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Rocky Mountain National Park Dayhiker's Guide describes 33 of the best day hikes in the park. Trails are cross-referenced with the RMNP Trails Illustrated topographic map.




Fern Falls

Trail Features: Waterfalls, Fall Aspens, Wildflowers Fern Falls
Trail Location: Fern Lake Trailhead
Roundtrip Length: 5.2 Miles
Trailhead Elevation: 8165 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 700 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 269 Feet
Highest Elevation: 8850 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 6.60 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 40.35483
Parking Lot Longitude -105.63109


Trail Description:

The hike to Fern Falls begins from the Moraine Park area. To reach the trailhead from Bear Lake Road, follow Moraine Park Road for a half-mile to an unmarked junction - just before reaching the Moraine Park Campground. Turn left at the junction and drive roughly 1.9 miles to the Fern Lake Trailhead. Along the way you’ll pass the Fern Lake shuttle stop. You do have the option of taking the free hiker shuttle from the Moraine Park Visitor Center, but you would have to walk 0.8 miles along the dirt road to reach the trailhead.

The Fern Lake Trail follows the Big Thompson River all the way to The Pool, and alternates between forest and a few open areas that provide some pretty good views of the Big Thompson Valley. Along the way you’ll pass through a mixed forest of aspens, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, willows and cottonwoods, as well as a variety of wildflowers in the spring and summer.

This trail was mostly constructed and maintained by lodge keepers and local tourism boosters in the early 1900s. As a result of its roll in early park tourism, the Fern Lake Trail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

arch-rocksRoughly 1.2 miles from the trailhead hikers will pass through Arch Rocks, a couple of house-sized rocks that presumably landed on this spot when a large boulder fell from the cliffs above and split apart.

At 1.7 miles you’ll reach the Cub Lake Trail junction. This also marks the spot where Fern Creek meets the Big Thompson River. This confluence forms the turbulent waters known as The Pool, and is a popular area for picnics and fishing. Many hikers will combine the Fern Lake Trail with the Cub Lake Trail to create a relatively easy loop hike.

Located near The Pool is the former site of the Forest Inn. Established in 1917, the Forest Inn featured a lodge, dining room, lounge and several cabins throughout its lifespan. The resort was sold to the National Park Service in 1952, and was razed in 1959.

Much of the area around The Pool was burned during the Fern Lake Fire in the fall of 2012. The wildfire burned 3500 acres in the lower Forest Canyon, Cub Lake and Moraine Park areas, making it the largest wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park history. It’s believed the fire was sparked by an illegal campfire on October 9th. Although it was a low intensity fire, and remained under control for the most part, it still forced the closure of almost all the trails in the Moraine Park and Bear Lake Road areas for several weeks. That all changed on November 30th when a fierce wind storm brought 70 mph gusts that pushed the fire 3 miles in just 35 minutes, and more than doubled its size as it raced across Moraine Park. At its peak, more than 600 fire fighters were assigned to the blaze. The fire was all but fully extinguished when heavy snow arrived in mid-December.

Roughly two-tenths of a mile beyond The Pool is the side trail to the Old Forest Inn Backcountry Campsite, which contains two individual sites. Just past the campsite the trail begins a relentless climb of almost 400 feet over the course of the next 0.7 miles.

Roughly 2.6 miles from the trailhead hikers will finally reach Fern Falls, a beautiful 60-foot waterfall that plunges down Fern Creek.

fern fallsfern falls

From this point you’ll have the option of continuing along the same trail for another 1.2 miles (while ascending another 650 feet) to reach Fern Lake.








mapfern-falls-elevation-profile