Bear Lake Trail, CO
Date Hiked: November 4, 2017
Length: 0.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 39 ft
Starting Elevation: 9510 ft
Distance from Denver: 2 Hours
Sarah’s Ranking: 6/10
Total Hike Time: 30 Minutes
Parking: Large lot, Park Entrance Fee
Best Time: Late spring to mid-autumn
Additional Information: All Trails
About the Area:
Bear Lake is located in the Rocky Mountain National Park at the entrance just outside of Estes Park, CO. This is, perhaps, one of my favorite locations of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The roads are incredibly well maintained and nearly all paved. Most trailheads (especially the popular ones) have nice large parking lots and the trails themselves are large, well maintained, and easily accessible. These trails are a beautiful 2-hour drive from Denver, perfect for a day hike.
At the beginning of the hike, there are large bathrooms and a small ranger station that was manned when we were there. Just past the station are multiple trailheads, all clearly labeled. You can hike to numerous hot locations including Alberta Falls and the Bear Lake Loop (the main trail for this location).
Along the trail, there are numerous sitting benches. The trails themselves are at least four feet wide and, when necessary, have nice, built-in steps and bridges. These steps can get quite icy so beware if you go in the winter!
How to Get There:
The trailhead is located here. Depending on traffic conditions, usually, the quickest way from Denver is to drive north on I-25 until you hit CO-66. Take this west all the way to Estes Park (it will turn into US-36). Once in Estes Park, you will follow US-36 and Moraine Ave to Bear Lake Road. Take a left onto this road and follow it until the road ends, this is the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot.
- Day Backpack
- Hiking Boots
- Cramp-ons/yak tracks if there is a lot of ice
- Wind breaker or snow jacket
- Warm Clothes (if in winter months)
Being the ambitious hikers that we are, Jaegger and I hiked both Alberta Falls and Bear Lake (both relatively easy hikes so definitely not impressive) on one blustery, snowy and cold day. The weather didn’t stop us though! After our Alberta Falls Hike, we decided to move the car to the Bear Lake parking lot for safety reasons (just in case the weather got worse, which it did).
The Bear Lake hike took us only about an hour. We started at the main trailhead an hiked the Bear Lake Loop (each trail is clearly labeled). At first glance, the lake was serene and calm. About halfway through our hike, waves were kicking up on the shore, snow was pounding our faces, and the wind was blowing so hard the snow was moving horizontally. Think that stopped us? Nope! (We were halfway anyways… might as well continue on!) The last leg of the journey was actually quite pleasant. We were under the tree cover and could still see the lake as well as the gorgeous forest.
On the lake, we saw numerous birds and ducks (at least before the weather got bad). We also saw a heard of elk on our way there. The trails themselves, despite the weather, were pretty crowded. The parking lot was full as well. We arrived at the trailhead in the afternoon so that could explain it. We were honestly surprised to see so many people in such bad weather. Keep that in mind if you plan on checking this hike out!
- Arrive early to ensure a close parking spot.
- If you miss out on a spot, you can park at the closest parking spot and be shuttled by a bus! (How cool is that?!) Or, you can hike in from the next trailhead. Make sure to check the map and follow the appropriate signs!
- Check the weather before you go!
- Be prepared for the weather: bring a windbreaker and crampons in the winter for sure!
- You do have to pay to get in, fees can be seen here. Buy online to avoid the entrance line (which can be quite long).
- If you plan on hiking often in the National Parks, consider an America the Beautiful pass! (not an ad, just a great deal, and tip!)
What are your favorite Rocky Mountain hikes?