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Bear Lake TH to Fern Lake TH

  4.7 ( 46 ) Favorite


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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Oct 15, 2019
Lauren Manteuffel
Our group of 3 did the Bear Lake TH to Cub Lake TH. This was roughly 14 miles with the extra stops and so worth it! You'll see Lake Helene, Lake Od…
Sep 11, 2019
Mike Sanders
Sep 10, 2019
Christian Thielemier
Two days/one night thru hike. Camped at spruce lake. 8.5mi — 9h 30m
Aug 21, 2019
Sarah S
Aug 2, 2019
Eduardo Ruiz
Jul 19, 2019
Bridget Bednarz
Jul 13, 2019
Hillery Powers
Some icy areas covering the trail and two steep snowfields to cross just after the highest point. The 2/3 of the trail that was downhill was dry. 9.5mi
Jul 6, 2019
Brandon Bell
9.2mi — 6h 18m

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 46 votes


in Bear Lake


  4.7 from 46 votes
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449 Views Last Month
8,984 Since Jan 30, 2015



Jan 19, 2015 near Grand Lake, CO
View of Odessa Lake taken near Lake Helene
Apr 22, 2019 near Grand Lake, CO
Lake Odessa
May 4, 2015 near Estes Park, CO
Ground squirrel in Rocky Mountain National Park
Jan 19, 2015 near Estes Park, CO
View of Glacier Gorge and Longs Peak from the trail
Apr 22, 2019 near Estes Park, CO
Great view of the Big Thompson River.
Jul 20, 2016 near Estes Park, CO

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