|Trail Features:||Alpine Lake, Outstanding Views|
|Trail Location:||Bear Lake|
|Roundtrip Length:||8.9 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||9475 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1900 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||428 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||10,697 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||12.68 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.31196|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.64581|
The hike to Odessa Lake begins from the Bear Lake Trailhead, 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.
From the trailhead hikers will immediately make a right turn onto the Bear Lake Loop Trail. After a short walk along the eastern shore of Bear Lake you'll make another right turn onto the trail that leads towards Odessa Lake and Flattop Mountain. From here the trail passes through a nice aspen grove as it begins ascending the slopes of the Bierstadt Moraine.
Roughly one-half mile from the trailhead you'll reach the trail that leads to Bierstadt Lake and the Mill Creek Basin. Hikers should turn left at this junction to continue on towards Odessa Lake.
From the junction the route begins heading due west. As it climbs higher you'll enjoy spectacular views of Longs Peak, the Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Peak and Chiefs Head Peak, looking towards the south.
At just over a mile from the trailhead hikers will reach the Flattop Mountain Trail, which forks off to the left. To continue towards Odessa Lake hikers should proceed straight ahead at this junction.
The first mile above the Flattop Mountain Trail junction is a steady climb through a dense pine forest. The terrain begins to ease a little during the second mile as you ascend the Mill Creek Drainage, the valley between Flattop Mountain and Joe Mills Mountain. Here the trail alternates between forest and open areas that provide excellent views of the surrounding mountains.
At roughly 2.75 miles hikers will pass the side trail that leads to the Sourdough Backcountry Campsite, which includes only one campsite. A short distance beyond this junction the trail reaches its highest point.
Roughly 3.2 miles from the trailhead hikers will arrive at an unmarked side trail that leads to Lake Helene on your left. Immediately past this junction the main trail makes a sharp turn to the right, and begins descending rapidly. If you've reached this point you've obviously gone too far. It's unclear why the park service doesn't have a trail marker here, but Lake Helene should not be passed by. If anything, this makes for a great place to take a break while on your way to Odessa Lake.
From the unmarked junction hikers will reach Lake Helene by walking a short distance on a narrow and somewhat faint path. From the shore of this beautiful alpine lake the views are absolutely fantastic. The sentinel dominating the scene from the north shore is 12,129-foot Notchtop Mountain. To the right, looking west-northwest, is 12,331-foot Knobtop Mountain. To the south is 12,324-foot Flattop Mountain, and in between, sitting behind Flattop and Notchtop, is 12,363-foot Ptarmigan Point.
Beyond the side path to Lake Helene the main trail makes a sharp turn to the right, and begins heading down into the spectacular Odessa Gorge. Look below the north face of Notchtop Mountain and you'll see Grace Falls dropping more than a hundred feet down its steep slopes.
For the next half-mile or so, as you proceed down the western slopes of Joe Mills Mountain, hikers will enjoy spectacular views of Little Matterhorn and The Gable, as well as Odessa Lake sitting more than 500 feet in the valley below. Hikers should note that ice and snow can remain on this section of trail until late-June, or even into July in some years. If planning a hike during the early summer time period it's probably a good idea to check with a park ranger on trail conditions before proceeding.
As you proceed down the rugged gorge the trail will actually pass by Odessa Lake. However, at 4.3 miles, you'll reach a short side trail that leads back up to the foot of the lake. This side trail also provides access to the Odessa Lake Backcountry Campsite, which includes two individual sites.
Odessa Lake is another fantastic destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views of the surrounding mountains are simply outstanding. Looking from your left (due south) to right, you'll see 12,324-foot Flattop Mountain, 12,129-foot Notchtop Mountain, 11,586-foot Little Matterhorn, 12,331-foot Knobtop Mountain, 11,939-foot Gabletop Mountain and 11,018-foot The Gable.
Odessa Lake can also be accessed from the Fern Lake Trailhead. Both routes are roughly equal in distance and elevation gain, but the route from Bear Lake is far more scenic in my opinion. Hikers will also have the option of creating a one-way hike from Bear Lake to the Fern Lake Trailhead. Although slightly longer than the hike described on this page, this option is actually easier as a result of almost 700 feet of less elevation gain. This option will require the use of the park's shuttle system, or two vehicles.