Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Fern Lake Trail

Earlier this week some friends decided to plan a long weekend trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Knowing of our visit in 2015, we were called upon to make some recommendations for sights and hikes.  One that popped up high on our list was the Fern Lake Trail.  While not the highest hike in Rocky Mountain and certainly not the most popular, in looking over our itinerary it was still one of our favorites.

Fern Lake Trail - Rocky Mountain National Park

Planning Your Hike On The Fern Lake Trail

The Fern Lake Trail showcases some of the best of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Departing from the Moraine Park area, the trailhead begins in the wide open meadows where Rocky’s famous elk rut happens each September.  The first portion of the hike follows along The Big Thompson River, a classic example of a crystal clear Colorado Rocky tributary.

In general, the Fern Lake Trail is a good choice for all members of your Park Chasing crew.  With just over 200 feet of elevation gain, it is relatively flat compared to most hiking in the park.  More experienced hikers will enjoy the multiple options to add length of difficulty onto the out-and-back hike.

Fern Lake Trail - Rocky Mountain National Park
Fern Lake Trail – Rocky Mountain National Park

The Fern Lake Trailhead can be found near the Moraine Park entrance on the eastern side of the park.  Follow the Moraine Park Road to an unmarked junction just before the campground entrance. Turn left and continue on the road until you find a place to park.  The trailhead is at the end of the road however the parking area is frequently full.  Parking at the Fern Lake shuttle stop adds about eight-tenths of a mile of distance on the hike, but may be better than waiting for a parking spot.

Follow the trailhead along The Big Thompson River for the first mile, enjoying the water and views of the valley.  Along the way you will see “The Arches”, several oversized glacial boulders and The Pool, where The Big Thompson River meets Fern Creek. From here you can turn on the junction to hike to Cub Lake (turns the out and back into a slightly longer loop hike) or continue on to Fern Falls, an impressive 60 foot waterfall.


Travel Notes

  • During the summer months, Rocky Mountain National Park operates a hiking shuttle to the Fern Lake Trailhead.  Since parking can be challenging, it is highly recommended to leave your car at the Moraine Park Discovery Center and take the shuttle.
  • If you enjoy fly fishing, The Big Thompson River is frequently rated some of the top trout fishing waters in Rocky Mountain National Park.  It’s common to see hikers carrying fishing gear along the trail.
  • If you’re interested in a longer hike, you can use the hiking shuttle between Fern Lake and the Bear Lake Trailhead to add distance and altitude.  There are plenty of backcountry campsites in the area available via permit for a multi-day trip.
  • This trail is multi-use.  Be prepared you may encounter horses along the way (and their droppings!)
  • This hike is an excellent choice in the peak of fall colors.  The aspens along the banks of the Big Thompson River turn the entire area a bright golden-yellow.


Big Thompson River - Fern Lake Trail
Big Thompson River – Fern Lake Trail



Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 130/423
Next Stop: @hawaiivolcanoes


1 thought on “Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Fern Lake Trail”

  1. Pingback: Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park: The Moraine Park Campground - Park Chasers

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