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blue Bear Lake TH to Fern Lake TH

  4.7 ( 38 ) Favorite

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8.5 mile 13.6 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 1,180' 360 m
Descent: -2,524' -769 m
High: 10,656' 3,248 m
Low: 8,153' 2,485 m


Avg Grade: 8% (5°)
Max Grade: 28% (16°)


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Trail shared by Brian Smith

An epic alpine point-to-point made possible by RMNP's free shuttle system.

Brian Smith

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife


This route is about one-third ascending, two-thirds descending with the high point at mile 2.6 on Joe Mills Mountain. Along the way, you'll witness breathtaking mountain scenery, four beautiful lakes and a magnificient waterfall.

Need to Know

Take advantage of RMNP's awesome, free shuttle system to complete this hike. This route could be self-shuttled during the off-season by dropping a vehicle at the Fern Lake TH and driving another to the Bear Lake TH. Click here for the RMNP shuttle information page.


From the Beak Lake TH, start out along the lake's eastern shore. Look for the Horse Trail to branch off to the right towards Flattop Mountain and Odessa Lake. Follow the trail as it climbs steeply to gain the ridge.

At the top of the ridge, turn left onto Flattop Mountain Trail and continue uphill. Shortly after joining the Flattop Mountain Trail, look for the Fern - Odessa Lake Trail to branch off to the right - follow it.

Ascend the along southern flank of Joe Mills Mountain and take in views of Notch Top Mountain. As you round the western ridge of Joe Mills Mountain, there will be views down to Two Rivers Lake and Lake Helene. From here, it's all downhill to Odessa Lake. As you hike down the northwestern flank of Joe Mills Mountain, Little Matterhorn will undoubtedly steal your attention. The formation is a part of the eastern skirt of Knobtop Mountain and its sheer walls do share an uncanny resemblance to the real Matterhorn (on a much smaller scale).

Once you reach Odessa Lake, take a few moments to absorb the stunning scenery before continuing your hike. Descend some switchbacks for about a half-mile down to Odessa Lake's downstairs neighbor, Fern Lake. From Fern Lake, views to the south of Tombstone Ridge abound.

Continue the descent from Fern Lake to a fork in the trail - stay left onto the Fern Lake Trail. The trail descends steeply along the western flank of the Fern Creek drainage before a switchback brings Fern Falls into view. The extent to which the falls are flowing will depend on the time of year and recent weather but the cascades are beautiful under almost any condition.

Descend a few more switchbacks on the Fern Lake Trail and eventually the grade will lessen significantly. Cross the Big Thompson River and follow is as it flows eastward. Finally, you'll reach the Fern Lake trailhead where you can catch a shuttle bus.


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Sep 29, 2018
David Orner
Sep 26, 2018
Brian Moreland
Beautiful hike that goes by 3 lakes and a waterfall. There are also some amazing views. This is a great hike.
Sep 7, 2018
john folkerts
Sep 3, 2018
Jeremy St Germain
Aug 25, 2018
Jon Ulincy
Aug 25, 2018
Derek Brotherton
Aug 15, 2018
Erin McDonagh
Aug 13, 2018
Chelsea Thompson

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 38 votes


in Bear Lake


  4.7 from 38 votes
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I also did this via the Park Service shuttle. At the high point, above Lake Helene, but on the other side of the trail a rocky ridge line comes down to the trail affording spectacular views for 270 degrees about 200 ft from the trail. In the middle of the trail, where it's running NW and in a meadow, the trail is obscured by a snow field (even in the summer). A GPS or topo map is needed for this trail unless you're already familiar with it. Apr 5, 2018

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