Twin Sisters

      by Gordon S. Novak Jr.

Twin Sisters is a good family hike or training hike. It provides an alpine experience above timberline with great views of the Longs Peak - Meeker mountain group.

The trail has been moved from its former location; it now begins on a road that turns east from Highway 7 across from Lily Lake, about 5 miles south of Estes Park. At the top of the road there is limited roadside parking near the start of the trail.

From the bottom of the trail, even from the highway, Twin Sisters doesn't look all that big. However, distances in the mountains can be deceiving, and it will take a while to climb it. The trail makes numerous switchbacks through mature pine forest as it climbs the slopes. Finally it passes a rock wall, a sign that the topography is changing. The trail levels out somewhat as it traverses east over the north shoulder of the mountain. Here the trail leaves National Park land and enters U.S. Forest Service land; the summit ridge is on the boundary between the two. There is a horse hitching rack here, about 1:15 into the hike. The trail circles back toward the south, behind the summit as seen from the road. In early season, there may be snow here.

The trail climbs above timberline, and the summit can be seen half a mile away. A radio tower is visible; it is beside one of the summits. The remaining trail crosses over a boulderfield, mostly straight until a few switchbacks near the top. Then the trail tops out on a small pass between the two summits.

This mountain has more signs of civilization than the wilderness peaks of the National Park. There is an arrow-shaped weather vane, a radio shack and antenna tower, and a solar cell array to power it all, on U.S. Forest Service land. A sign says that the radio tower is for locating lost hunters and such.

A trail leads from the radio shack up the solid rock that forms the north summit. This rock ridge is somewhat narrow and is exposed on the sides, though there is no danger in climbing it if one stays away from the edges. There are great views of Longs Peak and down to the highway.

The south summit is slightly higher and is easily climbed if you want to tag them both. In years past, there was a fire lookout here: a steel-and-glass structure, rather like an airport control tower, with good visibility in all directions. The lookout post was manned by a ranger for extended periods; visiting the lookout and talking to the ranger was quite an experience for a young hiker.

Be sure to bring a canteen of water, since there is none on-route. A jacket is advisable since it is usually windy and sometimes cool on top. Twin Sisters is the highest point for miles in any direction, so it is a magnet for lightning. If a storm approaches, get below timberline quickly.

Time going up: 2:00. Time to return: 1:15. Water consumed: 1 quart per adult.

Rocky Mountain National Park: The High Peaks