Saturday, August 12, 2017

The 3 Best Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park!


If you're reading through our blog, you're probably aware of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and are, most likely, also aware that RMNP has hundreds of miles of some of the most scenic hiking trails in the world! With over 350 miles of hiking trails, over 150 lakes, countless waterfalls, and 125 named summits, it can be overwhelming when you begin planning your hikes and planning which destinations will be the focus of your trip.


Well, we're here to help! We'll be doing a small series on our blog about some of the better hiking destinations in the park to help guide you in the right direction. This post will focus on some lakes that are sure to please! One of the great things about RMNP is that many lakes are very easy to access, but there are some that do take a bit of work to get to and are well worth the effort... let's get to it!

1. Dream Lake

Hike Length: 2.2 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 450 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 9,900 Feet

Dream Lake
You can't have a list of the best lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park without including Dream Lake. This is probably the most popular lake in the park, and for good reason! It's in an absolutely beautiful setting, the hike to get to it is relatively easy, you start the hike from the most popular trail head at Bear Lake, and did I say it's in an amazingly stunning setting?

Head up to the Bear Lake Parking Lot. If it's summertime and 7:00am or later, just head to the Park and Ride along Bear Lake Road and take the shuttle to the parking lot/trailhead. It's easy. Walk past the ranger cabin, cross the bridge and follow the signs to Dream Lake. You'll climb gently to Nymph Lake in about half a mile. Stop here for a little breather and to soak in the views. During the summer you can also enjoy the lily pads on the lake. Follow the shoreline and when the trail turns hard left, look up and you can see Hallett Peak standing high above Tyndall Gorge (the valley you're walking into).

Keep on trucking for another six tenths of a mile over rolling terrain. Some parts will be steep, some flat, but you'll keep climbing higher into the gorge. You'll be short of breath but it wont be from the elevation or the steep trail, it will be because the views done stole it. You'll be able to look into Glacier Gorge and will have views of countless mountains including the spectacular Longs Peak. 

Before you know it you'll pop out at Dream Lake after winding along the quaint and beautiful trail. Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain will dominate your view and it's one of kind. Stop, have a snack, put your feet up and soak in your surroundings. It's a pretty rare thing to be in a place like this. Take your time and enjoy it!

Bonus Points: Continue up the trail another seven tenths of a mile to Emerald Lake. Worth it. 


2. Sky Pond

Hike Length: 9 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 1,720 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 10,900 Feet

Cathedral Spires above Sky Pond

Now we're going to up the ante a little bit. While Dream Lake would be a worthy destination if it was 20 miles from the trail head, it, luckily, happens to only be a mile from the parking lot. But this is a rare thing and most other lakes within the borders of RMNP require a little more work to get to. Sky Pond is one that needs to be on your list and, while it is a significant day in the hills, it's nestled in one of the most scenic high valleys in Colorado.

So how do you get there? Start by heading down Bear Lake Road. Again, if you're getting to the trail head after, say, 7:00am, just Park and Ride it. If you're an early bird, or very lucky, you can park at the Glacier Gorge Trail Head. This is a mile or so below the Bear Lake parking lot. Now that you're there, gear up and hit the trail... times-a-wastin'!

The trail is actually pretty mild and climbs gradually with the exception of a few steeper stretches. There are some spots that are even flat or a kiss downhill for a spell. About a mile in you'll pass Alberta Falls. Take a quick photo and keep on trucking. After another mile or so you'll come to a junction. I know it as the "Loch/Mills Junction" and use it as a landmark to gauge how well I'm moving that day. Follow the sign to Sky Pond (go right). 

From here the trails climbs a bit more before dumping you out at The Loch, another truly stunning lake and worthy of your efforts in its own right. Again, take some pics, maybe use this beautiful spot for your snack break, and then get back on the trail! From here the trail is relatively flat for quite a while. You'll be able to see the next climb at the head of the valley with Timberline Falls roaring above. Once past the far end of the lake the trail begins to climb steadily though gently. That is until you near Timberline Falls, then the real work starts.

Sky Pond and Taylor Peak
Up, up, up you go! Take your time, take deep breaths, be sure to look at the incredible place you happen to be in, and just keep your forward progress going! Soon you'll be just below the falls and wondering why there is a little sign saying "Sky Pond" which is pointing you up a cliff. Take a few minutes to enjoy the falls and get your wits about you. 

From here you have a little scramble. Only 3rd class, but if scrambling on steep, wet rock isn't your thing, you may want to choose another destination. On the right side of the falls there is a little cliff band you need to scale. It's easy climbing, but please use caution. People do fall here and I've even helped a man get down who blew his knee out on the steep trail just above those cliffs. 

But overcoming your fear and using a bit of caution has its rewards. In a minute or two you'll be on the shore of Lake of Glass. It's amazing and may even be prettier, in my opinion, than Sky Pond. Arguable. But why not continue down the krummholz choked trail a bit farther to make that call for yourself? Oh, and look around you. Yeah, insane, right? Have you ever seen anything this beautiful?

Relax on the shore, take some photos, have lunch, and try to pick out the climbers over on Petit Grepon, one of the awesome looking spires on the northwest side of the lake. Once you've had your fill, or run out of time, just head back the way you came. Please use extra caution descending the little cliffy section below Lake of Glass. 

Bonus Points: Once back at the Mills/Loch Junction, hike the .7ish miles up to Mills Lake.


3. Lion Lake #1

Hike Length: 12.6 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 2,580 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 11,080 Feet

Lion Lake #1 and Mt. Alice
Lion Lake #1 will always be one of my favorite lakes in RMNP, or anywhere for that matter. It's location is so picturesque that sometimes I don't feel like it's real. It sits in its own little paradise. The pristine lake, 13,000 foot peaks surrounding it, waterfalls cascading down cliffs, streams winding through open meadows choked with wild flowers. It really can't get much better. 

To get to Lion Lake #1 you'll want to start at the Wild Basin Trail Head. It's on the southeast side of RMNP. Just head down Hwy 7 and you'll see a big sign for it about 5-7 minutes after you pass the Longs Peak area. Drive down the narrow, winding dirt road to the trail head and get going!

After a third of a mile you come to a 'waterfall' named Copeland Falls that includes a couple of little lookout areas to view the falls. Keep on winding up the gentle trail and soon after you cross a large footbridge over a roaring St. Vrain River you'll come to Calypso Cascades. The trail just below the falls steepens a bit, but thus far the trail has been quite mellow. This is a good spot for a quick snack but only another three quarters of a mile up the trail is Ouzel Falls. The trail to Ouzel steepens in spots but isn't too bad either. 

Once past Ouzel, just stay on the Thunder Lake Trail. It will be fairly gentle as well until you reach the cut off for Lion Lakes. Head right and uphill. Yes, it's steep. Your legs and lungs will remind you of this with every step! This trail isn't travelled nearly as much so it's a bit more rugged and narrow but it makes you feel like you're really out there exploring the aptly named Wild Basin. 

Though steep, the pull of the higher valleys will lead you on. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before too long the trail flattens and you pop out at a little pond just below Lion Lake #1. It's a gorgeous little spot and one where I always stop to take pictures. Keep on the muddy trail and you soon turn the corner with Lion Lake #1 sprawling before you. The scene may seem a bit overwhelming with the expansive valley before you. 

Just sit on the shores and soak it in. The pointed peak is Mt. Alice, the one to your right is Chief's Head Peak, and on the other side is Tanima Peak. The water fall above and to the right of Lion is Trio Falls which is the outlet from Lion Lake #2.

When you feel like you have to leave, just turn around and head down the same way you came in. Don't try to wipe the smile off your face... it's impossible. 

Bonus Points: Follow the faint footpath and cairns around the right side of the lake and up toward trio falls to visit Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake.

Bonus!! - Chasm Lake

Hike Length: 8.4 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 2,380 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 11,780 Feet

Chasm Lake and The Diamond (east face) of Longs Peak
Nestled all cozy-like right at the base of the Diamond on Longs Peak (the iconic mountains east face) this high mountain lake is one of Colorado's jaw droppers. The immediate scenery is so dramatic that I often can't take it all in. And it never fails, every time I'm coming down from the lake I think about something I forgot to check out. It's an overwhelming view. 

Hit the trail at the Longs Peak Trail Head. This is pretty straightforward. The Longs Peak Trail is fairly steep, especially compared to the other trails in this article. You simply follow the Longs Peak Trail all the way to Chasm Junction. From there, follow the signs to Chasm Lake. It will take you on a descending trail for a bit, where you'll cross a considerable snow field early in the season. Use great caution crossing this as as fall could be dire and crampons and/or and ice axe may be needed to cross safely. Later in the season it's just dry trail and of no consequence. 

Once across the snowfield, you enter Chasm Meadows and your jaw will drop! You'll cross Roaring Fork and marmots will scurry about as you trip over rocks while you're looking up at Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak thousands of feet directly above you. When peaking, the flowers here are hard to beat. Follow the trail past the Ranger Patrol Cabin, and negotiate the broken cliffs (follow the sign). Soon you'll be looking down at Chasm Lake in awe of where you're standing! 

Take a break, but keep your food stashed as the marmots up here are little thieves and will steal any food you leave accessible. Return the way you came and try to figure out how to properly convey the beauty you just saw when you tell your friends about this hike. Don't worry, you'll fail miserably, but that's okay... just take them up with you next time you go.

Here's a little 360 degree image to let you know what you're in for! Just click and drag on the image to move it around... it's much cooler in full screen as well...


Helpful Information

We hope this at least helps steer you in the right direction when planning your hikes. 10 more lakes could have easily been added to this list. If you want to look into more suggestions, do a little research on the following lakes: Mills Lake, Black Lake, Thunder Lake, Lake Nanita, Lawn Lake, Bluebird Lake, Gorge Lakes, Lake Haiyaha, Timber Lake, and/or Lake Helene.

There are also a lot of great resources out there for more specific trail information. Utilize the following:

RMNP Trails - Facebook Page: RMNP Trails
Weather: Bear Lake NOAA

Just a little disclaimer. Go prepared. Do your homework. It's your responsibility to know the rules of the National Park and to travel in the back country safely and responsibly. These are only suggested hikes and your fitness level and experience level may not be what it needs to be to tackle any or all of these outings. Use common sense, choose safety first, and prepare as best you can.

If you have any other questions or would like any more info, please leave us a comment below and we'll try to answer as best we can!

Happy Trails!










1 comment:

  1. This is such a well-informed list. I love how the 360 degree view of Chasm lake is provided, because that one is on my to-go list since forever. The description is really helpful, and I'll be sure to employ it if I visit it.

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