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Hike to Gem Lake in Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado


Added by Jennifer Broome

Distance: 3.6 miles roundtripElevation gain: 910 ftLesser known "gem" of a lake in Rocky Mountain National ParkEstes Park locals' favorite hikeAlpine lakeFamily-friendlyGreat viewsEasy accessOnly need a couple of hours to do hike

Gem Lake is a local's favorite in Estes Park, Colorado. It is part of Rocky Mountain National Park but doesn't have the crowds of Bear Lake and other popular lakes in the park.

The Lumpy Ridge Trailhead is north of Estes Park, off of Devil’s Gulch Road. From US 36 in downtown Estes Park, drive north on MacGregor Avenue. Shortly after crossing US Highway 34, MacGregor Avenue turns into Devil’s Gulch Road. Continue on, bypassing the gateway to MacGregor Ranch area. Less than a mile away, you’ll see the trailhead marked with an NPS sign.

It’s a fun family hike with a wide path and gentle incline to start, but as you wind through the trees the path narrows and the steps get bigger. Kids will loving looking for wildlife and the unique rock formations along the trail.

One of the biggest surprises to me along the trail is that there is a privy, or bathroom, that is about 10-15 minutes from the top. It is a good break spot before you tackle the toughest part of the hike. The big stone steps are definitely the thigh burner part of the hike.

Gem Lake is shallow. It is a granite bowl that captures rain water. The granite is 1.8 billion years old and has been sculpted by wind and chemical erosion. There is a sandy area at the lake that locals call “The Beach.”

The trees are fascinating. They are weathered, too, so you’ll find some unusual twisted and braided tree formation.

It is free access to Gem Lake, but it is part of Rocky Mountain National Park so no dogs are allowed. As with any hike, go prepared. You’ll want hiking shoes or tennis shoes. Definitely take along water and even some snacks for kids. You might want to take a jacket, too, as temperatures and weather conditions can change quickly, even in the middle of summer. Make sure you stop and have a few moments to soak up the view.

If you want an extra challenge, continue hiking up above the lake. Plan on doing some scrambling and finding your own trail, but the view from above Gem Lake is fantastic.

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