Bear Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

When we decided to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, I knew our first visit would be to Bear Lake. The images of the mountain peaks and pine trees reflected in the mirror surface of Bear Lake are so iconic they were even on the promotional materials for the conference I was attending in Denver. I took a few vacation days and brought Mona along so we could turn my work trip into a mini hiking vacation.

Bear Lake is a very short and very easy hike. It’s a half mile loop with flat trail and frequent resting places with benches where visitors can sit and enjoy the scenery. As we walked around the lake, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the mountain ranges with the scenery changing as we continued around the loop. We saw Hallet Peak, Longs Peak, and the Key Board of the Winds at various angles as we walked, their images reflected perfectly in the still lake.

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It’s beautiful in pictures, but now having visited I have to say that nothing on a screen or piece of paper can really capture the full experience of the view. The mountains are truly majestic and the reflections are magical. It seemed completely unreal that something could be so perfect, disturbed only by the occasional ripple of a bird bathing on the edge of the lake.

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It’s not surprising that Bear Lake is one of the most popular trails. Whenever I told people we were planning to visit Bear Lake, they all had the same response – you better get there early! We were warned that the trailhead parking lot fills up quickly and if we drove we would need to arrive with the first light. Another alternative is to take a shuttle. However, we were visiting on a weekday in the offseason when no shuttles were in service. So we woke up before sunrise and were on the road by dawn. I was nervous we might be late even then, but I had no reason to worry. The large parking lot was mostly empty when we arrived at 8:00 am. We had no trouble parking and avoided any crowds on the Bear Lake Trail.

Leaving was a different story. As we were leaving the trailhead around 12:30 pm, the fight was on for parking spots. The line of cars was out the gate and drivers were slowly circling the lot. Even on a weekday in the off season, it is essential to arrive at the Bear Lake trailhead early. Fortunately, Bear Lake trailhead is the starting point of a number of wonderful hikes so it’s quite easy to park early and spend the entire day hiking. After finishing our short walk around Bear Lake, we moved on to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. 

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