Just opposite the Alpine Visitor Center along Old Fall River Road, the summits of Mount Chapin, Mount Chiquita and Ypsilon Mountain surpass 13,000 feet. On a blue-bird day they offer panoramic views of almost every area in Rocky Mountain National Park extending as far as the Never Summer Mountains and the Medicine Bow Mountains to the west and northwest, Estes Park to the east, and the quiet recesses of the park’s north. Each summit overlooks a dramatic drop of thousands of feet to the alpine lakes set in the basins below, and some hikers may find further challenge by following the couloirs to Ypsilon Lake or Fern Lake, the latter being by reputation one of the most beautiful in the park. Challenging in mileage and elevation gain, the Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon route, or the CCY, is a great hike to get your heart pumping and gain a vantage of Rocky Mountain National Park’s many areas while traversing the unique environment of the alpine tundra. Keep in mind, also, that each summit is an option; views are best from Chiquita and Ypsilon.
The trail begins at Chapin Pass Trailhead, situated 7 miles up Old Fall River Road. Old Fall River Road is unpaved, and travel is slow, especially during peak months when the park is busy. That said, it’s an interesting approach to the Alpine Visitor Center. Enjoy the drive along steep slopes and Chasm Falls, a modest cascade a few minutes’ walk from the road.
Be sure to rise early for this hike. The Chapin Pass Trailhead, tucked in a copse of fir and spruce along Chapin Creek, has very limited parking, enough for perhaps a dozen cars. While the CCY Route sees less visitation than other parts of the park, and you may be able to find a spot later in the morning, an early start is still recommended—not to mention the mid-day weather that tends to plague afternoon hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
From the trailhead, ascend steeply for several hundred yards before the trail levels. Near the quarter-mile mark, continue straight at a sign that directs you to diverge from the trail toward all summits. Pursue this option at your own risk; the travel beyond this point is poorly marked backcountry travel. Continue for another half mile to the Chapin Creek and Chapin Summit trails. Follow the right spur for several miles until you reach a pass between Mount Chapin and Mount Chiquita, well-marked by cairns. Just before the pass is the summit trail for Mount Chapin.
The summits of Chiquita and Ypsilon may require backcountry travel, though the trail is well-worn in some portions. One important point of note: the tundra environment is very delicate, so be sure to tread lightly, following stones as often as possible to avoid lasting impact to the tundra flora. From the pass at Mount Chapin, follow the ridge to the summits of both peaks, taking a moment at each to duck behind the improvised wind breaks and soak in the panoramas. At the base of Chiquita and Ypsilon are the Spectacle Lakes, Ypsilon Lake, and farther northeast, Fern Lake. Much of the park’s mountain ranges are visible from these summits.
Descend from Ypsilon by the same route, finding the Chapin Pass Trail and traversing the three peaks back to the Chapin Pass Trailhead.