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Best Easy Day Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park details 36 of the best day hikes that lead to some of Rocky Mountain's most scenic destinations.

Bear Lake Loop

Trail Features: Scenic Lake Views, Fall Aspens bear lake
Trail Location: Bear Lake
Roundtrip Length: 0.8 Miles
Trailhead Elevation: 9475 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 45 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 113 Feet
Highest Elevation: 9520 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 0.89 (easy)
Parking Lot Latitude 40.31196
Parking Lot Longitude -105.64581

Trail Description:

The trailhead for the Bear Lake Loop hike is located at the end of Bear Lake Road, 9 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. Due to the extreme popularity of the area you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to reach the trailhead during peak tourist season.

bear-lakeSince this is a nature trail the park recommends hiking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction in order to follow along with an interpretative guide, published by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. I highly recommend picking-up a copy of this small booklet, which can be purchased at the trailhead. It provides natural, geological and historical information for the 30 marked spots along the 0.8-mile route.

I also recommend starting your hike first thing in the morning, especially if you wish to avoid the crowds at this extremely popular destination. Starting early will also provide you with an opportunity to possibly go home with some great photos of Hallett Peak and Longs Peak reflecting off the lake during calm weather.

The hike begins just beyond the Bear Lake Ranger Station. As the trail circles around the subalpine lake it passes through a forest of spruce, fir, lodgepole pine and aspen.

hallett peakThe aspen arrived in this area as a result of a large forest fire that took place in 1900. Summer picnickers along the Bear Lake shore built a campfire to heat-up a pot of coffee. Thinking that the fire was out after dousing it with water, the group left the area. However, a nearby log had ignited and slowly smoldered, until strong winds fanned it into a full-fledged forest fire that would sweep through the entire Glacier Gorge area. The "Big Fire", or "Bear Lake Fire", burned for two months, and was so hot that it cracked granite boulders in some areas.

As you proceed around the lake you'll likely notice that many of the lodgepole pines in this area are dead, or are in the process of dying. This is a result of the mountain pine beetle infestation that's had a profound impact on forests throughout the Rocky Mountains.

Near the beginning of the loop, along the eastern shore of the lake, you'll have a commanding view of Hallett Peak.

As you proceed along to the north side of the lake you'll have a spectacular view of Half Mountain sitting just in front of Longs Peak.

bear lake

longs peak

In the early 1900s a rustic lodge, known as the Bear Lake Lodge, was constructed near the south shore of the lake. After additional cabins were added to the property in subsequent years, the resort was able to accommodate up to 75 guests during its heyday. In 1921 a youth camp was started near the lodge. Known as the Bear Lake Trail School, the camp provided boys with outdoor instruction on subjects such as camping, forestry, botany, birds, geology, orienteering and horsemanship.

Although the hard packed surface of the Bear Lake Nature Trail is considered to be a moderately accessible trail, there are a couple of relatively steep sections in some places. All in all, however, the Bear Lake Nature Trail is an ideal destination for the entire family.