Bear Lake to Fern Lake Trailhead

MODERATE 87 reviews
#40 of 179 trails in

Bear Lake to Fern Lake Trailhead is a 16.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Estes Park, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from June until October.

16.2 miles
3,868 feet
Out & Back











wild flowers




no dogs

Start at Moraine Park Visitor Center or the Park & Ride shuttle bus parking area across from the Glacier Basin Campground. Ride the shuttle to Bear Lake, hike to the shuttle station nearest Fern Lake Trailhead and take the shuttle from their back to your start point. Take advantage of the free RMNP shuttle system to hike this point-to-point trail at an overall elevation loss. Hike through boulder fields and get some of the best views in the park, including Notchtop Mountain, Odessa Lake, Fern Lake, and Fern Falls.

2 days ago

Did this from Bear Lake to the Fern Lake Bus stop last Saturday 8/11. I am in Rock Mtn. NP most weekend either hiking or on snowshoes. This is my very favorite longer hike since Sky Pond has become so mobbed. I think the section around the side of Joe Mill Mtn is really fun - love the views down to Odessa Lake. You won't be by yourself but no where near as crowed as the Glacier Gorge trail system.

Requires lots of effort to get to the good views but it is worth it. Starting at Fern and going to Bear lake is tough with a lot of uphill hiking

22 days ago

Did just point-to-point then took the shuttle, but this was one of my all-time favorite hikes from the picas above timberline, to the creekside columbines between Odessa & Fern Lakes, and topped by the black bear cub between Fern Falls & "The Pool." Others have reported moose sightings.. guess I need to go back!

27 days ago

Hiked and did some backcountry camping on this trail over the weekend. It really lives up to the dozens of reviews for being a really beautiful hike. Taking this route from the entry point of Bear Lake to the exit point at the Fern Lake trailhead is a great way to go- especially if you’re carrying about 25-30 lbs. on your back. There is some elevation gain at the start till you get to the hard right turn about 3.7 miles into the hike. At this point, some of the most beautiful views on the hike appear as you descend to Odessa Lake. While this trail does not take you right next to Odessa Lake, you get a nice view from the elevated trail vantage point. But, there is a trail that connects to the lake if you want to back-track to see it up close along with the rushing creek waters. Continuing on another .8 mile takes you to Fern lake. This is a beautiful high mountain lake with some overflow ponds and a creek with waterfall. All of this water is great for filtering and drinking and cooking. There was a duck family there with ducklings. Also there were quite a few cut throat trout in the lake too. We camped at the group camping spot which is a nice area not too far from the lake. We checked out the individual campsites, and they were quite a walk back up from the lake. I didn’t care for them too much. We hiked to Spruce lake in the evening and the trail is rougher but manageable. There is nothing spectacular about this lake. The campsite was quiet and the privy was not far off from the group camping area. The next day we headed for the Fern Lake trailhead. It’s basically a downhill journey all the way but passes through several waterfalls and rushing streams. There are a lot of wildflowers and you will want to visit the Arches Rocks formations. The views on this side aren’t as spectacular, but still nice. I am not happy about all the piles of horse poop on this side of the trail. I know they say it degrades, but it’s just a mess trying to dodge the nasty stuff IMO. The stated mileage is not correct from what I can see for this trail. With our extra hike to Spruce Lake, we clocked 14 miles. We had someone pick us up at the Fern Lake trailhead because there’s not much parking. See my recording and pic’s for a highlight of the trip. All in all, a beautiful hike.

1 month ago

We arrived at the Bear Lake trail head about 12 to 1 pm and started the hike shortly after. We were in three groups with different experience levels. I was the least experienced and least fit on the three groups. Thankfully I had a buddy that stayed with me through day one of the hike.

The first evening we hiked the first part of the bear lake trail until it intersected with the Flattop Mountain Trail and made a sharp left onto the Flattop Mountain trail. We followed the trail until it intersected with the Fern Lake Trail. We then followed that past lake Odessa and on to Fern Lake.

We arrived at Fern lake and made camp on the far side of the lake in one of the camp sites. Reservations needed.

The next day we broke camp and followed Fern lake trail to The Pool and broke for lunch at The Pool.

As we broke for lunch I found The Pool a great place to remove my boots and socks and soak those tied dogs in the cold crisp icy water of the Thompson River. As you arrive at The Pool, if you cross the little log bridge, you will find a nice rock with a trail / elevation designator on it and that rock makes an awesome place to get to the rivers edge for a good foot soak.

We then followed Fern Lake trail past through the huge rocks, and on to the Fern Lake trail head.

It was a beautiful hike through the mountains.

I’m actually looking forward to another pass through this trail.

The highlights of this particular hike has to be as you turn the corner of the trail and start the decent into the valley toward Odessa Lake, the scenery is beautiful to say the least. Norman Rockwell would have loved this picturesque valley.

As you start the decent into the valley toward Lake Odessa I felt that the terrain changed and became more challenging. First your working a different set of muscles now as your hiking downhill and second the trail is now covered with many more large rocks to traverse on your descent. For those of us in a little less than great shape this is a bigger challenge than for those with the skills of a mountain goat.

My sons highlight of the trail was the little pesky chip monks who take up residence at The Pool. They will gladly accept any handouts and stuff their little cheeks full.

It was a wonderful nearly 17 miles and hopefully the first of many more such adventures.

1 month ago

Lovely hike with many beautiful lakes along the way. We started at Bear Lake and hiked thru to the Fern Lake trailhead which clocked in at 11.4 miles on my Fitbit. From Fern Lake it is another .7 miles to the RMNP shuttle. It took us about 5 hours, with stops, to complete. The first 3-4 miles of the hike is a steady ascent and the rest is all downhill. We ran into one snow patch along the way that was easily traversed (early July). Stop at every lake along the way- they are spectacular. Keep an eye out for an unmarked trail on your left that leads to Lake Helene. It's about half a mile past the Sourdough Backcountry Campsite and is a great stop for views and lunch. Lake Odessa is about 4.5 miles in and you need to hike down to get to it. Incredible views. We also passed Spruce Lake, Fern Lake, and Fern Falls. We didn't see many people along the way and the views descending into Odessa Gorge are spectacular. Horses are allowed on the trail, and the droppings get pretty bad the last 3 miles near Fern Lake. Overall, this is a beautiful, long hike that offers gorgeous views of RMNP.

1 month ago

Unlike what is indicated, you do NOT need to go back and forth. Leave the car, hike one way, take the bus. Great hike, many lakes, and not as crowded as the emerald, mills, skypond lakes

1 month ago

Did this hike back on 6/2. Quickly became a favorite. There was still quite a bit of snow to cross for a decent stretch heading up to Lake Helene (and up around that area). But it was packed down and not too much trouble, even without poles or taking out my spikes. Above Lake Helene, be sure to make your way up the rocks for an outstanding panoramic view of Lake Helene, Two Rivers Lake, Joe Mills Mountain, and Odessa Lake down in the gorge. So stunning. Shortly after starting the descent into the gorge, there was a small, somewhat sketchy snow traverse with a bit of a drop off on one side. It was probably only 20 feet and the snow was very packed and manageable, but some folks might be uneasy crossing. I’m guessing it’s melted by now (late June), but the snow probably lingers a while since it’s in a shaded bend. From there, there was intermittent snow down to Odessa Lake, but mostly dry. When I came to the point where you turn back toward Odessa Lake, there was snow all along the creek. But the path was dry at Lake Odessa itself. Odessa is the highlight of the hike for me - maybe my favorite lake in the park. Absolutely gorgeous surroundings with crystal clear water. From there, it’s a great, dry downhill hike to Fern Lake (also gorgeous). I made a short detour out to Spruce Lake, which I very much recommend (but note that the trail is unmaintained and somewhat tougher to navigate - I had to backtrack a few times). Returning to the main trail, it’s all downhill to the mesmerizing Fern Falls the The Pool area. Highly recommend this hike - just be mindful of the snow coming down the gorge to Odessa Lake. In the future, I’ll probably wait until July to avoid the snow.

2 months ago

Fabulous hike yesterday (6/2/18). Started at Bear Lake and went to Fern Lake trail head. Completed Trip in 6 hours. Stopped at each lake. Snow fields were encountered all the way from 1 mile from Lake Helene to Odessa Lake and patches from Odessa lake to Fern Lake. Rented micro spikes but ended up keeping them in the bag the whole time. Didn’t need them. Just go slow. Well worth the time spent. Will do it again!!!

3 months ago

We did the first 1.5-2 miles from Bear Lake, but made it to 10k elevation before turning back. Snow was still 2-3 feet deep at points, but packed down well enough to walk on without sinking in. The only trouble is that it’s icy at points, especially late in the day, so be sure to have a good walking stick and decent trail shoes if not cleats. So beautiful and breathtaking. You won’t be sorry.

5 months ago

Simply amazing! Go see for yourself, no disappointments

10 months ago

Awesome trip. Went in early October and it got pretty icy close to Odessa lake. I would consider this a nice smooth trail with no major concerns. Takes about 3-4 hours depending on your stops. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and has several spots to camp, so take your pick. Spent 2.5 days on the trail and absolutely worth it!

10 months ago

Awesome hike! Did an overnight at Odessa Lake with my girlfriend. A bit windy at night so be sure to anchor down if staying the night.

10 months ago

Great hike in mid September. Weather was great and the scenery was simply stunning.

11 months ago

Beautiful hike! We parked at Bear Lake at around 730 am, hiked to Fern Lake and then took the shuttle back to Bear Lake. The park shuttles are so convenient for one way hikes. You pass Lake Helene, Odessa Lake and Fern Lake and Fern Falls. Wasn't that difficult either, just pretty long. Great views all the way through though.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

From Bear the trail is rocky and inclined until about halfway to Helene then pretty much down hill and rocky from there. I hung around Helene for a while then went down and backtracked to Odessa Lake. Both so beautiful! Fern Lake too. Instead of going to the Fern Lake trailhead I went to Cub Lake then marched up the hill back to Bear. That was hard. I had never done that so I gave it a I will be sore for a week.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A really great hike. We parked at Fern Lake Shuttle then shuttled to Bear Lake.

The trail starts up right away and is steady for about 2 miles. You hit the first snow field that covers the trail at about 2 miles. You go straight from the trail follow the dirty snow pack and find the other side about 50yds away.

You are flat to inclined for another mile or mile and half. The top is gorgeous. The Mountains and waterfalls are stunning.

The hike down is steady with one tricky snow field. I would suggest trekking poles for some comfort but I saw a few people who did not use. It's a rocky trail down past Odessa, Fern, Fern Falls and the pool. It gets flat to rolling from the pool back to the lot. I clocked 10.4 miles to the Fern Lake shuttle parking from Bear Lake. Highly recommend.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

This is an amazing and unique hike!

We took advantage of the park's free shuttle system by parking at Bear Lake PnR, riding up to Bear Lake trailhead in the shuttle, then taking the Fern Lake trailhead shuttle back to the PnR at the end of our hike.

The first 3 miles are a steady climb to an amazing overlook of Flattop, Notchtop, Odessa Lake, etc. Be sure to scramble up the rocks just to the right of the trail here for the best view! The remaining 6 miles or so are downhill to Odessa Lake, Fern Falls, Big Thompson River, etc. Be sure to take your time and stop off at all these sites if the weather is good. They're much less crowded than other areas of the park, and offer amazing scenery.

With our little excursions and the .8 mile walk back to the shuttle, we clocked in at 9.75 miles in 4 hours 11 minutes. There's a bit of snow obscuring the trail about 2 miles in, but follow the tracks to the left and you'll eventually end up back on trail, which follows a small stream bed. There were two snowfields on inclines that some might find dicey, but we managed fine without traction or poles.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Incredible! Multiple types of terrain - snow, rock. Do yourself a favor and get sidetracked around the Y to lake Helene, go right due north - find the peak that overlook's joes mt. Its breathtaking.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Starting at Bear Lake, this hike also includes Two Rivers, Helene, Odessa, Fern, and Spruce and you'll want to include them all. There are a number of short social trails behind Lake Helene with fabulous views of the lake, Flattop Mt, Joe Mills Mt, Notchtop Mt, and Odessa Lake below. This trail has a lot of great vistas, mountain views, and also includes Fern Falls and The Pool. The hike is point to point using the park's shuttles. Note that the hike does not end at the Fern Lake TH, but at the closest shuttle stop another .8 of a mile.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Way too much snow last week... would have been great otherwise.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Probably a great hike when there isn't snow. I went yesterday (6/12/17) with my sister and after the incline from bear lake the entire trail is covered with snow. To make it worse there are no trail markers and it is VERY easy to get lost. Our 3 hour hike turned into a 7 hour hike after losing the trail.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Absolutely stunning views, one of my favorite hikes to date. Was highly recommended to me by a park ranger and it definitely didn't disappoint!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Amazing scenery!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

We started at Bear Lake but somehow decided to take the hardest trail --Flattop. That was very hard, but so beautiful. We made it about 3/4 up the top of the mountain when we started to feel dizzy and the altitude really hit us. Coming from a very flat Miami, over 10,000 ft was challenging. Coming down, although much faster, was tricky since a lot of the trail was slippery from ice and snow. It was a gorgeous day, and we started with 30+ temperatures. But we began to peel off the layers of clothing as we built up a sweat from the hike.

Had we realized this was such a difficult trail, we would probably have opted for a more moderate one. But we're glad we did this one. The views are spectacular!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Unintentionally did this trail this past Sunday, and I don't think a more beautiful place exists than Odessa Lake. I was truly in awe of the cascading peaks surrounding the lake and the crystal clear, blue water. This is a hike that you will not regret and only the first 3.5 miles are up hill. Everything from the descent down to Odessa to Fern Lake is downhill. Be prepared for about a 9.5 mile hike!

Monday, September 26, 2016

We did this hike on 9/24/16. It snowed for a good portion, but it was beautiful. This was our first real Colorado hike (we moved here from Florida a little more than a month ago). The hike was tough sometimes, but for the most part, it was enjoyable. There was a lot of horse poop on the trail leading up to Fern Lake and beyond. And this hike can be pretty rocky at times, but it was worth it.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

This is a long trail with very rocky path. Sights are OK but not worth hard effort. I will never do this hike again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Amazing hike showcasing beautiful lakes and peaks

Sunday, August 07, 2016


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