Little Yellowstone Canyon

Estes Park, Colorado 80517

Little Yellowstone Canyon

Little Yellowstone Canyon Professional Guide

Detailed Trail Description from our Guidebook

"Little Yellowstone Canyon is a worthwhile goal for those who desire to hike beyond the Lulu City site. National Park Service Ranger Winnie Winston came from Kelly, Wyoming, in Grand Teton National Park, in the neighborhood of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. He saw a similarity between the yellow rock of Yellowstone and the eroded volcanic rock exposed near the headwaters of the Colorado River. It was an apt comparison, but do not expect to see mighty waterfalls or nesting ospreys in Little Yellowstone Canyon.

These volcanics exploded from Lulu Mountain some 28 million years ago. The canyon carving began about 26 million years ago. Beyond the Lulu City site there are two semi-parallel trails toward the canyon. The lower path that follows an old stage road through the Lulu City site and over Thunder Pass seems more interesting, but you can return by the higher path that looks down on the Lulu City site but bypasses it. The distances are about the same."

More Little Yellowstone Canyon Professional Guides

Detailed Trail Descriptions from Our Guidebooks

100 Classic Hikes in Colorado (The Mountaineers Books)
Scott S. Warren
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"Following the Colorado River upstream through the mountain-ringed Kawuneeche Valley in the west end of Rocky Mountain National Park, the hike to Little Yellowstone reveals not only an interesting geological feature of the park, but a surprising bit of history and an up-close look at the headwaters of the Colorado River. From the trailhead, the hike follows the river, here—only a few miles from its start—it is a gently flowing stream. Lodgepole pine, spruce, fir, and aspen are common. There are also open meadows in which you might spy a moose or perhaps a small herd of elk. While these animals have lost much of their shyness in the park, they still prefer to visit these open areas in the early morning and late evening."

Little Yellowstone Canyon Trip Reports

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The Little Yellowstone Canyon is a wonderful hike along the Colorado River. After 3.5 miles, you pass a ghost town, LuLu City, and start ascending along the Colorado River drainage. Your ultimate destination is the top of Little Yellowstone Canyon, overlooking the headwaters of the Colorado River. As you ascend to the top of the Canyon, you see the catastrophic damage caused by a ditch that channeled the waters for the Cache La Poudre River. Once you get to the top of the Canyon, you see many streams and waterfalls and you wonder which one is the ultimate source of the Colorado River. As you wind away from the Canyon, you start an ascent up to La Poudre Pass, where the headwaters of the Cache La Poudre River exist. It is the ditch along this road that gave way and caused the catastrophic damage that you see as you rise up through the Canyon.

A truly unique place in Rocky Mountain National Park and the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River.
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Did this trail yesterday because we wanted to do it before they closed Trail Ridge Road on Monday for the winter. We've done many trails in the park this summer, and to be honest, this was not a favorite of myself or my brother. The trail itself is a good trail, not to many steep hills, although the incline is pretty steady for a while, and it winds through the mountains often right on the edge of the hillside. SO the trail itself is nice, but we hiked about 5 miles in, as well as hiking down and back to Lulu City, and there really isn't much to see on the this trail. I like trials that have a final destination, like a lake, where I can sit and eat lunch and enjoy a few minutes of feeling accomplished like I "made it". But there are no such points on this trail, maybe if we had done the full 8 or 9 miles in, but to be honest neither one of us felt like this trail was worth it.

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Trail Information

Estes Park
Nearby City
Trail Type
Skill Level
8 hours
9,010 feet
Trailhead Elevation
10,000 feet
Top Elevation
Rocky Mountain National Park Backcountry Office, 1000 US 36, Estes Park 80517; (970) 586-1242;
Local Contacts
USGS Fall River Pass; Trails Illustrated Rocky Mountain National Park
Local Maps

Trail Log