Trail Snapshot: Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hike Distance: 7.8 miles Round Trip (from Fern Lake TH)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Duration: Approx 4 to 5hr Round Trip
- Trail Type: Out and Back
- Starting Elevation: 8155′
- Elevation Gain: +1375′
- Seasons: Spring through Fall
- Dogs: Dogs Prohibited in RMNP
- Hike Trail Map: Click for a Map of Fern Lake RMNP
- Denver Drive Time: 1 hr 40 min
- Driving Directions to Fern Lake Trailhead: Click for Google Map
- Driving Directions to Fern Lake Bus Stop Parking: Click for Google Map
- Driving Directions to Park & Ride Trailhead: Click for Google Map
- Town Nearest Hike: Estes Park, Colorado
- Beauty: Sub-alpine lakes, mountain views, river, wildflowers, aspen trees, ponderosa pine, waterfalls, wildlife: Abert’s squirrel, elk, deer, moose, duck, bear
- Activities: Picnicking, hiking trails, snowshoeing, fishing
- Fee: Park Pass Required
Parking & Trailhead Information for Fern Lake in RMNP
The Hike: Fern Lake in RMNP
The hike up to Fern Lake is a moderate one. The only demanding aspect is the round-trip distance of 7.8 miles. In the late-Spring and early-Summer, snow may still be on the ground, adding some difficulty to navigating the trail. However, most of the summer months, this is a pleasant hike with a significant amount of shade. The first trailside sight is a cascade tucked away in a gulch above the tail, Windy Gulch Cascades, which can be seen to the North (right) about 1/2 mile in.
The trail continues, following the Big Thompson River. At 1.5 Miles in, the trail weaves through several house-size boulders at Arch Rocks (pictured below).
Just a bit further at 1.7 miles in, a bridge crosses the Big Thompson River near the spot of its confluence with both Spruce and Fern Creeks. This area is know as The Pool. After crossing the bridge at The Pool, there is a trail junction. The trail up to Fern Lake splits off to the right.
Just about 1/10th of a mile past The Pool, an unnamed set of cascades can be heard and seen to the right of the trail (pictured below).
The next mile of trail continues up a set of switchbacks that make a steady climb through the forest to Fern Falls (pictured below).
After Fern Falls, there is just 1.1 mile left to Fern Lake. This is the segment that may still be packed with snow. At Fern Lake, hikers will find a panorama of sights. From here, a social trail can be traced down to Marguerite Falls, a small set of hidden cascades along Fern Creek and just below Fern Lake.
Fern Lake can be a jumping off point for several other destinations:
Tips & Resources for Hiking to Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
- TIP: It is advisable to arrive early as parking is limited. One may opt to ride a shuttle that drops you off at the trailhead.
- Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
- Bring Snack or Picnic Lunch: You’ll need fuel for this hike. There are a lot of great spots along the shores of Fern Lake to sit down and enjoy a picnic lunch.
- Trail Map: Trail Map for Fern Lake in RMNP
- Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
- Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
- After the Hike: Baba’s Burgers & Gyros
Map & Driving Directions
Click for Driving Directions