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Rocky Mountain NP: Cub Lake to the Pool Loop

Distance7.0 mi*
Elevation Gain866 ft
*might be a touch lower as I did some extra exploring around the lake
My Time3 hr 4 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownEstes Park
Food NearbyWayFinder

Cub Lake to the Pool Loop

The Cub Lake to the Pool Loop at Rocky Mountain National Park is a moderately challenging hike that includes a valley, river, high altitude lake and one kind of big hill to climb. The trail has moderate elevation gain and some rocky terrain that is best for moderately experienced hikers.

Getting Started

The Cub Lake and Fern Lake trailheads are both located in the Moraine Park section of Rocky Mountain on the Cub Lake Stables road. This is just off of Bear Lake Road. During the summer season you will need a reservation to get into the Bear Creek corridor. This loop can be started at either the Cub Lake Trailhead or the Fern Lake Trailhead. I began on the Cub Lake trailhead and finished the loop on the Fern Lake trail so that is how I will describe the hike but you could go either way.

Moraine Park

Moraine Park is a beautiful section of Rocky Mountain. It is a huge valley popular among the parks animals and amazing views of the mountains. The Cub Lake trail starts in the heart of the park. One of the first things you will do is cross over the Big Thompson river that cuts through the middle of the valley.

The Big Thompson River zig zagging though the open area of Moraine park. The background tapers down to a wall of snow capped mountains on the Cub Lake and Pool Loop.
The Big Thompson River cutting through Moraine Park.

After crossing the river, there is a bridge, the hike continues on the edge of the valley with some really wide views. This first section doesn’t have much elevation at all and lasts a half mile before turning to the west.

The Big Thompson River flowing through Moraine Park. In the distance are some tree lined hills as seen from the Cub Lake to the Pool Loop.
Moraine Park

As the trail turns to the west it begins to head into more covered areas with more rock on the trail and on the surrounding areas. The trees also thicken up a bit. There are also the beginnings of some elevation gain but nothing that grows much more than a 10% grade. After just over a mile heading west the trail will begin to rise and get significantly more rocky just in time to climb the first hill.

The Hill

The hill starts about 1.8 miles into the hike from the Cub Lake trailhead and is the steepest portion of the hike. The trail rises about 300 feet in elevation over four-tenths of a mile with grades reaching as high as 18%. The footing on this hill is also really rocky and footing gets a little tricky. You can watch the video below for an example of the terrain.

While this side of the hill is a bit steeper, it doesn’t last as long as the incline from the Fern Lake Trail side so it is a bit of a decision if you are doing the loop. Would you prefer quick and steep or a more long and gradual incline. No matter which way you decide to go, the lake is the reward at the top of the hill!

Cub Lake

Cub Lake is a real gem of a mountain lake. The lake stretches about three-tenths of a mile and has an oval shape to it. The trail sits about twenty feet above the water and runs the entire length and then continues on. The views are best from the trail on the west side of the lake as the eastern portion has more trees. There are signs of recent fires and some blown down trees that give the lake a very rustic feel.

Cub Lake located between two sloping mountainsides. The far side slope has bits of snow still on it. The lake sits down and is shaped like an oval.
Cub Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

The deep blue still water was like an oasis among the bare trees that surrounded the lake. it was a really cool experience.

The trail slopes slightly upwards as it passes the lake and there are plenty of rocks and tree stumps to stop and take a break on. At the west end of the lake the trail continues on and to the hilltop and eventually down to the Pool to connect the loop.

Cub Lake located between two sloping mountainsides. The far side slope has bits of snow still on it. The lake sits down and is shaped like an oval.
Cub Lake At Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake to the Pool

As you pass Cub Lake you have the option to continue on to the Pool. The trail will take you over a bit more of a burn scar on top of the hill. From this point on you will have some pretty fantastic mountain views in front of you!

A snow capped mountain in the distance while the closer views are of burned trees and cleared hillsides.
Burn Scar and Mountain Tops

From Cub Lake this portion of the rocky trail has a consistent downhill grade to it. It will be about a mile of the downhill to make it to the Pool. The only disappointing part of this portion of the trail is that it is through a burn scar with a lot of blackened and downed trees. The burn scar opens up the views a bit but it also makes the area very exposed to the elements so make sure you are prepared for sun and wind and anything else that could dampen your hike.

The Pool

The Pool is the next major feature on the Cub Lake to the Pool Loop. The Pool is located at the junction of the Cub Lake and Fern Lake trails and is formed where the Big Thompson river takes a sharp right hand turn and creates a bit of a pool or hot tub feature. In spring when I went it was really flowing and created a rapids effect down the river as well. There is a bridge that you can take to cross over the river so no worries on getting across the water.

White water rapids where the Big Thompson river starts to turn and forms a Pool in the river.
The Pool

You have an option to either take the Fern Lake trail west to Fern Lake or continue east to head back to the trailheads to finish off the loop.

The Big Thompson River full of white water after leaving the Pool as it heads down with trees on either side of its banks.
The Rapids leaving the Pool

Fern Lake Trail

I took the Fern Lake trail back to the trailhead to complete the loop and keep Fern Lake on my list of to-do hikes! The Fern Lake trail is really enjoyable. It is wider than the Cub Lake trail and from the Pool to the start it is mostly flat with only minimal elevation gain. It also follows the Big Thompson river for this entire section.

The Big Thompson River flowing next to the trail as seen from the Fern Lake trail which is part of the Cub Lake to the Pool Loop
Big Thompson from Fern Lake Trail

Fern Lake from the Pool to the trailhead is two and a half miles of beautiful trail that every skill level should be able to enjoy. I even got stopped by a wild turkey in the middle of the trail! (Photo in gallery below)

From the Fern Lake trailhead there is a short two-tenths of a mile walk on the road to get back to the Cub Lake Trailhead if that is where you parked to finish up the hike!

This was a really enjoyable hike with a series of water features and enough effort to get the blood pumping without being overwhelming.

Video of the Cub Lake and Pool Loop

I have put together a time lapse video of the hike to give you a feel for what it is like. If you enjoy this video make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free and you will get the latest updates.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 7.06 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 866 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 8,744 feet. I was also moving for a total of 3 hours and 4 minutes.

Effort

Whether you start on the Cub Lake trail or the Fern Lake trail the beginning of the hike will be relatively easy with little elevation gain. Once you get a mile and half in to the Cub side or after the Pool on the Fern side the elevation starts to really pick up and get steep as you ascend a hill and is steep when coming down the trail as well. While the elevations don’t get over 20% they are significant for someone who isn’t used to elevation hiking. Because of that I will rank this hike as Moderate.

Terrain

There is a reason they call it Rocky Mountain National Park, the trails can get pretty rocky! The Cub Lake and Pool loop is no different. While there are plenty of stretches of dirt trail, there are also a lot of rocks on the trail. Most of the rocks are around the hill and the lake as the lower flat area’s are mostly dirt and easy to manage.

Access

The Cub Lake and the Pool loop is located in the Moraine Park section of Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a $25 dollar day fee per vehicle to enter the park. From late May through October, a Bear Creek Road reservation is also needed to access the are as well as the fee.

The Cub Lake Trailhead is located on Cub Lake Stables Road. There are about 6 parking spaces near the trailhead and no facilities. A little further down the road Fern Lake trailhead and there is parking for about 20 cars there with pit toilets. There is also a bus stop near the Cub Lake trailhead for when the shuttle bus is running during the summer season.

Wrapping up the Cub Lake and Pool Loop trail

I have wanted to hike in the Moraine Park for a long time but have always passed it up for some of the more popular and “sexier” hikes like Emerald lake. I was not disappointed by my first trip to this side of the park. The meadow is amazing to begin the hike. The views are spectacular and so grand.

Then to follow up with a really nice mountain lake, Cub Lake, before dropping down to the Pool. Plus, hiking next to the Big Thompson river for the rest of the return was really special.

I do think that the summers could be a bit tough to hike this hike because of the burn scar. That will leave the hiker exposed to the weather and especially the sun. I think it could get very hot so make sure if you hike it that time of year, come prepared.

Overall, what an entertaining and enjoyable hike. Plus, it was challenging without being overwhelming so I believe that more people will be able to enjoy this loop.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com. Or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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