Trip Report: Bowen Lake

The view of Lake Bowen from above

Our Orginal plan was to hike to Parika Lake in the Never Summer Wilderness, however we didn't plan on their being rangers at the trailhead next to the "No Dogs" sign, and so we had to reroute. After studying a map, we decided to try to hike around the National Park to Bowen Lake.

Beautiful Vistas along the continental divide trail

The trail ended up being awesome, following the Continental Divide Trail with awesome vistas all along.  We dropped down into the camp area just in time to claim a spot and climb into our tents before the first thunderstorm of the weekend hit (this would become a theme of the weekend).

In-between thunderstorms (which went on all afternoon), i managed a few casts on Bowen Lake and got a number of hits from small 20-23 cm (8-9") cutthroat trout, bringing a few in.  The evening cleared up and Cassy cooked a delicious dinner from (website coming soon).

Justin and his 16" cutthroat trout

The next day we hiked 5 km over to Blue Lake, which was full of big, beautiful trout and not as crowded as Bowen Lake.  Justin, who was new to fly fishing on this trip, landed a beautiful 41 cm (16") trout which we decided to have for lunch. (Note: In retrospect i feel bad about this:  normally i just fish catch and release.  I did not realize (I even asked a forest service worker on the trail) that the greenback cutthroat was a threatened species, and we probably shouldn't have eaten him. I can't tell if this is a protected greenback cutthroat or a colorado river cutthroat...)

Unlucky for us, while we were cleaning the fish, another storm came upon us, and we had nothing to do but hunker down and cook the fish during a hail / lightning storm while praying we wouldn't be struck.  Lightning freaks me out more than the average person, so I was pretty shaken, but had no-choice other than sit there and enjoy the trout... which was some of the best fish I've eaten.

Cooking the Trout, notice the hail on the ground all around. And my expresson of mixed happiness.

When the storm let up a bit, we hiked down to loose some elevation and then the rest of the way back up to Bowen Lake through intermittent showers.  We got to our camp right as another thunderstorm hit, and hunkered down in our tents with our clothes drenched.  Storms hit the rest of the afternoon: so leaving and heading back over the divide wasn't an option.  Cassy whipped up another delicious dinner, and we had a couple more casts before heading to our tent for a rainy night.

After some pretty loud storms that night, we decided to get an early start and head back before we got stranded by another thunderstorm.  The hike back was beautiful (and fast), with clouds cresting the divide as we hiked. We kept a fast pace, and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

The trip was great and relaxing!  Given another shot at it:

  1. The fishing at blue lake was incredible, and it wasn't as crowded as Bowen lake. This would be an awesome destination at a slightly lower elevation.
  2. Colorado mountains get unpredictable thunderstorms in the summer. Plan accordingly, and make sure you have rain gear and extra food. (or the ability to catch it 🙂 ).
  3. Driving over trail ridge road is the way to get to the never-summers... although if you do go through winter park, stop at the rise and shine bakery. it's delicious.
Grandma Ronnie with Matt and I a few years ago
Grandma Ronnie with Matt and I a few years ago

On a sadder note: being away from technology can be a blessing and a curse on a trip like this.  My grandmother's health rapidly deteriorated during our trip and she passed away slightly before we got back to civilization.  I regret that I couldn't have one last phone conversation with her, but she was an amazing woman with a pretty cool life.  I know she's been longing to re-join grandpa Stan for a long time, and I'm glad she was comfortable and didn't suffer when she died.  As the theme of this story is storms: a final story in her tribute.

Growing up in Missouri, I used to spend a lot of time over the summers with Grandma Ronnie and Grandpa Stan eating sandwiches, "helping" in the garden, and watching the Price is Right.  One summer there was a violent storm with tornadoes reported while I was over there.  Grandma and Grandpa decided to pour some lemonade and sit out on the screen in porch to watch the storm (I was just as afraid of storms then as I am now).  Grandma held me tight and wouldn't let me go inside as they watched the lightning and looked at the dark, swirling clouds.

In retrospect, having survived the great depression, cancer, a heart attack, diabetes, and many a mid-western thunderstorm Grandma knew best. Anxiety doesn't help anything: just pour some lemonade and enjoy life as it comes.  Rest in peace grandma Ronnie (and say hi to Grandpa Stan for me).

  • Greg Marcy

    Looks like a blast Mike! We came over Trail Ridge Road on our road trip last September and we picnicked along 34 there sort of overlooking where you were camping. Its cool to know where you were on this one. Amazingly gorgeous up there. Nice fish too. Miss you bro. Take care.

  • That Cutthroat looks absolutely beautiful, I'm sure it was delicious! Also, loving the metric units. You are probably familiar with this, but Rachel just reminded me that there is a lot of controversy over whether or not genetically pure cutthroats still exist or if they are all hybridized with rainbow trout.

  • Matthew Ables

    I'm pretty sure that Bowen Lake is where I camped with my sister and dad last summer. But we didn't come over the divide, instead coming from some trailhead down below. While we were hanging out on the divide in the morning, some people came hiking from the direction I think you're describing carrying skis and hoping for some remnants of snow. I think they probably had a disappointing day. Absolutely beautiful spot though if it's the place I'm remembering.

  • craig morrison

    I'm hiking to Bowen and Parika lake next week. I know it has been four years, but was hoping you could answer a couple of questions. How much snow did you encounter at the higher elevations that time of year and what flies/lures did you use to catch the trout? Thanks for any information!

    • We didn't encounter much if any snow, although that could be different this year, we've had a milder summer and had some large spring snows. Still, I'd bet it's pretty clear up there.

      I'm by no means an expert fly fisher, and that's going to become abundantly clear in my next sentence. For most alpine lakes in CO in the summer, I have the best luck with a dry fly pattern that looks like a small black fly that I get from WalMart (don't know it's name). I'm sure if you swing by a local fishing shop on your way to the trailhead, they could give you better beta than that... That said, I've fished a lot of lakes in CO with that fly and it's always a good starting point