A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and you are itching to get out on the trails. You have a map of the park, a plan for hikes and wonder, where are the hiking trails along the lake?
There is something special about lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are a visual gem providing plenty of photography opportunities as well as an oasis for wildlife and humans alike.
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is a must-visit destination for many Southwestern Colorado travelers. It’s a sizable park, and it can be tempting to set up shop at one of the campgrounds within the first few lakes you encounter. However, there are other lakes in the park that are worth exploring, too.
If you’re looking to experience RMNP’s best sights without venturing off trail (a la Bear Lake), these seven lakes you can hike to offer beautiful views without taking on additional elevation gains along the way.
Bear Lake is special because you can hike to a dozen lakes from this one starting Point.
The lake is located in the Uinta Mountains, and it’s surrounded by mountains and dense forest. Bear Lake is at an elevation of 9,000 feet (2,700 m), so it can get very cold in the winter months.
Bear Lake is a great place to go if you want to do some hiking or fishing. There are plenty of trails around the lake that lead to other lakes, including Upper and Lower Twin Lakes, which are close by.
The best time to visit Bear Lake is during the summer months when it’s warmer outside and less crowded than during other times of year.
There are several ways to get to Bear Lake, but I chose the most common route because it is easy to follow and has some great views along the way. I started at the Bear Lake Trailhead which has bathrooms and a large parking lot. The trailhead starts at 8,300 feet above sea level and climbs up a series of switchbacks that end at 9,400 feet above sea level.
The first part of this hike was easy as we were gaining elevation quickly. After about 15 minutes on the trail we reached an intersection with another trail (Bear Lake Loop Trail). This is where I decided to take a break and enjoy some lunch before heading off into the forest again.
After about 30 minutes, we reached another junction where there were two options; one led down towards Hidden Falls and the other continued up towards Alpine Pond. We chose to continue up towards Alpine Pond because it had better views of the mountainside.
Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Black Lake along the Glacier Gorge Trail
The Glacier Gorge Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You see Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Black Lake along the trail.
You can get to the trailhead at Glacier Gorge Junction by taking Bear Lake Road, which is a mile south of Bear Lake. The trail starts at an elevation of 9,200 feet and climbs to an elevation of 12,000 feet. The hike is 8 miles long with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet.
The Glacier Gorge Trail has some steep sections but they are short and well worth it for the views of Hallett Peak and Bluebird Mountain as well as access to some lakes like Mills and Jewel Lakes.
You will see Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Black Lake along the way. There are also many great photo opportunities along this trail
The best time of year to hike this trail is during the summer months when it’s not too hot or too cold and when there is still plenty of snow on top of the mountains for the scenery.
Black Lake is one of the most beautiful glacial lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is surrounded by tall peaks and granite cliffs that reflect in its dark waters. Black Lake is located just off Trail Ridge Road above timberline, so it sees a lot of traffic during peak summer months. If you want to avoid crowds, try hiking early or late in the day when there are fewer people around.
The hike begins at the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead on Trail Ridge Road. This trailhead offers an all-day parking area with restrooms and picnic tables, as well as a water fountain at the trailhead itself.
The hike follows along the north side of Trail Ridge Road for about 1 mile before crossing over to the south side via a bridge over Fall River just below Horseshoe Curve. The trail heads down through a forested area before coming to another junction where you’ll find a sign for “Upper Beaver Meadows” and “Lower Beaver Meadows.” Continue straight ahead here to stay on the main trail leading towards Black Lake.
From here, it’s another 1/2 mile until you reach another fork in the path where you’ll see some red markers indicating that this is your way to Black Lake.
The lake is located within the Kawuneeche Valley, which is home to a variety of wildlife, including moose and elk.
Black Lake was formed by the melting of ice in the Kawuneeche Valley. In the summer months, when temperatures rise above freezing, water from nearby streams flows into Black Lake. This water is then stored underground until winter when it freezes again. Most of the water in Black Lake comes from snow melt during spring and early summer months.
The name “black” refers to the color of the sandstone cliffs surrounding the lake.
Bluebird Lake is a popular destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, with wildflowers blooming everywhere. The trailhead is located at the north end of the park and is only accessible by hiking or driving.
The trail begins with several miles of flat terrain, but it climbs steadily as you get closer to Bluebird Lake. You’ll see many wildflowers along the way and pass through some aspen groves that provide shade from the sun. There are also several creeks along this trail, so make sure to bring plenty of water!
When you reach Bluebird Lake, there are several spots for camping near the shoreline. The lake is surrounded by mountains and has a small island in the middle that makes for great photo opportunities!
Gem Lake is a beautiful destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a steep climb to the lake but the rock formations on Lumpy Ridge are fabulous. The hike begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and follows the trail up through the forest to Lawn Lake. From there you can take a spur trail that leads to Gem Lake.
The hike to Gem Lake starts out in a thick pine forest with plenty of shade and views of Longs Peak as you ascend from 9,200 feet elevation to above 11,000 feet. You will reach Lawn Lake at about 2 miles from your start point. This is where you will take a side trail that leads up to Gem Lake. The trail continues on past Lawn Lake and up to Odessa Lake if you want an even longer hike!
Once at Gem Lake, there are several boulders near the shoreline that offer great spots for lunch and enjoying this beautiful area of Colorado!
Sprague Lake is a small, peaceful mountain lake located in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is surrounded by pine trees and mountains, making it an idyllic setting for photographers and nature lovers alike.
The lake is located at an elevation of 11,738 feet above sea level. The trail to Sprague Lake is just over two miles long and begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead. The hike is fairly easy with only a mild elevation gain of 500 feet.
The trail passes through forested areas before reaching the Sprague Lake Loop Trail which leads around the lake. There are several benches along the trail that provide excellent views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls.
The beautiful, pristine Cub Lake sits between the towering peaks of the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park’s Alpine Visitor Center. The lake is a popular destination for hikers who want to experience spectacular views and take pictures of wildlife.
The trail to Cub Lake begins at the Alpine Visitor Center, which is about 8 miles south of Estes Park on Colorado Highway 7. The trailhead for Cub Lake is located off the parking lot, where there are restrooms, picnic tables and water fountains. There are no fees associated with hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.
From here, it’s a steady climb uphill through open meadows to the base of Halfmoon Pass. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during peak wildflower season (July-August), this is one of best places to see wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park.
After passing by several campsites along the way, you’ll come across two creek crossings before reaching a third crossing that’s deeper and faster moving than the previous two. From here, it’s a short hike up to Halfmoon Pass at 12,060 feet elevation — just under 3 miles from where you started — where you’ll find some nice views looking back.
Many outdoor enthusiasts fall in love with the recreational opportunities Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer. From breathtaking vistas, to a wide variety of wildlife, it’s easy to see why this park is one of the most popular destinations in all of Colorado. If you are heading out to the park soon, be sure to check out these seven lakes you can hike to. You’ll be happy you did!