7 shortest lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Posted at 5:47 AM, Aug 21, 2015
and last updated 2016-07-14 10:56:40-04

Want to see a beautiful lake, but don't want to hike very far?

We've found the seven shortest lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, so gas up the car and hit the road!

Number 1: Bear Lake

Bear Lake is probably the most popular lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. That's because there's a large parking lot steps from the lake, the lake is the starting point for several easy and tough hikes, the shuttle bus stops a few hundred yards from the lake and the lake is a beautiful place.

That peak you see from the lake? That's Hallett Peak at 12,713 feet high.

Want to go for a hike? There's a nature trail around Bear Lake and it's less than one mile!

(Sprague Lake photo by Jill Neumann)

Number 2: Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake, named for one of the settlers of this area, is a popular spot for families. They come here to fish or walk the 0.9-mile path around the lake. says this lake offers visitors panoramic views of the Continental Divide, including Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain.

(Lily Lake in winter)

Number 3: Lily Lake

Lily Lake is not as well known as some other lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park because it's six miles south of Estes Park. However, the lake is part of the national park.

Enos Mills, the "father of Rocky Mountain National Park," enjoyed walking to Lily Lake from his nearby cabin, according to the National Park Service.

Lily Lake is popular with families looking for an easy snowshoe in the winter and for people looking for an accessible trail in the summer.  The trek around the lake is less than one mile.

(Copeland Lake photo from Mattie Brand)

Number 4: Copeland Lake

Hundreds of people drive by Copeland Lake everyday on their way to the trails for Ouzel Falls, Pear Lake and Sandbeach Lake, but Copeland Lake is a pretty, man-made lake in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wild Basin is near Allenspark, south of Estes Park, on Colorado route 7 (Peak to Peak Scenic Highway).

Copeland, Sprague and Lily lakes are the only lakes in the park where couples can marry (permit required).

Number 5: Poudre Lake

Poudre Lake is on the west side of the park, just a short distance from the Alpine Visitor's Center. Poudre Lake feeds the Cache la Poudre River.

You can park at the Milner Pass Trailhead and take pictures of this lake or hike the trails in the area. However, the elevation of this trailhead is over 10,000 feet so it can be tough to walk/hike here.

Number 6: Lake Irene

Near the Poudre Lake parking lot is the Lake Irene picnic area. The parking lot has several picnic benches and it's just a short walk of less than half a mile to Lake Irene.

Number 7: Nymph Lake

Nymph Lake may be a small lake, but it's extremely popular because while it's only a half mile hike to Nymph Lake, the Nymph Lake Trail continues another 0.6 miles to Dream Lake and then another 0.7 miles to Emerald Lake.

Nymph Lake is a small lake with big views including Long's Peak. By the middle of summer, the lake is often covered in lily pads.

Bonus hike Number 1: Bierstadt Lake

Bierstadt Lake is a scenic lake in the Bear Lake valley. Unlike hikes one through six, this hike may be short, but the Bierstadt Lake Trail is quite steep. Most visitors access the trail via a shuttle stop on the Bear Lake Road.

However, I recommend hiking to Lake Bierstadt from Bear Lake. Going that way means a mostly downhill hike. You can take the shuttle to Bear Lake, hike to Lake Bierstadt, then go downhill to the Lake Bierstadt shuttle stop. Make sure you pick up a map of the trails at the Visitor Center.

Bierstadt Lake is named after renowned western landscape painter Albert Bierstadt and it has views of the Continental Divide, including Hallet Peak (12,713'), Flattop Mountain (12,324') and Notchtop Mountain (12,129').

Bonus hike Number 2: Gem Lake

How can I write about short lake hikes at Rocky Mountain National Park and not mention Gem Lake -- a true gem of a hike.

Gem Lake is on the north side of Estes Park and is accessed from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. While this hike is short, 1.65 miles each way, it is steep at times. However, the hike has nice views of the Estes Park valley and some of the surrounding mountain peaks. When you need a break, stop and take a photo.

This pretty little lake is fun to visit in summer and winter, but summer visitors will find a sandy shore around the lake that can be fun for the kids to play in.


Remember when picking a hike to look at the distance and the elevation. Even a short hike can be really tough in the mountains. Don't forget water, snacks and sunscreen. And please pack out your trash.

Whether you visit a lake with no hiking, or hike to a lake miles into the backcountry, Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular place to visit.

More hikes:

Check out 7 waterfall hikes in Colorado with little to no hiking, 7 great beginner hikes near Denver and 7 incredible places within 150 miles of Denver.

Find more hikes and places to see around Colorado in our Discover Colorado section.