Today started off as another beautiful day, so I decided to head up to Lily Lake to try to get a glimpse of either the muskrats or the beaver who make the area their home. It took me a while to actually get going (I blame my extremely comfortable bed), but I finally ended up in the parking lot around 2pm.
There are two parking lots at the trailhead, one on the east side and one on the west side of Highway 7, connected by a crosswalk. Although Lily Lake is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, there is no fee to park in either of the lots and hike the trails that start in the area. Lily Lake itself is located on the west side of the road, while the Lily Lake Visitor’s Center is on the east side. The Twin Sisters trailhead (7.2 mi round trip) is also on the east side of the road, just behind the visitor’s center. I parked in the lot on the east side this time, just because it looked less crowded.
After collecting our miscellaneous lunches, jackets, and fishing gear from the trunk, we started off clockwise around the lake. The trail around Lily Lake is a mile long paved,fully wheelchair accessible loop starting and ending at the west parking lot. During the months of May-July, the east shore of the lake is closed to fishing in order to allow the endangered greenback cutthroat trout undisturbed areas for spawning. However, the rest of the lake is open year round for catch and release fishing (see the National Park Service Website for more information about fishing regulations at Lily Lake).
Not long after we set up and started casting, I spotted not one, but TWO muskrats swimming together right next to the bank beside me. They must have a den entrance right on the south bank of the lake there.
As I stood by and watched, the two swam away silently, eventually diving out of sight under the surface.
After an unsuccessful hour of attempted fishing, we headed up the path a little ways to have lunch. We found an unoccupied bench (surprising, with how many people visit here on a Summer Sunday), and pulled out our sandwiches and chips. The second the wrappers began crinkling, at least two little chipmunks popped up behind us; people must feed these guys on a regular basis. We tried to get a picture of the little guys, but they got a little nervous whenever I turned to look at them without offering any food.
Well, I wasn’t about to feed these little guys anything of ours. I’m a strong supporter of wildlife conservation, and feeding wild animals is quite bad for them for a number of reasons. To borrow from the Rocky Mountain National Park website:
“Despite their good intentions, some wildlife watchers are loving park animals to death. Feeding junk food to wildlife reduces its ability to survive the long mountain winter. When they panhandle by roadsides, animals fall easy prey to automobiles. As they become habituated to humans and lose their natural fear, the animals become aggressive and may be destroyed. Harassing or feeding wildlife is illegal in all national parks.”
Instead, I decided to resort to more covert photography tactics. By taking about 20 blind shots behind my back, I was able to snap a few good close ups of the little guys.
After lunch, we went back to fishing. By the late afternoon, the sky had gotten a bit overcast, making it increasingly harder to see Longs Peak against the backdrop of white clouds.
The fish at Lily Lake are always more active at dawn, dusk, and during overcast weather, and this visit proved no different. We spotted many jumping fish, and eventually even caught one. It was a little greenback cutthroat trout – only about 11″ long or so – that we immediately released. While continuing out fishing efforts, we spotted yet another muskrat. While trying to get an up close snapshot, I accidentally spooked this little guy, causing him to swim up one of the small streams that connect the lake to the surrounding ponds. He sat there for a while, mid-stream, deciding which way to make a run for it.
When I stepped back after taking the picture, he booked it back into the lake. He moved so fast!
Not long after chasing the muskrat, we decided to call it a day. The weather was really coming in, and we had finally spotted lightning in the distance.
During the walk back to the car, I took the opportunity to check out some of the many beautiful flowers that have recently popped up along the banks. Wild Iris were blooming everywhere.
With the lighting from the overcast sky, and the lush green backdrop of the wetland grasses, the purple and yellow colors really stood out.
Bright yellow Golden Banner was mixed in with Iris blooms.
These small little white flowers were blooming closer to the actual path, though I’m not sure of their exact name).
Right along the water at the trailhead, the white flowers of Boulder Raspberry bushes greeted new visitors, even in the late afternoon.
We got to the car just as it began to rain. Overall, it was a day well spent up at the lake. We didn’t have to hike much of anywhere really, but we were still able to get outside and enjoy the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer. This was also the first time I had seen muskrats at the lake, though I have yet to see the beaver. I’ll be trying to spot him next time.