Fern Lake is a gorgeous lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike features views along the Big Thompson River, fishing options, and is commonly combined with Odessa Lake. The most common route begins at the Fern Lake Trailhead and is accessible year round (Add .6 miles each way during winter for road closures).
Difficulty – Intermediate
Distance – 7.4 miles miles round trip (11.9 km)
Elevation – 9,540 feet (2,907.8 meters)
Elevation gain – 1,400 feet (426.7 meters)
Duration – 4-6 hours (book time)
Seasons – Year-round
Trailhead Location – Fern Lake Trailhead
Need to know: Dogs are not allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The most common route to Fern Lake begins at the Fern Lake Trailhead (directions below)
Fern Lake Trailhead | 7.4 Miles | 1,400 Feet Elevation Gain
This route is the most direct route to Fern Lake. If the Fern Lake Trailhead is filled, there is parking along the road, and another parking lot for winter access .6 miles from the trailhead (parking here will add .6 miles each way).
The first 1.7 miles is relatively flat all the way to “The Pools”. The trail is well traveled, and easy to follow. Hikers will also pass by some unique and beautiful rock formations on the trail 1.2 miles in known as Arch Rocks (seen below).
Right after the pools is the junction between the Fern Lake Trail and the Mill Creek Trail. Hikers should head to the right. The trail begins to ascend more rapidly at this point for the next 2 miles with switchbacks.
3.7 miles into the hike, hikers will reach the junction for Spruce Lake. Only a couple hundred feet from this junction lies Fern Lake.
Bear Lake Trailhead | 9.2 Miles| 1,900 Feet Elevation Gain
If hikers are looking for scenic route to see multiple lakes before Fern Lake, this may be a great option.
After .5 miles, hikers will reach a junction. The right leads towards Bierstadt Lake, and the left towards Mill Creek Basin and Odessa Lake. Take this left turn. Hikers quickly ascend and experience great views of the surrounding peaks, including Longs Peak.
.5 miles after this junction, (1 mile into the hike) there will be another junction. The left heads towards Flattop Mountain on the Flattop Mountain Trail, the right towards Odessa Lake. Hikers should bear right at this junction.
For the next mile, hikers ascend a bit, but are rewarded with fantastic views of surrounding mountains.
3.2 miles into the hike, there is an unmarked junction leading to Lake Helene, yet another gorgeous lake. Past this junction for the next .5 miles or so hikers descend a little bit and experience great views of surrounding mountains, like Little Matterhorn, which looms over Odessa Lake.
Hikers will reach Odessa Lake just shy of 4.5 miles into the hike. Fern Lake lies .9 miles passed Odessa Lake, and several hundred feet below. Hikers will retrace back the way they came after reaching Fern Lake.
Hiking Odessa Lake in Winter
The Fern Lake Trailhead is closed during winter months, adding .6 miles each way (1.2 miles) roundtrip during winter months.
Both trailheads are still fantastic options during winter months. Both don’t contain any very seriously steep sections, making this a great winter hike from either direction. Microspikes are always recommended, and snowshoes may be needed depending upon current weather conditions.
Fishing Odessa Lake
When departing from the Fern Lake Trailhead, the Big Thompson has great fishing opportunities. Many anglers try out “The Pools” along the way as well (marked on map). Odessa features a great population of greenback cutthroat trout.
There are various camping options near Fern Lake. You can see them marked on the map above. In order to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park, a backcountry permit is needed. A permit can be obtained at the Park Headquarters Backcountry Office at Beaver Meadows, or at the Visitor Center in Estes Park or at Kawuneeche Visitors Center. You can also obtain permits online here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm
You can find information on each tent site on this hike from this page: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/site_details.htm
Directions & Parking
These are two large parking lots (bear lake trailhead the biggest), but these are extremely popular areas. Parking fills up extremely quickly on nice days. In many cases, hikers will need to use the National Park shuttle system to get to these trailheads during the busy months. Information on this can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/shuttle_bus_route.htm
To Fern Lake Trailhead
To Bear Lake Trailhead
Current Weather Conditions
Here is a detailed weather forecast:
Estes Park, CO
Snow showers likely. Mostly cloudy. High near 24, with temperatures falling to around 18 in the afternoon. West wind around 16 mph, with gusts as high as 24 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of around one inch possible.
Snow showers likely before 11pm, then a chance of snow between 11pm and 5am, then snow likely and patchy blowing snow. Mostly cloudy. Low around 12, with temperatures rising to around 14 overnight. Wind chill values as low as -4. West wind 15 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.
Snow likely and areas of blowing snow before 10am, then blowing snow and snow likely. Mostly cloudy. High near 16, with temperatures falling to around 13 in the afternoon. Wind chill values as low as -9. West wind 21 to 33 mph, with gusts as high as 52 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.
Blowing snow and a chance of snow before 11pm, then snow and blowing snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 13. Wind chill values as low as -10. West wind 32 to 39 mph, with gusts as high as 71 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 7 to 11 inches possible.
Snow and blowing snow before 5pm, then blowing snow and snow likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 24. West wind 35 to 39 mph, with gusts as high as 68 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.
Blowing snow and snow likely before 4am, then snow likely and areas of blowing snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 23. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of around one inch possible.
A chance of snow and patchy blowing snow before 11am, then patchy blowing snow and a slight chance of snow between 11am and 5pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 39. Chance of precipitation is 30%. Little or no snow accumulation expected.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about