The Gray Jay Group Backcountry Campsite lies at 9,650 feet just west of Lone Pine Lake, a gorgeous teardrop-shaped tarn tucked among granite cliffs and outcrops in East Inlet Creek’s upper cirque. The forested site sits on a rocky knob north of East Inlet Trail that becomes an island during high water after snowmelt or heavy storms. It’s a good campsite for groups hiking up to the string of lakes beyond Lone Pine Lake, which was named for a solitary lodgepole pine on a granite islet. Reach the campsite by hiking 4.9 miles up the trail from East Inlet Trailhead on the east side of Grand Lake. The trail gains 1,260 feet and takes four or five hours of hiking to reach the site. A pit toilet is located at the site. Get water from the creek but boil or treat before use. Gray Jay Campsite is snow-free by mid-June.
- Find East Inlet Trailhead from the town of Grand Lake by turning east off U.S. 34 onto West Portal Road. Follow the road for two miles on the north side of the lake to the trailhead at the end of the road. Hike east for 4.9 miles on East Inlet Trail. Look for a wooden sign on the left and follow a short path north to the campsite above the creek.
- A backcountry permit is required for all overnight camping in Rocky Mountain National Park’s backcountry. Get permits at the Park Headquarters Backcountry Office next to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center west of Estes Park, at Kawuneeche Visitor Center north of Grand Lake, or at the park website.
- You agree to obey National Park regulations for backcountry camping when you get a Backcountry Use Permit. The permit must be with you at all times and a tent tag must be displayed on your pack while hiking and on your tent. You must follow your planned itinerary so campsites aren’t overused or crowded. You also receive a tag to place on the dashboard of your vehicle, allowing overnight parking at trailheads without being towed.
- Practice a Leave No Trace ethic when camping at Gray Jay campsite. Pitch tents in designated areas near a silver arrowhead. Secure food and garbage. Black bears live here so stash food in a bear-resistant canister, which is required May to October at all campsites below timberline. Keep food, trash, and scented items in the container and store it 200 feet from the campsite. Don’t camp below dead trees; wind storms blow branches off them.
Recommended season(s): Mid-June to September.
—Stewart M. Green