Lower Granite Falls Backcountry Campsite is a two-site camping area along Tonahutu Creek about 0.1 miles west of Granite Falls, a 50-foot slide waterfall that tumbles down steep slabs into a pool. The two sites lie in pine and spruce forest between Tonahutu Creek Trail and the creek east of Big Meadows in western Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a good campsite if you’re exploring farther up Tonahutu Creek, fishing at Haynach Lakes, or climbing Nakai Peak or Sprague Mountains. The sites, located at 9,760 feet, are 5.1 miles from Green Mountain Trailhead and 7.7 miles from Tonahutu Trailhead on U.S. 34. Allow up to five hours to hike from Green Mountain Trailhead, gaining 960 feet of elevation. No privy is at the site so practice proper sanitation by bringing wag bags. Get water from the nearby creek, but treat or boil before use. The campsite is snow-free by June 23.
- Find Green Mountain Trailhead by driving north from Kawuneeche Visitor Center on U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road for 3.1 miles to a parking lot and trailhead on the right or east side of the highway. The 5.1-mile hike heads up Green Mountain Trail to a junction with Tonahutu Creek Trail. Go left and hike through Big Meadows then up the creek to the campsite. A wooden sign on the right marks a short path to the campsite. Alternatively, hike 7.7 miles up Tonahutu Creek Trail from Tonahutu Trailhead on U.S. 34.
- 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 Lower Granite Falls. Pitch tents in designated areas near a silver arrowhead. Secure food and garbage. Store food in a bear-resistant canister, which is required from May to October at all campsites below timberline. Keep food, trash, and scented items in the container and stash it 200 feet from your site. Don’t camp below dead trees; wind storms blow branches off them.
- There’s no privy at the campsite. Bring at least two RESTOP wag bags for human waste to avoid site contamination. In an emergency, dig a six-inch deep hole and bury waste and toilet paper. Make sure you’re at least 200 feet from the campsite, water sources, and trails.
Recommended season(s): Late June through September.
—Stewart M. Green