|Elevation Gain||1,995 ft|
|My Time||4 hr 43 min|
|Difficulty||Moderate to Hard*|
|Closest Town||Estes Park|
|Food Nearby||Bird and Jim|
Fern and Odessa Lakes
Fern and Odessa Lakes are moderately popular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lakes are in the Moraine Valley section of the park with trails that connect to Cub, Spruce and Bear Lakes. This is a longer and steeper trail so it is best for moderately experienced hikers and those comfortable with the elevation.
The hike to Fern and Odessa Lakes starts at the Fern lake Trailhead. There is limited parking at the trailhead but additional parking about a half mile down the road. If you have to park down the road or are dropped off by the shuttle but you will need to walk down the dirt road to the trailhead.
The trail starts with a flat walk through a forest of aspen trees and very close to the Big Thompson River. There are a couple of spots that you can make it to the banks of the river and that is definitely worth the views. Flowers are also common around the edges of the trail if you travel in the fall. Elk and other wildlife also love the area.
There is some tree cover at the beginning of the trail but as you will soon see there is also a lot of burn scar and dead trees. So make sure you are prepared with sunscreen and a hat to deal with the elements.
To The Pool
The first landmark on your way to the lakes is an area called the Pool. To get to to the pool you will need to travel just under two miles down the Fern Lake trail. There is only about 200 feet of elevation gain over the one and eight-tenths miles so this is the section of the trail that will be good for most people.
The Pool is easy to find as it is the space where you cross the big bridge. The Pool itself is to the north side of the of the bridge. It is a cascade and wash area where the river takes a sharp turn around the river. The river pools up in the Pool before flowing under the bridge and out of the other side. I like the Pool but I think the other side of the bridge where you see the river flow through the trees is just as pretty if not more so.
After crossing the bridge you will have a couple options. You can can head to the left to Cub Lake. The Cub Lake trail has a pretty steady incline through some burn scar up to Cub Lake. Or you can hike up the rocks in front of you to continue on to Fern Lake. The trail to Fern is rockier and steeper than before so make sure you are comfortable with that before proceeding. The last option is to finish at the Pool and head back to the trail head. This is a common option for a lot of visitors.
The Pool to Fern Lake
From the Pool it is two miles to get to Fern Lake. The trail is much different the previous two miles. Almost immediately the trail starts on an incline. Over the two miles you will gain 1,200 feet in elevation. There aren’t any super steep sections but ore of a consistent 16% grade but it does touch 20% at times.
There are two features that make this section of the hike really enjoyable. About two-tenths of a mile into the hike you come to a big open space with a small bridge to cross. The area gives some great views and I even ran into a rafter of wild turkeys near the top of the open space.
Fern Falls is the second feature on the trail that helps to make this a really enjoyable hike. The falls are just under a mile from the Pool and can be really stunning depending on when you go. I went in late summer and the falls were still running really well and I stopped here to take a bit of a break and enjoy the water feature. The falls have a couple of tiers and have a total drop of about 60 feet before connecting to Fern Creek.
From the falls there is another one and two-tenths of a mile to Fern Lake. This section remains steep with another 700 feet of elevation gain to get to the lake. A large portion of this area is also in a burn scar which does not provide a lot cover from the elements. It gets hot and feels a little eerie seeing the dead trees all over. I found it to be very quiet as well. The last half mile before the lake does flatten out a bit with grades of single digits of elevation. The intersection with the Spruce Lake Trail is also in this area.
Fern lake is a great little lake in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. The oval shaped lake sits amongst a lot of distressed trees from the burn and from beetle kill on the far side. As you come upon the lake there is a small section that is easily accessible directly in front of you. A few fallen logs provide nice seating and area’s to take a break.
The trail to Odessa Lake continues around the far side of Fern Lake. As you surround the lake you cross a small bridge and the views from the opposite bank near a rock slide are even better. There isn’t easily accessible lake access from the far side but the views are wroth it even if you don’t head to Odessa Lake.
If you are continuing on to Odessa Lake, just continue up the hill on the far side of Fern Lake.
Fern Lake To Odessa Lake
The trail to Odessa Lake from Fern Lake again becomes rockier and steeper. This portion of the trail seems to get the least amount of traffic and the trail isn’t as broken in as the previous miles logged. Odessa Lake is one mile from the bridge at Fern Lake but is an additional 500 feet of elevation gain. After crossing the large rock slide there is a pretty consistent 15% grade for the rest of the hike.
Two-tenths of a mile from Odessa Lake you will come to a junction that will take you to Bear Lake. Bear Lake is another 4 miles away though. After continuing on to Odessa Lake at the junction the trail flattens out and follows a small river. This was one of my favorite parts of the hike. The flat trail and the calm creek lead directly to the lake. You see the surrounding mountains first and then eventually make your way to the banks.
Odessa Lake is one of my favorite lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It helped that the da I was there was completely windless and the lake was as still as glass. The lake is surrounded by high cliffs and mountain peaks and the area that is accessible is relatively small. Even with the small area to enjoy the lake there was enough room for the few of us there to spread out. the lake isn’t as popular as some which helps make it feel almost like a private lake for a few minutes.
Looking across the lake you can see the 11,533 foot peak of Little Matterhorn mountain as well as other peaks. The trail terminates at Odessa Lake so from here it is either back to the trailhead or you can make your way to Bear or Spruce Lake.
I almost didn’t continue onto Odessa but I am so glad that I did. In my opinion, it was a better lake than Fern and really capped this hike in a great way. If you have can handle the extra elevation it is definitely worth the trip.
Video of Fern and Odessa Lakes
I made this time lapse video of the hike to Fern and Odessa Lakes. It is designed to give a feel of the terrain and difficulty of the hike. If you enjoy the video, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get updates for the newest content.
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 9.97 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,995 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,029 feet. I was also moving for a total of 4 hours and 43 minutes.
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This hike is a bit tougher than some at Rocky Mountain National Park. While none of the terrain on the trail is really challenging, it is a long way at nearly ten miles. It also has nearly two thousand feet of elevation gain which will be a challenge for some. If you are not used to the elevation in Colorado that gain will be more of a challenge. I am going to list this as moderate to hard based on the distance and elevation.
The hike to Fern and Odessa Lakes can be broken down into sections as far as terrain goes. The initial segment from the trailhead to the Pool is mostly hard packed dirt with a few rocks embedded. The trail is well used and easy to follow.
From The Pool to Fern lake gets a bit rockier and much steeper but still has sections of packed dirt. This portion is also pretty well used and is easy to follow but a little less used than the lower section.
From Fern Lake to Odessa lake is the rockiest and steepest section of the hike. This section is a little less used and not quite as well defined. When you get to the junction with the Bear Lake Trail the trail flattens out and returns to a hard packed dirt trail. I would definitely suggest a good pair of hiking shoes or boots once you get past the Pool.
The Fern Lake trailhead 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 Fern Lake Trailhead is located on Fern Lake Road. There are about 6 parking spaces near the trailhead and no facilities. This trailhead is not plowed in the winter. There is an alternate trailhead about a half mile away for winter parking. This parking area has room for about 20 cars and has a pit toilets and is a shuttle bus stop. There is also a bus stop near the Cub Lake trailhead for when the shuttle bus is running during the summer season.
Wrapping up Fern and Odessa Lake
The Fern and Odessa Lake hike is one of my new favorites at Rocky Mountain National Park. It starts in the Moraine Park area which I avoided for the more popular areas on my first few trips. That was a mistake. The Valley is beautiful and has plenty of lakes, rivers and waterfalls to enjoy. This hike takes you past the Big Thompson River, The Pool, Fern Falls, Fern Lake, and Odessa Lake. CYou really can’t ask for more out of a single hike than that.
If you are just visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and not accustomed to the elevation in Colorado this may be a really challenging hike and you might want to only plan to head to the pool.or maybe Fern Falls. If you are feeling good you can always continue on to the lakes. Keep in mind that the burn scar makes the area very exposed and and you will need plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat and anything else to protect from the elements. If you can make it this is a great hike to some amazing sights in the Rocky Mountains.
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