things to Know for Hiking Lion Lakes & Snowbank Lake

Hiking Lion Lakes
Share this image on your Pinterest boards.
  • Backpacking permits (Wilderness Camping): Required (May 1st – Oct. 31st). 
    • Permits are available starting March 1st. Get your permits in early March as they book up fast especially for weekend trips. We got ours in May and the pickings were slim. 
  • The North St. Vrain Campsite has a privy (toilet). 
  • Bear Canisters are required in all RMNP backcountry campsites.
  • You are only allowed to camp at designated campsites in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Snow typically covers the trail from October thru late June.
  • There is plenty of water flowing throughout the Wild Basin Area for filtration purposes.
  • As always, use Leave No Trace practices when in this and all wilderness environments.
  • 3 Season Mountain Backpacking Gear

Don’t forget to share this journey on your social networks.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ava says:

    Lion Lakes looks like such a tranquil and untouched place. It’s absolutely breathtaking and inspiring. You’re very fortunate to have been able to see these amazing natural wonders in person. You have inspired me to take up my own trip as well.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I’m always looking for new hiking ideas and love visiting the Rockies. You take some terrific pictures! There’s some great ideas to help me plan my trips this Summer!

    1. NomadicMoments says:

      Thank You so much for the very kind words. I’m glad you like the site and hope you have a great summer full of adventures!

Let us know what you think about this moment.