East Peak: 11,428 Feet (1,585th highest in Colorado)
West Peak: 11,413 Feet (Unranked)
Twin Sisters Trailhead, 9,000 Feet
March 16th, 2008
Approximately 7.6 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: 2,500+ Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Slow Moving Fun Seeker (Jay)
Twin Sisters Peak is in Rocky Mountain National Park about 6.5 miles south of Estes Park. It became part of the park in 1917, two years after the park’s formation. The mountain is visible throughout much of the Front Range, and its summit offers fantastic 360° views of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mummy Range, and the Front Range. It is a popular hike any time of the year, but it makes a particularly nice snowshoe outing in the winter months.
The silhouette of the Twin Sisters seen through the haze from West Bromley Lane in Brighton
The Twin Sisters Trailhead is on Hwy. 7 about 6.5 miles south of Estes Park. Many maps and guides show the old trailhead, which was about 2.5 miles south of the present access point. The current trailhead is directly across Hwy. 7 from Lily Lake.
View of Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and Estes Cone (Left to Right) from the lower Twin Sisters Trailhead
The lower Twin Sisters Trailhead parking lot is right beside Hwy. 7 at 9,000 feet. The upper trailhead, which is not accessible to vehicles in winter, is 0.4 miles up a dirt road at 9,110 feet.
Jay hiking up the road from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead
The upper trailhead has the typical slick Rocky Mountain National Park signage.
Sign at the upper Twin Sisters Trailhead
The morning sun was brilliant, and it illuminated Longs Peak in such a way that made it hard to keep my eyes on the trail. It was a million-dollar view. The forecast called for snow in the afternoon, but the morning weather was beautiful.
There was a fresh dusting of snow on the trail, but the underlying snow was packed and icy. Snowshoes were not necessary, so we stashed our shoes behind a log at 9,300 feet. Jay, who recently injured his ribs in a fall on an icy trail, was concerned about the trail conditions. We put on our crampons, and did not regret the decision. It seemed that the steepest portions of the trail were the iciest. Our crampons gave us good traction even on the worst parts of the trail.
The old trail came up from the southwest side of the mountain, and the newer trail comes down from the northwest. The two trails meet at 9,885 feet; a log barricade blocks access to the old trail. A switchback guides hikers away from the old trail. The upper part of the trail remains unchanged. Countless switchbacks keep the slope at a moderate level.
The log barricade that blocks access to the old Twin Sisters Trail
The switchback that marks the transition to the upper part of the trail
At about 10,000 feet on the mountain, the ecosystem changes from the montane zone to the subalpine zone. The mountain’s lower slopes are forested with Lodgepole Pine and Douglasfir; the upper slopes are almost exclusively covered with Limber Pine. The Limber Pines are relatively short trees, and many of them were sculpted by the wind. The scenery became more interesting as we approached timberline.
A Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) on Twin Sisters Peak’s upper slopes
There was a three-cornered hitching post beside the trail near timberline. The steepest part of the trail was just beyond the hitching post. Slips and falls would be likely on this slope without some sort of traction (crampons, snowshoes, Yak Trax, or Stabilicers would be useful).
Steep, icy slope near timberline
Jay topping out on the icy slope with some sweet scenery behind him
When we popped out of the trees, the summits and various subpeaks came into view. While there was quite a bit of snow below treeline, the windswept alpine zone held very little snow. The trail zigzagged through a rugged talus field.
Jay exiting the forest and heading towards the talus-covered upper slopes
The hike through the talus field on the north side of the mountain was pleasant, and the views of the Mummy Range were incredible. The weather was clearly about to take a turn for the worse, but we had little to worry about. If snow or high winds suddenly appeared, we could descend below treeline in a matter of minutes.
Jay moving through the talus field on the north side of Twin Sisters Peak
The trail led us to a saddle between the west peak and the taller east peak. There was a stone radio shack and tower at the base of the west peak; this radio shack, which is on the National Historic Register, is used for communication between the rangers.
Radio shack and tower below the west peak on the Twin Sisters
An easy trail passed by the radio shack on the way to the west peak’s summit. Very little rock-hopping was required to top out at 11,413 feet.
Summit boulders on West Twin Sisters Peak
It was 22° on the summit, and dark clouds were starting to move in. The wind probably never exceeded 10 miles per hour. The weather was deteriorating, and it was time to move along to the east summit.
Dark clouds enveloping Longs Peak, viewed from West Twin Sisters Peak
East Twin Sisters Peak, viewed from West Twin Sisters Peak
There is no trail to the east peak, but there are several confusing cairned routes. We contoured around the base of a cliff on the north side of the peak, and followed a cairned route that led to a shallow notch on the south side of the peak. Rock-hopping on the icy rocks was challenging in a few of the steeper spots, but it was not a terribly hard scramble.
Jay picking his way through the talus on East Twin Sisters Peak
There was a benchmark on the boulder-strewn summit. I could scarcely find a level place to stand up top; it was well worth the climb.
Jay (left) and Brian (right) on East Twin Sisters Peak’s summit
In spite of the rapidly-approaching clouds, we still had some decent views of the Mummy Range and the Indian Peaks.
Part of the Mummy Range, seen from East Twin Sisters Peak
West Twin Sisters Peak, seen from East Twin Sisters Peak
We descended to the saddle, and found a sheltered spot to take a break. A bank of clouds moved in while we were putting our crampons back on, and the beautiful weather was gone for good. We were ahead of schedule and the weather was not too frightening, so there was no need to rush back to the trailhead.
Heading through the talus back to treeline
There was a particularly nice crag beside the trail, and I couldn’t resist the urge to climb it. Playing around on the rocks just added to the experience. We saw a few hikers on our way down, most of whom had started way too late to get to the summit. A light snow added to the ambience of our descent.
Looking across the Twin Sisters parking lot towards Lily Lake
Epilogue: the Twin Sisters Trail is one of the finest hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead is accessible in all but the worst weather, the trail holds plenty of snow for snowshoeing, the trail’s grade is gentle, the scenery is outstanding, and the summit views are exceptional. This hike would definitely appeal to a broad range of hikers.