Bear Lake to Fern Trailhead – Rocky Mountain National Park
Date: August 18, 2017
Elevation Gain: 2,164 ft
Start Time: 5:17 am
Duration: 6:40 hours
Another day, another early start at the soon to be overwhelmingly busy Bear Lake trailhead. It was still dark when we left the car. We walked by Bear Lake for the second time on our trip yet we’d still had never seen it because of darkness. We knew that we would be coming down to this trailhead the next day so no big loss.
The first 2.8 miles of this hike is goes steadily uphill without ever getting too steep until we gain about 1,200 feet of elevation. Right at that point we came across a backpacking couple who were resting on the trail. They were really nice and we talked a little while before moving on. Our first destination was Two Rivers Lake which was down to our left through the trees. After a short distance we found the side trail down to the lake. Just as we were coming on to the lake I checked my GPS and realized that we had passed Two Rivers and were now at Lake Helene. While we were taking in the lake Sandy got a text message and squealed out, “It’s a boy!” I was conflicted. I was excited for Sandy that one of her best friends had just had a baby. Yet, I so enjoy our time together in the mountains separated from our normal life.
Before we headed down the canyon though we needed to find the lake that we passed by. On the way out to the main trail we found a faint trail heading down to where Two Rivers lake was located. After following it for a short time it completely disappeared so we ended up bushwhacking our way down a hill to where the GPS indicated the lake was. When we could see the lake through the trees we could also see that the shore was made up of large boulders. After carefully making our way over the boulders we came up to a very beautiful Two Rivers Lake. It was a perfect mirror with cliffs along the southern shore and it beat the crap out of Lake Helene so we were glad we made the effort.
On the way out from the lake we headed straight through the trees toward the main trail. We came across a trail that appeared to head down to a different side of the lake. Shortly after we found the trail to the lake we came up on the main trail. Sandy pointed out that this was where we ran into those backpackers who were blocking the trail with their packs so we didn’t see it. This caused us to remember the last time this happened to us which was the first time we hike to Holly Lake when several backpackers who were sitting on the trail junction. That time resulted in a mile hike up through a rocky cirque and ended up leaving us looking down on Holly Lake from about 500 feet above it. Fortunately this was not much of a backtrack for us.
Shortly after reaching the turnoff to Lake Helene the trail turned north which marked the high point for our day. We now were hiking down a rocky ridge with a sharp drop to our left that gave us incredible views down the canyon toward the 4,000 feet of elevation loss ahead of us. We also had great views of the cliffs beside and behind us. Two miles below us we could see our next destination-Odessa Lake.
We were a little frustrated that after coming even with Odessa Lake below us to our left that we continued down the canyon for what seemed like another mile before we reached the side trail to the lake. It turns out it was a little less than a quarter mile but nobody likes seeing their destination pass them by for too long. The side trail turned out to be very pleasant because it paralleled a very nice stream bordered with a beautiful assortment of wildflowers. Odessa Lake was quite striking with the immense cliffs behind it to the south. We enjoyed a small trail mix breakfast along the shore and spent a little time conversing with a man who came down from a nearby campsite to get water. What an incredible campsite this would be.
We descended down the trail another half mile where we could see Fern Lake below us. The trail took us through a bolder field to the east of the lake where it lead to the outlet on the lake’s northern corner. There was a side trail to a privy so Sandy and I parted ways and I went further west to get access to the shore. There was very nice ranger cabin near the access to the shore and there was a group of people down by the lake enjoying their morning. I went down and found a secluded place among some thick underbrush to get some photos where I wasn’t intruding on the group. Once Sandy appeared the group had left us the only beachfront area of the lake to enjoy for ourselves for a short stint.
Right after leaving Fern Lake we came to a side trail that led to Spruce Lake. It looked very uninviting because it went straight up a fairly steep side hill with a sign declaring that this was an unimproved trail. It was about .75 miles to the lake and definitely included some unimproved sections of rock scrambling and washed out trail but overall it wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. The lake itself was surrounded by no obvious access points. We continued along the south shore around to the west side where we could see some people through the trees near the lake on some rocks. We went up the trail a short distance further but it was clear that there was no other practical access points so we turned back and invaded their space. They were a very nice couple who were glad to share their space and even took our picture while we were there. They were staying at a campsite at Spruce Lake and we were surprised to find that they also had a privy. This was one that was simply an open toilet in the trees guarded only by a steep hill and constant throat clearing I suppose.
Once we made it back to the main trail we headed back down hill for another 1.5 miles through the trees until coming upon Fern Falls which was right along the trail. There was a woman who we had passed us earlier on the trail sitting by the falls. We swapped taking photos of each other. She was also day hiking the same trail as us but was younger and in much better shape. She was in the military as a career and loved hiking on her time off.
Another .75 miles down the trail we came to a very interesting rock formation formed by the river coming down from Fern Falls called The Pool. We climbed around the rocky area for a short time and then headed for the Fern Falls trailhead which was about 1.5 miles ahead. The trail was fairly flat now that we at the bottom of the canyon and we started running into more and more people who were exploring the sites down this trail. It’s just me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to hike to The Pool or Fern Falls knowing how many other incredible destinations there are in the park.
Once we reach the trailhead we were met with the disappointment that comes from reading a sign that says the first bus terminal is .75 miles ahead. We were open to hitching back but none of the vehicles who passed us were. We were greeted at the bus stop by a human waste truck sucking out the outhouses right next to it. The stink was pretty ripe. The military gal was sitting at the bus stop where I commented on how this was the crappiest bus stop I’ve ever been to. The buses only come every half hour so I sat down to change my shoes only to get one off before the bus rambled up. I quickly yanked the other one off and flip flopped my way onto the bus where we enjoyed some nice conversation with that young lady all the way back to the car.
Here’s a video of our hike: