Our visit to Lily Lake happened completely by accident. On our second day of hiking, I originally planned for us to visit Alberta Falls and Mill Lake. But since we had squeezed Alberta Falls in the day before, we decided to look for somewhere new. Ouzel Falls had been recommended to me and I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t included it on the original itinerary.
The next morning, I remembered why. We left the cabin at dawn and drove to Wild Basin Trailhead only to discover that Highway 115 was closed to the trailhead and we would have to park in the winter lot. That would add another 6 miles to the hike roundtrip. We discussed it. Neither of us really liked the idea of 3 miles of walking on a dirt road before we even got to the trail. It also wasn’t the safest thing to do. There was no ranger on site, no other hikers around, and this wasn’t on our itinerary so no one knew where we were. And the bear warning signs also made the decision a little easier. Time to turn around.
I’ll admit it. I was mad. I was mad at myself for not checking whether the trailhead was open. And I was really mad that I was spending another hour driving instead of hiking. I had been intensely looking forward to the opportunity to hike in the Rocky Mountains and every moment spent away from the trail felt like a moment wasted.
As we drove back north, we passed Lily Lake and decided to stop for a short, spontaneous walk. Mostly I just needed to hike it out. There are two trails - the Lily Lake Trail and the Lily Ridge Trail. There is a Lily Mountain Trail, but it is completely different so be careful about getting these confused.
Lily Ridge Trail was exactly what I needed. The path around Lily Lake is like Bear Lake – a flat and easily accessible path around a still lake that allows walkers to see the surrounding mountains reflected in still waters from changing angles as they meander. But what is different from Bear Lake is the Lily Ridge Trail. A portion of the hike is around the lake, but then it diverges into a hike along the rocky ridge.
The total Lily Ridge Trial loop is 1.1 miles and less than 200 feet of elevation change. Though steep, it is short and not strenuous at all. We were able to quickly hike up the incline to an incredible view where we could see Lily Lake’s beautiful waters below us. In the distance, we had an excellent view of Long’s Peak. We paused briefly for a couple pictures and to catch our breath then headed back down the ridge.
The ridge trail reconnects with the Lily Lake trail for the second half of the loop. As soon as my feet hit that groomed path, I doubled my speed. On the ridge trail, I had distracted myself from what I felt was lost time caused by our failed trip to the Wild Basin Trailhead. Now on an easy walking path, I was again filled with a sense that I was missing out on time that could be spent on other trails. I walked quickly, pausing only briefly to snap some photos.
At the end of the trail, a couple asked us if we’d seen the moose. Had we seen it? We’d been hiking really quickly so they weren’t sure.
No, we hadn’t seen it. I’d missed the moose because they were right. I’d been hiking too quickly. I was so focused on completing the hike and hadn’t taken the time to appreciate my experience, like Mona always cautions me about.
Lily Lake was both exactly what I needed and a missed opportunity. I needed to get out of the car and into the outdoors. It was the only thing that could refresh me and break me out of a really negative headspace. But it was still a missed opportunity. I was so focused on my internal pressures – that constant fear of missing out – that I literally missed out on really experiencing my surroundings and the wildlife.
If we get back to Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest (which I hope we do because it is an awesome place and there is so much more to do), then I really want to go to Lily Lake and hike Lily Ridge Trail again. But really hike it. Not just because I’m annoyed and need to let off some steam. But to be there and be present in the moment and the place so I can fully appreciate everything that is amazing about that place.