The Alpine Visitor Center is perched precariously on a ridge between two deep valleys just a few miles from the Continental Divide. The wind is often brutal up here, and most visitors don’t venture far from the store, cafe, and main visitor center, opting to view the surrounding alpine tundra through the windows. For the slightly more adventurous, there is a short, steep trail up to a small peak just north of the parking lot that offers even more spectacular views and a tangible experience of the brutality of this harsh environment.
The trail is wide and has many steps leading up to a false summit and the realization that there is still half the hike to go. Many displays offer the visitor information about the climate, plant and animal life, geology, and fragility of the tundra. Plants here must grow and bloom in a three-month growing season, and some tiny plants have 6-foot root systems. At the top, which sits at just over 12,000 feet, the hardy hiker will get a 360-degree view of the Never Summer Range, the Cache la Poudre River Valley, and the main park highway as it winds down into the west side of the park.