Gem Lake – Dawn Wilson
A 3.4-mile moderate out-and-back trail that leads up to Gem Lake in Lumpy Ridge, views from this trail are some of the best in the area to see all of the features that make Estes Valley one of the most scenic regions in northern Colorado. Views from this trail include Mount Olympus, Lake Estes, Kruger Rock, Longs Peak and the Continental Divide.
Sunrise can be a wonderful time at Bierstadt Lake, even on days when it can be windy, preventing a reflection of the peaks along the Continental Divide in the surface of the water in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. (Dawn Wilson/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)
Bierstadt Lake – Dawn Wilson
Bierstadt Lake is named for Albert Bierstadt, an American landscape painter who explored the West during the late 1800s. He admired the region in 1877 while visiting Colorado with his friend, Irish aristocrat Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, the Fourth Earl of Dunraven.
The 3.2-mile-loop trail starts off navigating through a small section of lodgepole pine trees before climbing steeply up the Bierstadt Moraine.
Mills Lake – Dawn Wilson
The trail to Alberta Falls from the Glacier Gorge parking lot sees a lot of traffic throughout the summer and fall.
Follow the trail another 1.7 miles, however, and the crowds not only clear up but another one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s beautiful lakes awaits hikers.
Named for Enos Mills, the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park”, Mills Lake is a serene lake sitting on the northwestern side of Longs Peak. Although difficult to photograph because the high mountain walls on either side of the lake prevent good light from reaching the basin, the area does offer a great experience.
Lake Helene – Dawn Wilson
When at the Bear Lake Trailhead, follow the signs to the right to take the Flattop Trail, which starts off the northeast side of Bear Lake. Hike about a half mile through a pretty aspen grove, which should be in peak color in late September, and a mixed-pine forest to a sharp-left switchback to continue following the trail towards Flattop Mountain and Odessa Lake. Most of the 1,341 feet of elevation gain happens in the first mile of this route.
Once at Lake Helene, take time to explore the meadows, views to the north and majestic peaks above you, now colored in shades of fall in the tundra plants. Krummholz trees dot the landscape in this area and large boulders make ideal rest areas for a light snack at this 10,650-foot-elevation stop before heading back to Bear Lake.
Homer Rouse Trail – Wendy Rigby
This is a four-mile round trip journey that took us about two hours and provided many delightful moments. You could hike it a lot more quickly, but we were having too much fun exploring and taking photographs.
The trail is a cooperative effort between the Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District and Larimer County.
This trail is rarely crowded and I’m told is a favorite of locals. It’s open to people walking dogs on a leash, bicyclists, runners and horseback riders.
To get to the start of the trail, we walked the gravel road from the parking lot near Fish Creek Road to the arching sign that says “Cheley Camp.” Instead of going into the camp, we went straight and saw the sign announcing the start of the Homer Rouse Trail.
Brainard Lake Recreation Area – Wendy Rigby
The U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Brainard Lake Recreation Area near Ward, Colo., is a hiker’s delight about an hour south of Estes Park. The website describes Brainard as a “wilderness area home to moose & bears with hiking routes, camping & lakes ringed by peaks and pines.”
According to the Forest Service, Brainard is the most popular destination in the Boulder Ranger District. The elevation is higher than Estes Park at 10,300 feet. The best times to visit are from July on.
A great moderate hike featuring waterfalls and beautiful flora along the way is Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin.
Ouzel Falls – Wendy Rigby
The hike begins at the Wild Basin Trailhead in the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. You reach this part of the park by heading south on Highway 7 from Estes Park, toward Meeker Park and Allenspark. The roundtrip length of this hike is 5.4 miles. It’s considered a moderate hike with an elevation gain of 950 feet.
Standing below Ouzel Falls can be like taking a fresh mountain shower.
Mount Olympus – Wendy Rigby
Anyone who has even been to Estes Park can’t help but notice the looming Mount Olympus that dominates the eastern view from town. If the gods need a good perch to survey Northern Colorado, this is the place they would use.
About a mile out of town, you will notice a sign that says “Leaving Roosevelt National Forest.” There are several dirt spaces for hikers to park their vehicles.
Shortly into the hike, you come upon an open area that provides a spectacular view of the valley. It’s a bird’s eye perspective of Lake Estes, the town and the glorious peaks beyond. On the day I was there, the Rockies were still painted with snow. The view was jaw-dropping.
Fern Lake Trail – Tim Mosier
In 2020, the East Troublesome Fire burned roughly 15 miles of trails in Rocky Mountain National Park with a few of those miles being part of the popular Fern Lake Trail. After being at least partially closed for nearly a year due to fire damage, the trail has now been completely reopened for nearly a year with vegetation and wildlife beginning to return.
After the tireless work of park staff and volunteers, the 7.6 mile out-and-back trail was officially reopened in the in July 2021, ten months after the East Troublesome Fire ignited.
Moraine Park – Matt Poust
Moraine Park Valley is a verdant meadow cut by meandering streams that is given character by the alluring sunrise to the East and the snow-capped Rockies to the West.
This area is home to the Moraine Park Loop trail and is an ideal spot for anglers hoping to land a fish. Visitors can gain access through the Beaver Meadows entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The loop trail is accessible from paralleling Fern Lake Road, but if you’re into a little seclusion you can find a parking area at the end of South Moraine Road. For those looking to do some fishing, Fern Lake Road gives great access to Fern Creek, while the latter route will butt you up against the Big Thompson River.