Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Distance from Denver: ~67 miles (1.5hr) ♡ ♡ ♡
Hike: ~3.5mi ♡ ♡ ♡
Difficulty: Easy ♡ ♡ ♡
Parking Situation: Medium sized lot. No street parking if the lot is full ♡ ♡
Parking Fee: AllTrails says there is a parking fee, but when we went in the evening there was nowhere that we saw to pay.
Good morning, everyone! We wanted to share another fun hike from our Labor Day weekend. We went to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, arguably one of the highest rated hikes the park has to offer. We made our way in from Fort Collins and knew we were in for a treat when we saw the wide open views of the park's majestic peaks!
WOWZA, can we just pitch a tent in the middle of the road and live here forever? Please and thank you. By the time we pulled into the parking lot, it was relatively empty and we had our pick of the parking spots. We can totally see the lot being full during the early parts of the day and think it was fortuitous the day had worked out.
Fall is in the air and the colors have started to turn already in parts of this trail! It made it all the more magical that we hiked during what photographers call the "Golden Hour" so that the entire path had this gorgeous soft gold hue from the setting sun. There were scary storm clouds in and out of the sky, but thankfully it stayed dry for our hike.
We would both agree that the first half a mile of the hike is the hardest, only because this had both of our hearts pounding from the elevation. It's also a seemingly endless path of stairs, so we've affectionately dubbed this hike the "Stairmaster" because of how the path was laid out by the Rangers. Luckily, we didn't have to share the path with too many other people but honestly there still was a steady stream of hikers both ascending and descending when we went. What we liked, was that unlike other hikes, there are plenty of plateaus along the trail that you can pull over at safely instead of stand perilously at the edge of the trail should you need a break or want to move over for faster hikers. Be sure to also turn around if you find a plateau for stunning views of the mountains and Lake Estes!
Sooooo we should mention that if you do go during the twilight hours, there is a good chance for a BEAR sighting! *rustling noises in the woods*
Think of this trail as a layered cake: there are stairs, flat, stairs, flat, stairs, flat and so on until you reach the top. Amongst one of these flat areas is quite a wooded region, which we assume that bears really like. When we were hiking through here, a family coming down told us that they had just seen a bear on the trail and to scare it away, they acted big and made a lot of noise. A second set of hikers a little father up confirmed this sighting and we were officially on edge! Let me just tell you, there's nothing like a good bear sighting to make you hustle up the last half mile of the trail! (PSST: In case you are wondering, you know you are near the end of the trail when the sandy stairs turn into stone stairs and you see the sign for an outhouse to your left).
The first sight of the lake is a little....underwhelming. There I said it, please don't hurl sticks or stones at us! It's not like Bierstadt Lake or the Glacier Gorge Loop that just takes your breath away when you arrive. Honestly, we both looked at each other like ".....this is it!? This is one of the highest rated hikes of RMNP?!" Don't lose hope friends! Instead look to your left and there is a path that allows you to get to the far side of the lake where the view back is just amazing!
Now we will be completely honest with you all - in real life, you cannot see the stunning reflection of the sky in the lake. In real life, the lake is a little lackluster. But in pictures....OH YES....in the pictures, there is little else that compares to the mirror effect the lake has in reflecting the sky, the mountains, and the trees surrounding it.
At this point, we were distracted by a ton of crows perched on the ledge up high and flying past us (we could hear the strength of their wings!) ... and so we decided to be a little adventurous and hike up the "cliffs" surrounding the lake. Take it from us - DO NOT DO THIS! The path is super sketchy in places and honestly Brandon had some trouble on the way back down. But oh boy, the views from up there! If only we had wings... :)
If we could only live here forever!!! Can this get old? I think not! Literally where else can you see the vistas that this perch can provide? It was truly special and unforgettable ♡ We saw why this was such a highly rated hike, and at this point, yes we totally agree that it is! It is relatively easy, and the payoff at the top is just marvelous!
Safely back down by the lake, we hung out for a second before deciding we should probably head back before sun-down. No point in becoming bear food, now is there? ;) Luckily we didn't see anything on the way back except for stunning vistas as the sun set and totally fell in love. This is one we can't wait to bring our guests to! ♡
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