When it comes to alpine lakes, Mother Nature abundantly blessed Rocky Mountain National Park. There are more than 20 lakes in the park, including gorgeous Gem Lake, Sprague Lake and Bear Lake, and the more remote Solitude Lake and Sky Pond. Gem Lake is among the park favorites – here’s how to get there and where else to hike when you’re near Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Catch the Gem Lake Trail near the Twin Owls overlooking downtown Estes Park. The trail is actually called the Lumpy Ridge trailhead for the many rocky oddities you’ll find along the way. The trailhead itself is actually outside the park boundaries in Estes Park proper, off Devil’s Gulch Road and near The Stanley Hotel.
Once you’ve started down Lumpy Ridge trail, turn right at the T intersection. Shortly thereafter, the trail enters Rocky Mountain National Park. At 1.5 miles, stop and marvel at “Paul Bunyan’s Boot,” a gigantic boulder that surely looks like the legendary lumberjack’s boot, with a hole worn in it. From here, the trail climbs up to Gem Lake, at 1.7 miles and 8,500-foot elevation. The lake features a small beach and, as expected, lumpy rocks lining its shores. If you continue from here, you’ll head downhill 2.2 miles to Balanced Rock. Climb around, snap a few photos of this natural rock sculpture, then head back the way you came. But first, visit the privy with a view – an outdoor toilet, with no roof, that sits back from the trail to give you privacy while affording its user the best view in the place.
Two hours from Denver, you’ll find the trailhead to Bear Lake. It’s a short, accessible, 0.6-mile loop hike. In this sub-alpine lake setting, you can expect mountain views and wildlife, from Abert’s Squirrel to elk and, rarely, bears. Downtown Estes Park is nearby.
This short destination hike brings you to a sub-alpine lake with postcard views. Once you have reached the lake, you can continue on the 1-mile loop along its shores (making the total hiking distance between 3.2 and 4.8 miles roundtrip). Several different trailheads access the lake. Look for elk, deer, waterfowl, moose and beautiful aspen groves.
A strenuous 10-mile roundtrip trek, Black Lake rewards those who take up the challenge with several waterfalls along the trail, including famous Alberta Falls, and a spectacular lake setting at the end. It’s a favorite for wildlife watching – look for elk, deer and marmots – wildflowers, streams and aspens.
This trail also brings you into the Glacier Gorge trail system, which leads to Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Ribbon Lake.
This pretty 6-mile hike takes you up more than 2,400 feet to serene Bluebird Lake, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Wild Basin in the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re like to try your hand at trout fishing, continue 0.5 mile to Ouzel Lake.
Pretty as a picture, Cub Lake is strewn with a halo of lily pads and the hike there bedecked with wildflowers. Within this alpine wonderland, you’ll pass through the wetlands of Moraine Park, glacial formations and meadows. Look for western tanagers and warblers, as well as elk, deer and moose. Cross several bridges, pass through evergreen stands and an area of unusual boulders.
Dream Lake is right – this one looks as if it comes straight out of your daydreams. Start at the Bear Lake trailhead, then continue 1.1 miles past Nymph Lake and on to Dream Lake. The trail is paved for the first half-mile. After Nymph Lake, the trail turns to dirt and climbs gently to Dream Lake. Along the way, you can see the Keyboard of the Winds in Glacier Gorge, Longs Peak and Hallet Peak. If you’d like to make this a longer hike, stop at Dream Lake for water and a snack, then backtrack a bit to where the trail split. From the Dream Lake trail, take the split to the left to Lake Haiyaha.
Hike past both Dream Lake and Nymph Lake to get to Emerald Lake. From there, the views of Hallet Peak are some of the best in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re looking for a lot of reward without too much effort, this is your trail. It’s 1.8 miles one way, with a total of four Colorado lakes, plus a small waterfall.
Stop at Nymph Lake when hiking to or from Emerald Lake, known for its yellow blossoming lily pads.
On the Fern Lake Trail, you’ll pass through the house-sized boulders of Arch Rocks, walk over The Pool and feel the mist of three cascading waterfalls. As you get to the end of the trail, look for The Gable, Knobtop Mountain, Notchtop Mountain and the Little Matterhorn.
Trek through pines, aspen groves and wildflower-strewn meadows to Finch Lake, a delightfully remote lake for those who prefer less-touristed trails. It’s one of the quieter paths in the Wild Basin region.
Another quieter lake hike within RMNP, this 4.2-mile roundtrip hike is set on the less-visited east side of the park. The lake sits in a large valley, with stunning, massive boulders stacked up along the shoreline.
Start at the Bear Lake Trailhead for the Lake Helene hike. Wind through aspen groves and pine stands to the sub-alpine lake, with views of Flattop Mountain, Ptarmigan Point and Notchtop Mountain.
This heart-pumping hike is steady 5.6-mile trek uphill into the Glacier Gorge trail system and to Mills Lake. Everywhere you look, there are mountain ridgelines, jagged peaks and colorful wildflowers. You’ll pass by impressive Alberta Falls at the 0.8-mile mark. At the lake, cast a line for rainbow trout, brook trout and Greenback cutthroats. Look across the lake to the east ridge of Glacier Gorge, nicknamed the Keyboard of the Winds.