Trailhead: Lumpy Ridge Trailhead
Distance: 3.1 miles (moderate)
After sleeping in entirely too long, Logan and I got our lives together and headed to the trailhead for Gem Lake. We were excited for our first RMNP hike of the summer season, but a little anxious because of the storm clouds rolling in quickly. The parking lot was pretty empty, and it started drizzling as soon as we got out of the car, but nevertheless, we persisted. Gem Lake was a perfect hike to officially kick off our extended Rocky Mountain National Park weekend!
This trail is so unlike any others in the park. The Lumpy Ridge area is so interesting, with an eclectic-like mix of aspen groves and expansive views and giant boulders. It almost feels like a combination of all the best parts of Rocky Mountain.
The trailhead is actually located in Estes Park, not RMNP. This means you don't have to pay the entrance fee to hike this, which definitely adds to it's immense popularity. The actual park doesn't start until a few tenths of a mile down the trail. And yes, I do get just as giddy from this little sign as I do the huge ones at the entrance stations.
Logan and I have spent a lot of time recently talking about retiring in Estes Park. And seeing views like this one of the valley, it kind of helps to solidify that thought. Plus this area is a nice flat spot that offers respite from the 1,000 feet of elevation gain on this hike.
The last section of this trail is a bunch of giant boulder steps, and we were so stoked to reach it...until it started snowing. (Actually, I was pretty stoked about the snow). We rushed up this section and passed an older man who was, to put it nicely, a giant asshole. But, the view of the lake was absolutely beautiful and we quickly put the jerk behind us.
I did this hike last year, but this time felt a lot different. I think it was because of how empty the trail was, thanks to the weather. There were two other people at the lake, whereas last year we had to fight to even get a view of the lake at all. It was a totally different experience, and it just goes to show that I shouldn't write a trail off after one hike.
I was beyond happy to be at a lake, with Logan and (at this point) only one other person in the snow on Memorial Day weekend. Colorado, you are my happy place.
And then, all of the sudden, the snow stopped! The sun came out and the skies turned blue and there was an absolutely beautiful reflection of the surrounding rocks in the lake. And, at this point, we were totally by ourselves. How did we get so lucky? It's rare that you ever get a section of RMNP to yourself, let alone on Memorial Day Weekend.
Gem Lake is definitely a moderate hike, but it's on the easier side of moderate (if that makes sense). It's a great alternative to hiking in the park because you don't have to pay an entrance fee at all, AND it's the largest lake in Rocky Mountain National Park with no inlets or outlets.