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Hiking The Bear Lake Nature Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

High Point

High Point:
9,475 Feet

Total Ascent

Total Ascent:
45 Feet




0.8 miles


40.31196, -105.64581

Route Type

Route Type:

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  • Bear Lake Nature Trail is a tranquil 0.8 mile loop in Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado.
  • It boasts a lake and mountain views, and is great for all skill levels – even wheelchair accessible. Get there early as it’s very popular!
  • A slower, less strenuous hike with true Rocky Mountain vibes, this is a must-see.


Bear Lake Nature Trail is just a beautiful, tranquil hike. It is a very easy 0.8 mile loop trail located in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado. This nature trail features a lake and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. It is a good hike for all skill levels and is even wheelchair accessible. The Bear Lake Trail is the perfect hike for everyone. If you are looking for a slower, less strenuous hike with a true feel of being in the Rocky Mountain National Park, this is a must see, but you have to get there really early to get to the Bear Lake Trailhead is very popular.

Field Notes

Some of my earliest memories include riding shotgun in my dad’s 1962 Chevy Impala while crisscrossing the U.S. on family summer trips to Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  These family camping trips gave me a passion for wilderness exploration in remote destinations. My first such memory goes back to one such trip in late July 1972. I was 7 years old and my family had just set up camp in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Moraine Park Campground.

After setting up a huge blue canvas tent the size of my old New York City apartment, we jumped back into the 1962 Chevy and drove to Bear Lake. It was a beautiful evening the way it can be just after a rain storm. The smell of the pine trees seemed to be enhanced by the storm. Bear Lake immediately became one of my absolute favorite, easy hikes! The lake and scenery is just stunning. As I look back at this hike, I believe this was a beginning for me. I started to realize that I loved the mountains and the sense of adventure that they bring.

Views of Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge from the Bear Lake Nature Trail.

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I recently returned to Rocky to do this hike once again. The hike took me about 30 minutes after making numerous stops for photos. My actual moving time was closer to 20 minutes. I arrived at Bear Lake around 6:30 AM and the parking lot was already nearly full. Seeing the other hikers arrive and depart for their various adventure destinations I realize that most are departing for adventures beyond Bear Lake. There are so many hikes that can be accessed from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Here are a few suggested hikes that start at the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Hiking to Emerald Lake is a moderately easy add for those enjoying Bear Lake. This trail is a 3.1 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Lake Haiyaha is another moderate hike from Bear Lake that features a waterfall. This is a 3.6 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail. For those wanting a more significant challenge, hiking from Bear Lake to Howell Park is a moderate 9 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail that features a lake and is rated as moderate.

There are several pretty hard hikes from Bear Lake. The Flattop Mountain Trail is a 8.2 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail. The Timberline Falls and Sky Pond Trail is a difficult 9.3 mile moderately trafficked loop trail. Little Matterhorn is an another difficult 7.6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail.

My recommendation is to do your research before you go and understand the maps and the trail system. The parking lot for Bear Lake fills up fast. Many hikers are enjoying the convenience of parking is just a few hundred feet hike from the trailhead. For those arriving later, my recommendation is to park at the Park and Ride Lot on Bear Lake Road and take the Park Shuttle to the trailhead. The Park and Ride lot is large and the Shuttle’s Bear Lake Route is awesome.

The Bear Lake Nature Trail is one of my absolute favorite, easy hikes! The lake and scenery is just stunning. I recommend going in the evening to avoid crowds and the sunset is always a bonus!!

Photo Essay

Here are my photos taken at sunrise on July 5, 2020.