Fern Lake, Fern Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Fern Lake - 7.7 Miles
Fern Lake Trailhead
|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)|
Fern Lake is one of Rocky Mountain National Park's most popular destinations, sought for its generous trout stock, lengthy shoreline, and numerous backcountry campsites. Iconic peaks such as the Little Matterhorn (11,586'), Knobtop Mountain (12,331'), Gabletop Mountain (11,939'), Castle Rock and The Gable loom over Fern Lake's heavily wooded basin.
Visitors will enjoy good trail conditions, excellent fishing, 3-4 season accessibility, and continuing connections for Spruce Lake, Odessa Lake, and Lake Helene:
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 stretch, a leafy corridor that yields berries, mushrooms, and bright autumn colors. Look for beaver, deer, elk and bear along the way.
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 methodically above The Pool through dense fir and lodgepole to Fern Falls (2.65 miles : 8,855'), the only notable highlight on this lengthy segment.
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').
You may continue on the Fern Lake Trail over its outlet to open areas on the east shore, or follow social trails to more secluded nooks and its free-falling inlet on the west shore.
Those seeking a more adventurous outing should consider a side trip on the unimproved trail to comparably attractive (but much less crowded) Spruce Lake. Experienced and fit hikers may push even further up the drainage to its headwaters at Loomis Lake, located in a secluded cirque beneath Gabletop Mountain.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N40 21.291 W105 37.868 — 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
- 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 silver metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide additional 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Old Forest Inn Backcountry Campsite (8,405')
Fern Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,530')
Spruce Lake Backcountry Campsite (9,670')
Odessa Lake Backcountry Campsite (10,065')
- 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 could change at anytime. Special closures may be put in place above and beyond what is listed here. Please contact the park before your fishing trip 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.
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.
Rocky Mountain National Park