Trail Guide: Gem Lake in Estes Park

This out and back trail was the first hike I ever did after moving to Colorado. The elevation in Estes Park is no joke, so if you’re new to town like I was, plan on taking lots of water and lots of breaks. It was slightly demoralizing that a very small fluffy white dog lapped me on this trail, but the views along the way will help ease that pain. Multiple breaks will help ease the pain of your lungs screaming for air.

On that cheery note, you hook up with the Gem Lake trail after parking at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. It’s about four miles round trip. We hit it pretty early on Labor Day weekend and still found parking, but it was jammed by the time we got back. As with every Colorado trail in the summer, you’re going to need to wake up early

Lumpy Ridge is an hour and a half away from Denver, right outside of Estes Park. The trip is easy now that all the highways have been repaired from 2013 flooding, and is super scenic. You also get to go through Lyons, which is a super cute mountain town. It’s your halfway mark to Estes, and always a good place to stop for food or gas.

Before you head up to Estes for any reason, make sure you check the Visit Estes Park website for festival schedules. We narrowly avoided getting trapped in a McDonald’s parking lot because the streets were closing down for the Scottish-Irish Festival.

They don’t mess around

The bonus to being in Estes Park is that you have everything you could need fairly close to the trailhead. There’s obviously a McDonald’s, which is where we usually stop for second breakfast after waking up at the crack of dawn. There’s a Subway if you want to be Healthy, as well as a Safeway if you want to stock up on snacks. All the amenities are in Estes, so you don’t have to worry about driving anywhere too remote.

Estes has a really great visitor’s center with tons of trails, and actually a very nice path to just walk along the creek/river that runs through town. I have seen lots of elk in this area too, which is always a fun moment to screech at my boyfriend to pull over so I can take pictures bonus.

Once you arrive at Lumpy Ridge, the trail is basically straight up from there. I moved here from outside of DC, which is essentially sea level, so I found myself wheezing and sputtering for air about 20 feet into our hike. Bless my boyfriend for smiling and waving at fellow hikers while I tried to maintain consciousness and catch my breath.

Quick aside on facilities – there are non-flushing toilets at the trailhead. You’re probably going to have to wait in line for them. I was full of newbie enthusiasm and tried to get to know the teenage girls in line with me – excitedly commenting that we had the same hiking boots!!! They were not impressed. I started to realize I’m an Old in their eyes.

The trail zig zags up for about 2 miles, with spectacular views along the way. Once you reach Gem Lake, it’s very pretty, but we were such Colorado noobs that we didn’t realize the REAL view is if you hike up around the rocks that surround the lake and then look out over the incredibly scenic vista of the Rockies. I still got some pretty awesome pictures, though. I’ll let them do the talking:

View of Estes Park on the way up
Beautiful views and a nice trail…what more could you ask for?
Sweaty and happy at the top…if only we had climbed up on those rocks behind us!
Looking towards Rocky Mountain National Park on the way down
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