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Bear Lake to Fern Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park

One-way hike using the park's free shuttle, connecting multiple alpine lakes and vistas.

Hiking Difficult

14 km
409 m
819 m
3-4 hrs
Low Point
2.5 km
High Point
3.3 km
Bear Lake to Fern Lake Map

This hike beginning at the Bear Lake Trailhead delivers you quickly away from the crowds and into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though it starts at the congested Bear Lake area, you can find solitude among the forest and lakes along this route. Thanks to the park’s free shuttle buses, you can hike one way from Bear Lake all the way to Fern Lake trailhead, and you can avoid searching for parking at Bear Lake.


Along the way, you’ll see rushing mountain creeks, vistas from exposed ridgelines, reflections on alpine lakes, and many miles of quiet forest. It’s important to note, however, that much of this area was burned in the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Challenges due to washouts, downed trees, and other factors are possible. If you embark on this trail following its reopening, be ready for an adventure. The trail ascends to well over 10,000 feet, nearing the treeline, where you may walk on winter’s leftover snow. You will also be at the mercy of summer storms, so it’s important to start early. Time your hike so you’re out of the higher elevations before noon.

The trail goes first uphill from Bear Lake, on a gravelly path with many stone steps. It soon becomes less steep but remains consistently uphill until Lake Helene, which is the highpoint of this route. Watch closely for the side trail that reaches its shore. It’s a small lake located near the timberline, framed by snowy slopes and a jagged peak.

From there, the trail tips sharply downward and crosses rocky slopes nearly void of trees, where you’ll get a perfect view of Odessa Lake below. After returning to the forest, the side trail to this lake branches off and traces a creek. From Odessa’s shore, you’ll look up at a conical peak called the Little Matterhorn, and you’ll clearly see the notch in Notchtop Mountain beyond.

After backtracking to the main train, you’ll make a quick downhill to Fern Lake, which has a similar but less dramatic backdrop. From there, the trail follows broad switchbacks down a steep slope into the drainage of the Big Thompson River. Where Fern Creek meets the river is a cascade called The Pool, a popular day hiking destination. From there, all that’s left is an easy stroll along the river to reach your car or catch the shuttle at Fern Lake trailhead.

Sources: https://www.earthtrekkers.com/hike-bear-lake-to-fern-lake-rmnp/ https://traveleatblog.com/destinations/usa/rocky-mountains/bear-lake-fern-lake-trail-rocky-mountains/



Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between June and October


  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area