Lake Helene, Bear Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Lake Helene - 6.3 miles
Bear Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||6.3 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,475' - 10,643' (10,692' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,168' net elevation gain (+1,294' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Lake Helene - 6.3 Miles Round-Trip
Lake Helene (10,643') is located 3.15 miles from Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It fills a shallow bench at treeline under Flattop Mountain (12,324'), Ptarmigan Point (12,363') and Notchtop Mountain (12,129').
This moderate trail runs through montane and subalpine forests to the basin, and continues around Joe Mills Mountain to Odessa Lake. Two Rivers Lake - a larger body with comparable aesthetics - is hidden just off trail and down-valley from Helene.
Mild grades, good maintenance and frequent use give the Lake Helene Trail definition through much of the winter:
The trail rises quickly over Bear Lake through young aspen to the Odessa Lake - Mill Creek Basin split (.45 miles : 9,725'). Follow signs to Odessa Lake.
It continues steadily to the Flattop Mountain Trail split (1.0 mile : 9,965'), past which grades steepen up a rocky path. The forest opens across a short but steep-sloping scree field (2.3 miles : 10,436') where poles or traction are helpful when snow-covered.
Travel moderates to the Sourdough Campsite (2.65 miles : 10,585'), crests (10,692') and drops to several unmarked spurs on your left for Lake Helene (3.0 miles : 10,620').
Each weaves through dense krummholz to the northeast shore of Lake Helene (3.15 miles : 10,643'). Note the lake is partially concealed from the trail and spurs are fairly easy to miss. If you make a sharp hairpin turn north (right) and begin descending, you've gone too far.
Lake Helene is fed by the snow-lined slopes of Flattop Mountain (12,324'), Ptarmigan Point (12,363') and Notchtop Mountain (12,129').
Social trails circle the lake to more private areas, but the best views of Lake Helene come from its open (and busy) northeast shore.
The main trail continues around and down the north flank of Joe Mills Mountain (11,078') for 1.15 miles to Odessa Lake (4.3 miles : 10,055'). You may extend the day by completing the entire 5 Lake Loop, a challenging 12.5 mile route which includes Bear, Helene, Odessa, Fern and Cub lakes.
Two Rivers Lake
Two Rivers Lake is located just down-valley from Lake Helene, but sees much less traffic because it's unmarked and partially hidden from the main trail by thick forest and talus.
Despite their proximity and ostensible connection, Lake Helene drains north into Fern Creek, and Two Rivers Lake drains east as Mill Creek
From the Sourdough Campsite (2.68 miles : 10,628'), begin looking through trees across the valley. Two Rivers Lake is .15 miles from this point in the valley-center.
Unless you can see the lake and a direct line to it (or Marigold Pond along its outlet), simply drop into the boulders and scramble down into the valley; a little intuitive navigation will lead right to it.
- N40 18.716 W105 38.761 — 0.0 miles : Bear Lake Trailhead
- N40 19.051 W105 38.638 — .45 miles : Mill Creek Basin junction
- N40 18.987 W105 39.185 — 1.0 miles : Flattop Mountain Trail junction
- N40 19.357 W105 40.359 — 2.3 miles : Trail levels across scree field
- N40 19.383 W105 40.732 — 2.65 miles : Sourdough Backcountry campsite spur
- N40 19.238 W105 41.142 — 3.15 miles : Lake Helene
- The large unnamed glacier between Flattop Mountain and Ptarmigan Point is the primary source of Fern Creek. Lake Helene also drains into those headwaters.
- Moderate grades and good trail conditions make Lake Helene an accessible 3-4 season family hike.
- Krummholz - a German word meaning twisted wood - describes the stunted, irregular growth patterns of trees surrounding Lake Helene. Poor soil, thin air, strong winds, and extreme weather limit and deform growth in this environment.
- Lake Helene is an ideal hike for late starters or those with limited time.
Camping and Backpacking Information
The following backcountry campsites are accessible from the Bear Lake Trailhead. 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 silver metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail:
Sourdough Backcountry Campsite (10,628')
- There is one designated site located 2.65 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, 60 yards north of the main trail on the south flank of Joe Mills Mountain. The site is located in a level spruce bench. One bear box is available. Water is available from the North Fork of Mill Creek, Lake Helene and Two Rivers Lake.
Odessa Lake Backcountry Campsite (10,065')
- There are two designated sites located 4.1 miles from the Bear 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 from Odessa Lake and its outlet stream.
Fern Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,530')
- There's one group site and four individual sites located 5.1 miles and 5.3 miles from Bear 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 + privy. Water is available from Fern Lake and its inlet - outlet streams.
- A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years + to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary, however special regulations may exist for each location. It's your responsibility to know and obey them. Regulations may change at anytime. Special restrictions may be put in place above and beyond what's listed here. Contact the Park before your trip for current information.
- Lake Helene is a catch and release only area: No bait or worms are allowed in catch-and-release waters.
- 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.
- 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 1.5 inches long; (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.
- 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
Bear Lake Trailhead is located 8.9 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Bear Lake Trailhead is located at the end of this road. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park