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Bear Lake TH to Fern Lake TH

 4.7 (26)
Trail Mapped Wrong?


8.5 Miles 13.6 Kilometers


1,180' 360 m


-2,524' -769 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (16°)

10,656' 3,248 m


8,153' 2,485 m



Minor Issues 15 days ago
Snowy, Mostly Dry, Some Mud History

Getting forecast...

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

Brian Smith

Overview [Suggest Changes]

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.
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — Lake — River/Creek — Views — Waterfall — Wildflowers — Wildlife [Add/Remove]
Dogs: No Dogs

Need to Know [Suggest Changes]

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.

Description [Suggest Changes]

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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Your Check-Ins


May 30, 2018
Greg Nava
Temp in the upper 50’s at 8:45am start time, perfect weather to hike
May 29, 2018
Greg Nava
Mar 22, 2018
Carolyn Jungels
Aug 28, 2017
Roger Chesser
Aug 27, 2017
Keith McCue
Aug 27, 2017
Patrick S
+0.7mi for walk to shuttle 9.2mi
Aug 14, 2017
Katie Bauer
Aug 10, 2017
Belle Jarrett

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 26 votes


in Bear Lake


  4.7 from 26 votes
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493 Views Last Month
4,665 Since Jan 30, 2015
Intermediate Intermediate

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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