Bear lake and mountains

Bear Lake Trail

General Description

Bear Lake is likely one of the most popular trailheads in Rocky Mountain National Park. Rightfully so, as this region hosts a multitude of trails ranging in difficulty. From easy half mile hikes around Bear Lake, to moderate hikes to stunning alpine lakes. Winter time offers phenomenal opportunities for snowshoeing and skiing.

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Getting to the Bear Lake Trailhead

From the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, drive through the National Park entrance station. Turn left onto Bear Lake Road and drive 9 miles to the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lots fill by mid morning during the peak summer season. Utilizing the free Rocky Mountain Shuttle System is the most efficient way to travel along Bear Lake Road. Leave your car at the Park and Ride, located 3.5 miles up Bear Lake Road within the Park. The shuttle begins outside the Park at the Estes Park Visitor Center, for those looking to completely avoiding driving into the park.

Geological History of the Bear Lake Trail

Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge, and Moraine Valley were shaped from receding glaciers during the aftermath of the last Ice Age. This dramatic force shaped the landscape into jagged cliff edges and majestic alpine lakes. Their tributaries travel down hill, supplying water to the greater Colorado front range.

Cub lake

3 Best Day Hikes from Bear Lake Trailhead

Complete a quick lap around Bear Lake, hike out and back to Emerald Lake, or combine trails to make a fantastic loop hike without retracing your path! Starting at 9,500′ above sea level, your breath will literally be taken away.

Below are the primary options for day hiking from Bear Lake Trailhead:

Destination Miles Elev Difficulty Style
Bear Lake 0.5 mi + 100 ft Easy Loop
Emerald Lake 3 mi + 900 ft Moderate Out and Back
Lake Halyaha 3.5 mi + 1,050 ft Moderate Out and Back

1. Bear Lake Trail

If looking for a quick hike available to every ability level, Bear Lake Trail is a fantastic choice for you. From the trailhead hike through the forest. A half-mile trail surrounds the lake, featuring numerous resting points with benches. Better chances of solitude to break for lunch are found on the opposite side of the lake. Additionally, this makes for a great warm up to start your day.

2. Emerald Lake

A stunning alpine lake situated below the continental divide, Emerald Lake is a great day hike into the mountains. In route, pass by Nymph and Dream Lake, each offering superb scenery. Though the true prize is Emerald Lake, as it hosts dramatic views of Hallett Peak, Tyndall Glacier, and the jagged ridge of Flattop Mountain. Return here, or continue onto Lake Halyaha to extend your day.

3. Lake Halyaha

From Dream Lake a densely vegetated section of forest leads to the secluded Lake Halyaha. A great destination for individuals seeking more solitude from crowds. The last leg of this trail is unmarked, requiring scrambling over large boulders to the shoreline. Great rest spots can be found for lunch breaks. While Lake Halyaha is a great place to turn around, it also serves as a connector trail to the Glacier Gorge area of the Park.

Maximize Your Visit to Rocky Mountain National Park on a Guided Hiking Tour

Guided day summer hikes hike tours, winter snowshoe tours, as well as multi-day packages allow visitors the opportunity to make the most of their time in Rocky Mountain National Park and to do it hassle-free. Guided tours include gear (backpack, trekking poles, crampons in winter), meals, accommodations on multi-day tours, local transportation, and a professional Colorado hiking guide. Through their knowledge, stories, and personal passion, guides can bring a place to life in a way that’s much more difficult to do on your own. Read more about Rocky Mountain Hiking Tours.


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Trail lunch spread

Join a Guided Rocky Mountain National Park Backpacking Trip

Joining a Rocky Mountain National Park backpacking tour or inn based tour is a worry-free, adventurous way to experience Rocky Mountain National Park. With your gear, meals, local transportation, permits, and fees taken care of for you, you can travel light and focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience, while the guide company takes care of everything else. Also, by going with local experts you’ll enjoy a greater level of safety and gain a much better understanding of the history and ecology of this remarkable region. Read more about a guided Rocky Mountain National Park backpacking tour or inn based tour

Glacier Gorge

When to Hike and Seasonal Considerations

Always check the weather before planning your trip. Check the weather forecast here for Bear Lake Trailhead.

Bear Lake is accessible year round. While summer provides warm weather, great fishing, and wildflowers. Winter time brings an entirely different hiking experience and methods of travel. Consider joining a winter snowshoe tour, and as your guide leads you on seldom traveled trails through deep snow.

Necessary Permits

Day Hike Permits

No permits necessary for day hikes in Rocky Mountain.

Backpacking Permits

Wilderness camping permits can be obtained online starting March 1st of each year. Reservations are given on first come first serve basis. The Rocky Mountain National Park Website updates availability daily of each specific campsite throughout the Summer.

For more information on Rocky Mountain National Park’s permit system, click here.

Suggested Packing List

Day Hike Packing List

  • 2-3 liters of water
  • Salty, calorie-rich snacks
  • lunch
  • backpack
  • trekking poles
  • wide-brimmed hat
  • sunscreen, sunglasses
  • cotton t-shirt (spring-fall)
  • medium to thick upper layers
  • rain jacket
  • 1st-aid kit

Backpacking Packing List (edit)

  • all items listed for day hikes PLUS
  • multi-day backpack
  • 3-season tent
  • 0-20 degree sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • backpacking stove and fuel
  • backpacking meals
  • 3 pairs wool socks
  • extra t-shirts

Please Respect Our National Parks – Leave No Trace

We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails is a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

About WildlandTrekking

Wildland Trekking, a home-grown USA adventure travel company started in 2005, has become one of the world’s leading trekking companies. Learn about the origins, mission and people of Wildland, America’s #1 source for Unforgettable Hiking Vacations!

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