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.
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.
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.
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.