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    Fern Lake Trail

    This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
    This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
    This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
    12.1 km
    This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
    450 m
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    Directions to Trailhead

    The Fern Lake Hike is a hidden gem in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Fern Lake Trail exhibits the diversity of the Colorado wilderness, and it guides you through Located on the east side of the park, this trail will guide you through you through granite outcroppings, aspen forests, through tree burn and up to the mountain cirque where sits Fern Lake.

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    Route Description for Fern Lake Trail

    Adventure the Fern Lake Trail on your next trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). This excursion is a great introductory hike to technical climbs in the park. Though this trail is relatively short with limited elevation gain, the grade is packed in the rearmost section of the hike. This path demands a bit of stamina as you ascend the ridge to the alpine lake. Make sure you are wearing sturdy hiking shoes to mitigate the chances of a rolled ankle on the rocky terrain. If you venture this path in the winter or autumn, wear microspikes to help navigate the easy terrain. Note this hike climbs high elevations, so we recommend checking the weather to avoid getting caught in an afternoon storm which are so common to the high country. Hikers are also required to purchase a RMNP park pass.

    This scenic adventure is one of the more secluded hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are hoping to avoid the crowds so common to the area, then venture the Fern Lake Hike. This excursion is one of the coolest hikes in our opinion. The ever-changing terrain as you hike up to the lake is stimulating! Hike through tree burn, vast meadows, aspen groves, alongside the Big Thompson River, past granite outcropping and up to the alpine lake hemmed by craggy peaks… What more could you ask for? Not to mention this trail is ideal for wildlife spotting! Elk, moose, and bears have been seen exploring this area, so keep your eyes peeled!

    From the trailhead, the Fern Lake Hike tracks west on the Fern Lake Trail. The initial segment of the hike is fairly level as the path guides you along the curves of the Big Thompson River. As you travel along the riverbank you might notice anglers fishing the waters, as greenback cutthroat trout are abundant in these waters. Hike a meadowed path, and you will eventually cross a footbridge over Big Thompson River. After the bridge, you will notice the Old Forest Inn dispersed campsites and a merging trail, ignore this path.

    From this point forward the route will gradually climb up to Fern Lake. Continue along the Fern Lake Trail, passing the campsites and cross the footbridge over Fern Creek. Ascend the tree burn-lined path and navigate a set of switchbacks. The first switchback will reward you with a sight of the 18 m Fern Falls. This is a great place to rest, rehydrate, and refuel before your final ascent. Scramble up the steep terrain and you will eventually ascend Fern Lake. The vistas as you ascend the ridge to the lake will take your breath away.

    Revel in the incredibly mountainous views from the alpine lake. Notice the Fern Lake Patrol Cabin that sits along the shoreline. Notice Joe Mills Mountain in the south, Little Matterhorn in the southwest, and Gabletop Mountain in the west. Enjoy the sights of the shimmering alpine lake in the foreground of the craggy peaks and explore the shoreline. When you are ready to descend, retrace your steps back the way you came.

    Trail Highlights

    Joe Mills Mountain

    Joe Mills Mountain sits at an elevation of 3,375 m. The Joe Mills Mountain is one of the peaks that flank the cirque basin where Fern Lake sits. Joe Mills Mountain’s parent summit is Hallett Peak, and is ranked 1744 of Colorado peaks. This less than exciting peak is like many summits in the Rocky Mountain National Park, there are no explicit trails to access the peak. If you are an intrepid adventurer who doesn't mind bushwhacking, then consider ascending the primitive Joe Mills Mountain.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is the Fern Lake Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park?

    Yes, the Fern Lake Trail is located within the Rocky Mountain National Park, thus a park pass is required.

    How do I get to the Fern Lake Trailhead?

    The Fern Lake Trailhead is at the end of Fern Lake Road off Moraine Park Campground Road. These secondary roads are off Bear Lake Road.

    Can you fish in Fern Lake?

    Yes, you can fish in Fern Lake. Fishermen are required to possess a valid Colorado fishing licence.

    Can you camp at Fern Lake?

    Yes, there are designated dispersed campsites along the trail. Note permits are required for overnight expeditions.

    Insider Hints for Fern Lake Trail

    • The Big Thompson River and Fern Lake present epic opportunities for trout fishing
    • Camp alongside the trail for an awesome overnight experience.
    • Bring microspikes in the autumn and winter to easily navigate the icy, snow-dusted terrain.
    • Make sure you are acclimated to the high elevation in the area, and respect your limits.
    • Pack plenty of water, especially if you are not used to the high altitude of the area

    Getting to the Fern Lake Trail Trailhead

    The Fern Lake Trailhead is accessed via the Fern Lake Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Route Information

    • Backcountry Campground

      Old Forest Inn Campsites

    • When to do


    • Pets allowed


    • Family friendly

      Older Children only

    • Route Signage


    • Crowd Levels


    • Route Type

      Out and back

    Fern Lake Trail Elevation Graph

    Weather Forecast

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    Fern Lake Trail Reviews

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