Fern Lake, Fern Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Fern Lake - 7.7 miles

Fern Lake Trailhead

Fern Lake (9,503')

Fern Lake (9,503')

Round-Trip Length: 7.7 miles
Start-End Elevation: 8,165' - 9,503' (9,520' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,338' net elevation gain (+1,481' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Fern Lake - 7.7 Miles Round-Trip

Fern Lake (9,503') is located 3.85 miles from Fern Lake Trailhead on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This moderate trail follows the Big Thompson River and Fern Creek to a heavily wooded basin framed by the Little Matterhorn (11,586'), Knobtob Mountain (12,331'), Gabletop Mountain (11,939') and Castle Rock.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Fern Lake is highly sought for its large trout stock and numerous backcountry campsites - expect crowds on this busy corridor during peak summer months. 

Visitors will enjoy good trail conditions, excellent fishing, 3-4 season access and connections for Cub LakeSpruce Lake, Odessa Lake and Lake Helene on the hike to Fern Lake: 

The Fern Lake Trail rolls gently beside the Big Thompson River through aspen and mixed pine to The Pool - Cub Lake - Fern Lake Trail junction (1.8 miles : 8,365').

Many good fishing spots can be found on this mild, leafy stretch. The trail weaves through cottage-size boulders known as Arch Rocks to the Pool, a churning whirlpool below the turbulent confluence of Spruce Creek, Fern Creek, and Big Thompson River.

The trail climbs steadily above The Pool through a fire and beetle-marred forest to Fern Falls (2.65 miles : 8,855'), which sends a heavy mist during peak runoff.

Grades moderate to the Spruce Lake Trail split (3.8 miles : 9,485'), where the forest opens on the northeast corner of Fern Lake (3.85 miles : 9,503').

Cross the outlet bridge to small grassy areas on the east shore, or follow social trails to secluded nooks and the tumbling inlet on the west shore.

Odessa Lake is located .95 miles and 552' up from Fern Lake, a worthwhile extension.

Those seeking a more adventrous hike can follow the unimproved trail to Spruce Lake, where you'll find a comparable aesthetic with a fraction of the crowds.

Experienced and fit hikers may push even further up the drainage to its headwater at Loomis Lake, located in a secluded cirque beneath Gabletop Mountain.

Facebook Comments

Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 21.291 W105 37.868 — 0.0 miles : Fern Lake Trailhead
  • N40 21.040 W105 39.036 — 1.0 mile mark
  • N40 20.966 W105 39.586 — 1.8 miles : The Pool - Cub Lake - Fern Lake Trail split
  • N40 20.842 W105 40.071 — 2.65 miles : Fern Falls
  • N40 20.320 W105 40.577 — 3.75 miles : Spruce Lake Trail junction
  • N40 20.282 W105 40.549 — 3.85 miles : Fern Lake

Worth Noting

  • Marguerite Falls, concealed by dense timber, is located just east of the main trail near the Spruce Lake Trail junction. A keen eye will spot social trails in this vicinity that lead to good viewpoints.

  • Fern Lake is an ideal layover for lengthier treks to Spruce Lake, Loomis Lake, Odessa Lake and Lake Helene.

  • Spaces are limited at the Fern Lake Trailhead. Arrive early to secure parking and a measure of solitude during peak summer months.

  • Bears are occasionally seen in the Fern Lake area. Backpackers should remain vigilant and take all recommended precautions.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Permits are required for all overnight stays. Fires are not permitted within Rocky Mountain National Park. Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide guidance to each campsite from the main trail.

Arch Rock Backcountry Campsite (8,240')

  • There is one individual site located 1.6 miles from the Fern Lake Trailhead in a mixed pine and aspen forest. There is no privy or bear storage box available. Water is available from the Big Thompson River.

Old Forest Inn Backcountry Campsite (8,405')

  • There are two individual sites located 1.8 miles from the Fern Lake Trailhead in a spruce - fir stand about 200 yards above the Pool. A bear storage box is available. Water is available from Fern Creek.

Fern Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,530')

  • There is one group site and four individual sites located 3.95 miles and 4.15 miles from the Fern Lake Trailhead, respectively. Both are located in a mixed pine forest on the NE and NW sides of Fern Lake, respectively. Each has access to a bear box and privy. Water is available year-round from Fern Lake, its inlet and outlet streams.

Spruce Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,670')

  • There is one individual site located 4.5 miles from the Fern Lake Trailhead (6.1 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead) in a thick spruce-fir stand. The trail from Fern Lake to Spruce Lake is not maintained, and horses are not permitted. A bear storage box is available. Water is available from Spruce Lake, its inlet and outlet streams.

Odessa Lake Backcountry Campsite (10,065')

  • There are two designated sites located 4.85 miles from the Fern Lake Trailhead in a spruce-fir stand east of Odessa Lake on the north side of its outlet stream. The sites are located just over the log bridge crossing of this stream. One bear box is available. Water is available year-round from Odessa Lake and its outlet stream.

Fishing Information

A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary; however, special regulations exist. It's your responsibility to know and obey them.

Due to the dynamic nature of fisheries management, fishing regulations can change at anytime. Special closures may be put in place above and beyond what is listed here. Contact the park before heading out for current information.

  • Fern Lake is a catch and release only area: Certain waters in the park with restored native fish populations are open year round during daylight hours, except as indicated. Use barbless hooks only. Any and all fish species taken must be immediately returned to the water unharmed. No bait is permitted by any age angler in catch-and-release areas.
  • Method of Capture: Each person shall use only one hand-held rod or line. A 'second rod stamp' is not honored in park waters. Only artificial lures or flies with one (single, double, or treble) hook with a common shank may be used. "Artificial flies or lures" means devices made entirely of, or a combination of, materials such as wood, plastic, glass, hair, metal, feathers, or fiber, designed to attract fish. This does not include: (a) any hand malleable material designed to attract fish by the sense of taste or smell; (b) any device to which scents or smell attractants have been externally applied; (c) molded plastic devices less than one and one-half inch in length; (d) foods; (e) traditional organic baits such as worms, grubs, crickets, leeches, minnows, and fish eggs; and (f) manufactured baits such as imitation fish eggs, dough baits, or stink baits. Fly fishers may utilize a two hook system, where one hook is used as an attractant.
  • While in possession of any fishing equipment, bait for fishing (insects, fish eggs, minnows, or other organic matter) or worms is prohibited. Children 12 years of age or under, however, may use worms or preserved fish eggs in all park waters open to fishing except those designated as catch-and release areas.
  • No bait or worms are allowed in catch-and-release waters.
  • Use of lead sinkers (or other lead fishing materials) is strongly discouraged.

Rules and Regulations

  • A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
  • Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Directions to Trailhead

Fern Lake is accessed from the Fern Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Fern Lake Trailhead is located 4.1 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. Immediately after the entrance station, turn left on Bear Lake Road and travel 2 miles to Moraine Park Road. Turn right on Moraine Park Road and follow signs to the Cub Lake Trailhead. Continue past the Cub Lake Trailhead until it dead-ends at the Fern Lake Trailhead.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:

Backcountry Office:

Campground Reservations:

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Hiked up to Fern Lake with my wife for an overnighter. We parked a 21ft Adventure Machine at the first big parking area and walked the rest of the distance to the Fern Lake TH.It took us 3.5hrs on the way up, including many breath and view breaks, the trail gets real rocky and steep just before Fern Falls and maintains it the rest of the way up to the lake. We stayed in #1 individual site, good tent pad and multiple places to cook and hide bear box ( rented from Scots in town). Privy is easy to spot near #4 site and protected by a L shaped fence. Hiked around lake to the west, then back up the east side, which shows heavy signs of use, but you'll see why when you get past the big rock slide. Stayed warm, no bears, 2 mule deer, hiked out in am...took 1.5hours. Great trail, bring enough water for the hike, or have a purifier handy...you'll need it, especially if you're wearing a heavy pack. "
Brandon Hatten  -  Minnesota  -  Date Posted: August 23, 2015
"Just an FYI, the road to the Fern Lake TH is closed to vehicle traffic due to construction in the area. You must park at the Cub lake TH and walk the road, just under a mile. "
MAD Hippies  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: April 29, 2014
"Overnight permits can be obtained at the Backcountry Office adjacent to the Visitor Center at the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station in Estes Park. Have a great trip!"
ProTrails Admin  -   -  Date Posted: March 7, 2014
"where can I get an overnight permit? "
Zach Urioste  -  Loveland, CO  -  Date Posted: March 6, 2014
"The boxes have been removed, RMNP now requires you to bring in your own bear canister for backcountry camping."
Roke  -   -  Date Posted: August 14, 2013
"hey I reade fern lake has a bear box. So.. do I need to bring one? Thanks!"
steve sullentrup  -  usa  -  Date Posted: June 2, 2012


Add Comment

Only used to identify you to ProTrails. Will not show on comments list.
Tell us when your experience with this trail happened.