Gem Lake Trail, one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most popular hikes, is a 3.5-mile, out-and-back hike that begins north of Estes Park. The well-marked trail begins on Devils Gulch Road (outside the park boundary) and steeply climbs across a mountainside to Gem Lake. This small, but gorgeous lake sits between granite cliffs in a fir and spruce forest at 8,860 feet. The trail and Gem Lake offer stunning views south toward 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the park’s resident fourteener. Hike it in summer for wildflower displays, including the rare Telesonix jamesii, a beautiful pink flower that grows in cracks above the lake or come in September to walk through groves of shimmering aspen leaves.
- The Gem Lake Trail is 1.65 miles long, making a 3.5-mile round-trip hike. Allow two to three hours for the hike. The trailhead elevation is at 7,870 feet and Gem Lake is at 8,860 feet, making the elevation gain 990 feet. The moderate hike includes beautiful views, a unique lake, wildflowers, and autumn foliage. Don’t swim or wade in the lake. A self-composting toilet with a great view is below the lake.
- The Gem Lake Trail is located in Rocky Mountain National Park and is open year round. There is no winter maintenance so be prepared for possible snow, wind, and routefinding. No fee is required for day-hiking on the trail. Backcountry camping in the area requires a park permit.
- September and October (after the end of the busy summer season) are the perfect months for hiking to Gem Lake. There are no crowds, leaving you alone to witness the changing of the mountain seasons. The trail winds through pine forests and aspen groves, which form a golden leave canopy framed against the blue Colorado sky. Don’t forget your camera to shoot photos of the foliage.
- Get to the trailhead early to get a parking spot on weekends. The parking area usually fills by late morning, especially during the summer. If you’re there by 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. you’ll be fine.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
–Stewart M. Green