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.
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.