Bookmark and Share

estes park hikes
Best Estes Park Hikes offers details on 20 hikes near Estes Park, from short and scenic, to challenging adventures, including the 11,428-foot summit of Twin Sisters Peak.

Gem Lake

Trail Features: Panoramic Views, Lake, Flowers, Fall Apens gem-lake
Trail Location: Lumpy Ridge Trailhead
Roundtrip Length: 3.5 Miles
Trailhead Elevation: 7870 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 1000 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 571 Feet
Highest Elevation: 8860 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 5.50 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 40.39655
Parking Lot Longitude -105.51319

Trail Description:

Prior to 2007 there were two trailheads that hikers used to access trails in the Lumpy Ridge Area. However, in May of 2007, both the Gem Lake and Twin Owls Trailheads were relocated, and then combined into the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. To reach the new trailhead from the intersection of Wonderview Avenue (34 Bypass Road) and MacGregor Avenue, turn to travel northbound on MacGregor Avenue. The Lumpy Ridge Trailhead will be on your left after driving 1.2 miles. You may want to note that MacGregor Avenue makes a sharp right turn, at which point it turns into Devils Gulch Road, just before reaching the trailhead access road.

At the trailhead are two trails leading from the parking area. The Gem Lake Trail leads to the right, and begins ascending the southeastern portions of Lumpy Ridge, a massive granite rock outcropping that's been sculpted by wind and erosion over the last 1.8 billion years. This segment of the trail, all the way up to Gem Lake, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The first half-mile of the Gem Lake Trail travels through a narrow, boulder-strewn canyon. This stretch also passes through the northeastern corner of the historic MacGregor Ranch. Alexander and Clara MacGregor originally established their 160-acre homestead here in 1873. Through the years it would grow to become a 1240-acre ranch. However, when one of their descendants died in 1970, park officials became concerned that the land might be sold for subdivisions or condominiums. In 1983 the park purchased a conservation easement covering 1221 acres of the ranch, which permanently maintains the undeveloped attributes of the property. While much of the ranch is located within the authorized boundary of the park, it still remains private property. Today the property is operated as a working ranch, youth education center, historic site and a public museum.

At roughly one-half mile from the trailhead hikers will reach the Black Canyon Trail junction, which branches off towards the left. To continue on towards Gem Lake hikers should veer to the right here.

There are many aspens along this section of the trail, making this a great option for a fall hike.


As the trail ascends you'll pass several points that offer outstanding views of Estes Park, Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains. You'll also pass through several areas with huge boulders, as well as some very interesting rock formations. At roughly 1.4 miles you'll reach Paul Bunyan's Boot, perhaps the most interesting rock formation of them all.

Paul Bunyan's BootTelesonix jamesii

Just prior to reaching the boot the trail ascends over a series of small, short switchbacks, that almost gives you the impression of walking up a spiral staircase.

The climb up to the lake is quite steep, and has quite a few rock steps built into the cliff face to help hikers ascend more safely. Many of the steps are one or two feet in height, which will make progress a little slow for some people.


Just before reaching Gem Lake, near the top of the climb, you'll have some absolutely spectacular views of Estes Park, Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and the mountains along the Continental Divide.

At roughly 1.75 miles hikers will finally reach Gem Lake, one of the more popular destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake has the fairly unique distinction of having neither an inlet or outlet stream. Instead, the lake is formed by trapped snowmelt and rainwater that collects in a basin carved out of the base of the granite cliff walls that surround the lake.


While at the lake we were very fortunate to have struck up a conversation with a photographer who pointed out that he was there to take photos of a rare wildflower known as Telesonix jamesii. This beautiful pink flower (see photo above) grows in the crevices of the granite walls that surround Gem Lake, as well as a few other places in the Rocky Mountains. The occurrence of this rare wildflower was one the reasons for the relocation of the original Gem Lake and Twin Owls Trailheads.