A fresh snowfall had closed down Kyle’s jobsite and he unexpectedly had a Thursday off work. Unfortunately, those of us who work from home don’t get snow days, but I was able to finish up my work in the morning and we headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park for the afternoon. Neither of us felt like doing anything crazy (and we didn’t have time to anyways), so we picked a couple short and easy hikes. First up: Bear Lake!
Bear Lake Loop | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 02/18/21 | 0.92 miles | 66′ gain
The Bear Lake Trailhead is probably the busiest spot in the entire park. Many iconic hikes begin here and the gigantic parking lot is almost always overflowing. In years past, I’d always hiked right by Bear Lake, thinking a lake right at the trailhead couldn’t possibly be worth my time. More recently, I’ve slowed down and taken the time to explore trails I otherwise wouldn’t have. All trails serve a purpose and if I’m able to get into nature, regardless of how far I walk, it is a good day.
The Bear Lake Loop is a 3/4 mile nature trail encircling Bear Lake. Normally, there’d be great views of Longs and Hallett Peaks across the lake, but the wind was picking up the fresh snow, obscuring our view. The wind was also blowing the snow directly into our faces, which kept us moving at a quick pace. A couple people had already hiked around the lake since the snowfall and left a nice track for us to follow.
It was too bad we didn’t get to see the views that Bear Lake is known for, but it was nice to finally visit after passing by countless times. Once we finished up the cold and windy loop, we set out for our next hike: Lily Lake!
Lily Lake & Lily Ridge Loops | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 02/18/21 | 2.35 miles | 184′ gain
Lily Lake is outside the main park entrance south of town. Like Bear Lake, I’d passed by countless times heading on to bigger and better things. Also like Bear Lake, Lily Lake is worth the stop.
Lily Lake was calm and we were happy to feel warm sun instead of biting snow. Views of the high peaks were still mostly obscured by snow, but we were enjoying the pleasant weather at the lake. The Lily Lake Trail wraps around the lake and offers nice views of Lily Ridge and Longs Peak.
After we finished the lake loop, we decided to make the most of the warm weather and also hike the Lily Ridge Trail. This trail climbs above Lily Lake onto Lily Ridge, offering not only better views of the surrounding mountains, but a great view of the lake itself. We also added on the Lily Lake Trail extension south of the lake, which wrapped around a marshy area.
No one had hiked the Lily Ridge Trail since it had snowed and the trail breaking was left to us. Thankfully it was just a few inches deep and relatively easy to navigate. The ridge trail climbs about 180′ above the lake. We hiked from west to east which was a much more gradual ascent.
I especially enjoyed the view of Lily Lake, and I could tell the view of Longs Peak would be incredible if it weren’t for the pesky blowing snow. Overlooks are plentiful once on the ridge and while there is a climb involved to get up there, I thought it was absolutely worth the effort.
Our descent on the east side of the ridge was much steeper, down stairs and switchbacks. It is probably easier to descend this way unless you have bad knees. With snow, it was slightly precarious in spots but manageable. Our cold feet were glad to get back on the well-worn lake trail.