Milner Pass & West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park


Just a few miles past the Alpine Visitor’s Center, you’ll reach Poudre Lake, and Milner Pass. At 10,758 feet, Milner Pass also marks the Continental Divide. Any water that falls to the west of the wide white stripe will eventually end up in the Pacific Ocean, if it falls to the east, it will drain into the Mississippi, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

lake at Milner Pass, Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

From the Continental Divide, the road continues its downhill trek, rounding five big hairpin curves (which have been numbered 1-5 on roadsigns, just in case you lose count!) It’s not long before you’re treated to a view of the valley below.

Colorado River Headwaters, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Look closely. That tiny, meandering creek is actually the mighty Colorado River! Of course, at this point, it’s not very mighty at all.

Colorado River Headwaters, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Kawuneeche Valley – Colorado River Headwaters

There are several places where you can access the headwaters of the Colorado River along US 34. If you have time, and aren’t exhausted from your other adventures in the park, consider hiking part of the Colorado River Trail.

Unfortunately, at this point I was tired, and still feeling a bit of altitude sickness. So, I passed the long trail and instead chose the Coyote Valley Trail.

Kawuneeche Valley - Colorado River Headwaters

This short trail leads you across a bridge over the Colorado River, and into the wide, green Kawuneeche Valley.

Soak yourself with bug spray before leaving the car here. Mosquitoes are waiting for you.

Kawuneeche Valley

Kawuneeche Valley - Colorado River Headwaters

The Colorado River runs clear, still and shallow here–a far cry from the muddy rapids that sculpted the Grand Canyon.

Kawuneeche Valley

This is a beautiful place, however it didn’t offer the high-mountain views I expected. While high, the surrounding hills were mostly rolling and tree-covered.

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.

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