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.

gem lake trail

photo by Sarah Stapley

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.

Gem Lake Trail

photo by Sarah Stapley

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.

Gem Lake Trail

Photo by Sarah Stapley

About The Author

Lifestyle + Travel Writer

To say that Sarah suffers from a serious case of wanderlust is an incredible understatement and one that makes her so good at what she does. Having lived in Washington, Oregon, and California, Sarah's love for the great outdoors and her desire for a new adventure drew her and her husband to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. When she isn’t busy with DIY projects around her house, she can most often be found exploring the mountains, going white water rafting, reading her favorite book, photographing her favorite destinations, or traveling to parts unknown. Fun fact: Sarah loves wine so much, several years ago she found herself graduating from the introductory program with the International Sommelier Guild! Follow along on her adventures on Instagram @sarahstap

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