Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: Gem Lake Trail

Gem Lake
Gem Lake

Gem Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake Trail is located in Rocky Mountain National Park just a short drive from downtown Estes Park. As you're driving to the trailhead, you can't help but notice the stunning formations of boulders in the mountains above you, balancing precariously as though they could fall at any moment. It's truly wondrous and awe inspiring! Although the hike is somewhat strenous on the way up due to a pretty steep grade, it's suitable for most people and for children given that it's only 1.7 miles up. The panoramic views are stunning so make sure that you take your time going up to enjoy the scenary.

Getting There

The Gem Lake trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead just north of Estes Park. The parking lot is off MacGregor Lane and offers ample parking as well as restroom facilities. You'll likely see many other hikers here as this is a popular trail.

Gem Lake Trail Map
Gem Lake Trail Map

What to Bring

This isn't a long trail but it is strenous. Be sure to bring a lot of water and a light snack to enjoy when you get to the lake. An energy bar or trail mix would be perfect. You may also want to bring a rain jacket or windbreaker. The day I hiked this trail the weather started out sunny and beautiful but by the time we made the descent we saw storm clouds approaching and lightening strikes could be seen in the distance. In the Rocky Mountains, it pays to be prepared for all circumstances because conditions can change quickly.

At the Gem Lake Trailhead
At the Gem Lake Trailhead
Boulder Formations on the Gem Lake Trail
Boulder Formations on the Gem Lake Trail
A Well-Marked Trail to Gem Lake
A Well-Marked Trail to Gem Lake
View of Rocky Mountain National Park from the Gem Lake Trail
View of Rocky Mountain National Park from the Gem Lake Trail
Gem Lake Trail Rock Formations
Gem Lake Trail Rock Formations
Massive Rock Formations on the Gem Lake Trail
Massive Rock Formations on the Gem Lake Trail
Llama's Used by the National Park Service Rangers
Llama's Used by the National Park Service Rangers
Cliff Walls of Gem Lake
Cliff Walls of Gem Lake
Friendly Chipmunks at Gem Lake
Friendly Chipmunks at Gem Lake

Enjoying the Hike

As you begin the hike, you'll be struck by how well-maintain and well-marked the trail is and of course by the unusual, rocky terrain. The National Park Service does an excellent job keeping this trail usable with "steps" fashioned from the rock and signs to mark important junctions. The large granite boulders are scattered about haphazardly as if thrown from the sky. In some places you'll see natural shelters and caves made from the rocks.

The trail begins to climb right away up large steps through Ponderosa Pine and Aspen groves. There are numerous switchbacks along with way, some of which have amazing views of Estes Park, Long's Peak, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of these are best viewed from atop some of the rock formations that line the trail. You'll begin to tire quickly unless you're in extraordinary shape so you'll want to stop for the views frequently and also grab a drink of water.

Near the top of the trail, there's a privy if you need facilities. It's located back from the path a bit in an open topped stall. When I was there a park ranger was stationed nearby with two llamas that she used to navigate around the trails. Shortly after the privy you'll reach the lake. Your first view will be from over a cliff looking down onto the lake. Directly across you'll see a large cliff wall and to the left a beach-like area to relax on.

On the beach it feels great to take off your hiking boots and wade in the lake. The water is cold, even in the summer, so you probably wouldn't want to swim but it's very refreshing on your hot, tired feet! The beach is also home to some very friendly chipmunks. Don't feed them or they won't leave you alone.

After a break at Gem Lake, you can head back down the way you came. Obviously the way down is much easier and you'll find yourself descending quickly. Try to stop yourself from going too fast and enjoy the return trip as much as the way up.

After the Hike: Where to Go for a Bite to Eat

You'll probably be pretty hungry when you get done with this hike. There are numerous restaurants in Estes Park that serve a variety of types of food. Try some of these favorites to replenish after this strenuous hike.

  • For Italian try Mama Rose's Homemade Italian
  • For Mexican try Ed's Cantina and Grill (I ate here and it was great!)
  • For a Brewpub try Estes Park Brewery
  • For Pizza try Village Pizza
  • For Breakfast try Claire's On The Park

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Efficient Admin profile image

Efficient Admin 2 years ago from Charlotte, NC

What an awesome trail this would be to visit / hike, and the llama's and chipmunks would add to the day! Thanks for sharing this trail.

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