|Trail Features:||Subalpine Lake, Scenic Views, Waterfalls|
|Trail Location:||Wild Basin Trailhead|
|Roundtrip Length:||10.2 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||8500 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1695 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||332 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||10,020 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||13.59 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.20883|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.56614|
The hike to Ouzel Lake begins from the fairly remote Wild Basin Trailhead in the southeastern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, located near the small communities of Meeker Park and Allenspark. To reach the trailhead from Estes Park, drive 12.6 miles south on Colorado Highway 7 to the Wild Basin Road junction and turn right. After driving four-tenths of a mile make another right turn into the park. The Wild Basin Trailhead is located roughly 2.2 miles from the park turn-off on a narrow gravel road, which is suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles.
This hike offers several attractions along the way, including Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. Lower Copeland Falls, your first destination along the route, arrives at just over three-tenths of a mile from the trailhead. The upper falls are located roughly one-tenth of a mile further upstream along the North St. Vrain Creek.
Beyond the waterfalls the trail crosses over Sandbeach Creek. At just over 1.3 miles from the trailhead you'll reach a spur trail on your right that provides access to a series of five backcountry campgrounds. In total, the five campgrounds offer seven individual campsites. To continue on towards Ouzel Lake hikers should proceed to the left at this junction.
At roughly 1.6 miles hikers will pass an unnamed waterfall, which shouldn't be confused with Calypso Cascades, which is still another two-tenths of a mile further up the trail. Unfortunately, during our first visit on an early-September day, the 200-foot high cascading waterfall really wasn't all that impressive. However, during the spring run-off, the falls are usually roaring, as seen in the comparative photos on our Calypso Cascades hike page.
Above Calypso Cascades you'll begin to catch sporadic views of the surrounding mountains, including Longs Peak and Mount Meeker towards the north.
At 2.7 miles, and an elevation of 9370 feet, hikers will reach Ouzel Falls, which is a very impressive 40-foot waterfall (photo above). Although you can see it from the new footbridge that now spans across Ouzel Creek, you can get a much better view by traveling off trail for a short distance. Before the 2013 flood, which destroyed the existing footbridge at that time, there used to be an unmarked side trail that led to a much better vantage point. However, it appears that the flood has changed the topography in this area, and it's now a bit of a bushwhack to reach the better viewpoint for this waterfall.
Ouzel Falls, Ouzel Creek and Ouzel Lake are all named after the water ouzel. These small, slate-grey colored birds, also known as American dippers, are known for bobbing, or "dipping", along the rocks around fast moving streams, and diving under water in search of food. Once below the surface of the water the dippers forage by either walking along the stream bottom, or by "flying" through the water, using their wings to propel themselves through the swift currents.
From this point forward the trail more or less follows Ouzel Creek all the way to your final destination. After walking a little more than a quarter-of-a-mile past Ouzel Falls you'll arrive at the Thunder Lake Trail / Bluebird Lake Trail junction. Hikers should veer to the left to continue on towards Ouzel Lake.
At roughly 3.5 miles from the trailhead you'll begin to notice the scars and the tremendous devastation leftover from the Ouzel Fire, which was started by a lightning strike on August 9, 1978. Because it was in a low risk zone the national park allowed the low intensity fire to smolder. However, five weeks later, on September 15th, Chinook winds exceeding 30 MPH whipped the fire out of control and threatened the small town of Allenspark. The fire was finally brought under control by September 30th, but wasn't fully extinguished until December 4th! In all, the Ouzel Fire burned more than a thousand acres, making it one of the largest fires in Rocky Mountain National Park history.
At roughly 4.6 miles from the trailhead hikers will reach the Ouzel Lake Trail. From this junction the Bluebird Lake Trail continues for another 1.7 miles, while gaining almost another thousand feet of elevation to reach the stunningly beautiful Bluebird Lake. To continue on towards Ouzel Lake hikers should turn left here and proceed down the half-mile spur trail.
After making the short descent towards the valley bottom, the trail begins to climb gradually towards the lake. Throughout this stretch the trail winds its way through mostly new-growth pine forest that's in the process of regeneration after the 1978 fire. Just before reaching the lake the trail makes contact with the scenic Ouzel Creek as it spills out of the eastern tip of the lake.
Sitting at an elevation of roughly 10,020 feet, Ouzel Lake has a reputation as being one of the top fly-fishing destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park, most notably for its native greenback cutthroat trout (catch and release only). The two dominating mountains flanking the lake are 13,176-foot Mt. Copeland towards the south, and 12,632-foot Mahana Peak towards the northwest. In the center, rising just above the trees along the western shore is 12,716-foot Ouzel Peak.