Bear Lake is perhaps the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. A gentle trails leads you around a small mountain lake, giving you several very beautiful views of the surrounding mountains while also giving you a taste of the lower end of Rocky’s subalpine zone.
- Distance RT: 0.6 miles
- Difficulty Rating: 10
- Hiking Time: 25 minutes
- Time to Go: anytime
- Season: mid-June through October
- Ecosystem: subalpine
- Views: forests and lake views
- Possible Wildlife: golden-mantled ground squirrels and gray jays
- Trail Conditions: dirt and gravel trail with some steeper sections
- Reminder: This is a very popular hike best enjoyed early or late in the day.
- Elevation Start: 9,475’
- Highest Point: 9,522’
- Total Elevation Gain: 71’
- Trailhead: This hike begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
While this hike is accessible, it is not flat. There are a couple of climbs at the far side of the lake with a grade of up to 16%. To access those sections of trail with a wheelchair is doable but will likely require assistance. You can, however, access the rest of the trail without issue.
The trail begins on the west end of the parking lot right next to the ranger station. Walk past the ranger station, across the bridge, then follow the trail as it turns to the right. At the junction turn right, as you’ll go around the lake in a counterclockwise fashion. At this intersection you’ll also notice a little box where you can buy guides that explain to you in more detail what you’re seeing on this hike.
Shortly after your turn to the right you’ll arrive at a viewpoint over the lake. From here you can look across Bear Lake and see Hallett Peak looking down on you. You’ll also find a sign that labels the entire scene in front of you. Continue on down the trail and notice a small side trail that leads out onto the lake. As you continue, remain on the trail to help prevent further erosion. In a short while you’ll pass by the Fern Lake Junction. Keep to the left to follow the trail around the lake.
At 0.2 miles, as you enter into an area of boulders, you should look to your left for a spectacular view of Longs Peak over Bear Lake. As you continue on, that view will open up farther. This entire north side of the lake provides great views to the south. As you reach the end of the lake the trail begins to climb and then descends down into the woods. This is a marshy area where you can feel the moisture in the air and smell the earthy fragrances. You’ll cross a couple of small seasonal streams and then the trail will bring you alongside a large granite wall that is usually covered with ice in the winter.
After the rock wall the trail climbs again quite steeply, reaching the highest point where you’ll find a bench looking over the lake. There are a few small steps on the way down. The trail then follows the southern shore of the lake. In the autumn and spring there are terrific views of the colorful aspen trees. Then before you know it you reach the junction again. Turn right here to return to the parking area.