This hike leads you from the Kawuneeche Valley up through deep forests for nearly five miles. You then emerge into delightful mountain meadows that lead you to Timber Lake, which quietly sits at the final transition from forest to tundra.
- Distance Round Trip: 9.9 miles
- Difficulty Rating: 221
- Hiking Time: 6 hours and 35 minutes
- Time to Go: anytime
- Season: mid-June until first snow
- Primary Ecosystem: subalpine
- Views: deep forest, cascading streams, mountain meadows, and then an alpine lake
- Possible Wildlife: forest animals and moose
- Trail Conditions: The majority of the trail is well maintained and relatively smooth, though a landslide has made a challenging scramble necessary until the hill can be stabilized and the trail fixed.
- Reminder: Check with a ranger for current trail conditions before attempting this hike due to the impact of a landslide.
- Elevation Start: 9,054'
- Highest Point: 11,091'
- Total Elevation Gain: 2,475'
- Trailhead: This hike begins at the Timber Lake Trailhead on the west side of the park.
The trail begins by heading east into a small aspen grove and then through a small meadow before turning south. It gently winds through a pine forest, smoothly undulating for about 0.6 miles until it reaches Beaver Creek. I could be perfectly content enjoying just this section of trail, as it is so peaceful. The trail soon crosses a log bridge over this cascading stream and then begins to climb quite steeply as it continues southward along the edge of the Kawuneeche Valley. As you hike through the forest one of the things you may notice is the abundant green undergrowth, something you won’t see on the east side of the park. Here on the west side it is much more lush, which almost gives the trail a feeling of being in the Pacific Northwest. At about two miles the trail begins to briefly level out as it turns to the east and makes its way toward the Timber Creek Valley. At this point you have already gained about 500’ of elevation.
At just under two and a half miles the trail crosses a small stream. It is a delightful place to sit and have a snack in the cool shade of the trees. Here it is deeply forested with lots of moss on the trees and undergrowth. Just a few hundred feet farther on you reach the site of a large landslide. At the time of writing, the National Park Service is assessing the stability of this area to determine whether to build a bypass trail or to rebuild the existing trail. Check with a ranger for current trail conditions before attempting this hike.
After the slide, the trail resumes as if nothing happened and continues quietly until it crosses another small stream at around three miles. Just a short while later the trail finally comes alongside Timber Creek. It is a small gently-flowing stream that gurgles and babbles in this verdant valley. Then the trail reaches a junction with the Long Meadows Trail. Please note that this trail is not recommended, as it disappears into a marsh except on the driest of years.
Soon a beautiful meadow opens up on the right side surrounded by deep forest in every direction. On some days you might be lucky enough to encounter a moose or elk grazing in the meadow or wandering through the edge of the forest. The meadows ahead are dotted with small pine trees and from here you can now see the rolling tundra just beyond the trees in front of you. This section of trail is simply delightful.
Eventually the trail reaches Timber Lake, which lies in a bowl surrounded by high ridges on three sides. Here you can sit by the edge of the water while the sound of a gurgling stream and the scent of alpine grass and wildflowers fill the air.