No matter how much time you have in Rocky Mountain National Park there is an alpine lake you can visit. The park is chock-full of lakes due to the large glaciers that carved out deep canyons and cirques, while leaving teardrops of water behind. So what are you waiting for? Jump in your car, lace up your boots, and head out.
Bear Lake and Its Trailheads to Other Lakes
By far one of the most popular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park is Bear Lake found at the end of Bear Lake Road. The Tyndall Gorge formed thousands of years ago by a massive glacier frames this alpine gem. Possibly the most photographed lake in the Park; early morning light casts a warm rich glow perfect for postcard shots. Though Bear Lake is over 10,000-feet high, people of any physical ability should be able to experience the lake. It’s literally only a hundred yard walk from the parking lot.
From Bear Lake it is possible to access many other of the Park’s most famous lakes. Trails lead to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, Black Lake and Sky Pond just to name a few. Though beautiful just remember these lakes typically are busy during summer months and the trails are teaming with other hikers.
During the winter and into early June, these shaded trails are snow covered. Rent a pair of snowshoes or trail crampons to enjoy the trek to frozen ponds. There’s nothing quite like snowshoeing in May.
Lakes from the Wild Basin Entrance
To ditch the crowds just head south to the Wild Basin Entrance off CO-7. From there you can follow the St. Vrain Creek to Ouzel Lake, Bluebird Lake, Thunder Lake, and Pear Lake. Each lake has its own special qualities, which usually include dramatic mountain scenery and massive boulder-laced shoreline. On the way to Ouzel and Bluebird Lakes, you also pass by three waterfalls.
Lily Lake is north of the Wild Basin Entrance and can be accessed right from Highway 7 outside of the park. There are multiple easy trails around Lily Lake and locals use the lake as a jogging path. Just a short ways north on the highway is the trailhead for Lily Mountain, a popular geocaching destination.
Spectacular views are your reward for making the hike to Bierstadt Lake. During the high season when shuttles are operating, the easiest route to Bierstadt Lake is from the Bear Lake trailhead and ending at the Bierstadt trailhead on Bear Lake Road. Take the shuttle back to your car.
The short 1-mile, level trail around Sprague Lake is a popular stop off of Bear Lake Road. Moose are often spotted here and there are interpretive stops along the lake that explain the natural surroundings. In the winter, this is an popular snowshoeing and ranger walk area.
Gem Lake is located at an altitude of 2,691 metres (8,829 feet) in far eastern Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is a major part of the park’s Gem Lake Trail, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a steep climb to the lake but the rock formations on Lumpy Ridge are fabulous. Paul Bunyan’s Shoe is a popular photo-taking spot.
Cub Lake Trail is a popular place to go hiking, horseback riding, and bird watching. The trail winds past several beaver ponds before it ascends through an aspen grove to Cub Lake. The lake area was the site of a fire a few years ago and the pine trees are slowly making a comeback. The lilied border of the lake against the burn scarred shore makes for an erie but picturesque place for a rest stop or picnic.
Lakes on the West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park
If on the western side of the divide, make sure to check out Poudre Lake along Trail Ridge Road and the Haynach Lakes accessible along the Continental Divide Trail. Though best enjoyed by backpackers, the most aggressive day hikers can make this a day trip.
Finally, though not technically inside the national park but 1-mile from the entrance, Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake. On its north shore is the town of Grand Lake with a quaint downtown boardwalk and watercraft rentals. Grand Lake forms a continuous body of water with the man-made reservoir Shadow Mountain Lake, which flows into another reservoir, Lake Granby. Together, the lakes are a phenomenal resource for waterskiing, fishing, kayaking and sailing, and the highest yacht club in America can be found here.
Download an official Rocky Mountain National Park map for basic road and attraction locations. Want a detailed topographical map of trails in the park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Rocky Mountain National Park at REI.com. The map includes trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, lakes and much more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.