Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last week I took a drive towards the Rocky Mountain National Park to go for a hike. I had no particular trail in mind, but just thought I’d see what path caught my eye from the road. I saw Devil’s Gulch Road, thought it sounded interesting, and followed that. After a short drive, a sign for Lumpy Ridge and Gem Lake marked the destination for the day. I had seen photos of Gem Lake before and was excited to check it out.

Icey Gem Lake in Colorado
The Gem Lake Trailhead at Lumpy Ridge (map below) is also the starting point of the Twin Owls Black Canyon Trail. It was a nice day, sunny and near fifty degrees, and Presidents’ Day weekend. That combined with the fact that the parking area is outside of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and therefore free, made for a busy parking lot and trail.

The trail to Gem Lake crosses private land for .3 miles before entering the national park. The path then winds another 1.5 miles through “Rocky” on its way to the high mountain lake. The elevation of the parking lot is 7,882 feet. Gem Lake sits in an amphitheater like, granite bowl at 8,830 feet above sea level. This makes for an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet on the way up (yes, I am a math wizard).
Sign entering RMNP along the Gem Lake Trail

Gem Lake Trail entering RMNP

   I’ve seen the trail difficulty listing for the Gem Lake hike as everything from easy to very strenuous. If I were to put a label on it, I’d pick somewhere in the middle and say it’s moderately difficult. The trail starts out wide and relatively easy. As it continues, the path becomes rockier and steeper and includes more switchbacks to aid in the ascent. During my hike, most of the trail was dry, but shaded areas higher up were still snow-covered. The entire journey to the top is filled with excellent views of Lake Estes, Estes Park, and the high mountain peaks of the Continental Divide.A few short side trails along the way to the lake lead to scenic overlooks. They’re not marked and only deviate from the Gem Lake Trail by about fifty yards. I especially like the one that veers off the trail to the right, just after entering the Rocky Mountain National Park and climbing a hill. I actually took it by accident thinking it was the main trail. It ends at a cool spot where there are some interesting rock formations and a great view of the parking area and the Estes Valley below.

View from the Gem Lake trail

View from an overlook, down a side trail, on the way to Gem Lake

The sight of Gem Lake, blue and frozen, against the contrasting colors of the rocky cliffs surrounding it, was well worth the effort expended to get to it. A gap in the natural walls around the lake reveals towering, snowy peaks to the southwest. Despite the chilly air and wind at the top, many people, including myself, sat by the picturesque lake to soak in the view. After a rest, a drink, and a snack, I headed back down the mountain. On the way down my mind was already wondering off to thoughts of returning to the lake when the weather is warmer. Although frozen lakes and rivers are beautiful, I’m ready to see the flowing waters that come with spring.

Gem Lake with peaks of the Rockies in the distance

Gem Lake with peaks of the Rockies in the distance

View from the trail to Gem Lake

View of the Continental Divide along the Gem Lake Trail

Photo of Lake Estes and Estes Park from the trail to Gem Lake

Photo of Lake Estes and Estes Park from the trail to Gem Lake

View along the path to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

View along the path to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Frozen Gem Lake in Colorado's RMNP

Frozen Gem Lake in Colorado’s RMNP

Gem Lake Trail

A switchback along the Gem Lake Trail

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