Trail Details: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Difficulty: moderate, approximately 1,000 feet elevation gain
Where to start: Lumpy Ridge trailhead
Picking a hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is similar to picking your favorite child, which is to say it’s impossible. With more than 400 square miles of park beauty, we can assure you that you can’t really go wrong. While most trails get pretty busy, especially in the summer, you can beat the crowds by getting an early start. The nice thing about Gem Lake is that you don’t have to pay to enter the park as the trailhead leads from North of Estes Park where you will soon cross over into the park on foot. Not only does this save you the cost of the park entrance fee, but you can save yourself any headaches that might come from driving through a busy park as well.
The hike starts out from a large parking lot, complete with restrooms. Take the trail to the right called Lumpy Ridge, which will lead you up a steady climb with sporadic scenic views over the valley below. Be sure to keep your camera or phone handy, as you will be sorry if you come home without any photos of the surrounding beauty.
You will notice a sign along the way that indicates you are crossing private property, which is the historic MacGregor Ranch which dates back to the 1870s. This historic site is home to a youth education center and museum today. A bit further on, as you approach the lake, keep your eye out for a unique rock formation known as Paul Bunyan’s Boot.
This short hike can certainly take the breath out of you, but you will be rewarded with stunning views of Gem Lake once you arrive at the top of the trail. The final stretch is quite steep and leads up a built-in spiral staircase. The lake offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy a small picnic or just take in the views for half an hour before you head back down the mountain.