Bear Lake is a popular, year-round destination in Rocky Mountain National Park, located at 9,449 feet of elevation. It’s situated 13 miles southwest of Estes Park, Colorado, making it an easy trip year round.
The 11 surface-acre alpine lake is one of the most frequently photographed features in the national park. It provides visitors pristine mountain views with plenty of ways to enjoy the scenery.
Bear Lake Access
To access Bear Lake, a daily fee (or park’s pass) is required. The lake sits about a half-mile from the parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road, a dazzling little drive. A short, but easy walk is required to reach Bear Lake’s shoreline.
There is a large parking area located at the end of Bear Lake Road with bathrooms and picnic tables available for visitors to use. The Bear Lake Rd parking area is very popular all year round with the lot filling up completely by 9 or 10 AM during peak season.
If the lot is full, a shuttle bus can be taken from several points along Bear Lake Rd to access Bear Lake and the surrounding wilderness area.
Bear Lake History
Around the time Bear Lake was officially named, in 1912, both grizzly and black bears lived in the Rocky Mountains. Whereas grizzlies have now been extinct in the area for a century, about 30 black bears still live in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Activities at Bear Lake
At the end of the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot, the Bear Lake Ranger Station is open during most daylight hours for free tourist information. After a short 0.5 mile walk to the water, visitors are greeted with staggering views of Hallett Peak (12,713 ft.) and Longs Peak (14,259 ft.) above metamorphic boulders and ponderosa pines.
Birding & Wildlife: Rocky Mountain National Park has successfully preserved Bear Lake’s subalpine ecosystem, which allows visitors the chance to spot many of the native species that call the area home. Amidst the rocky mountain terrain, Bear Lake’s shores are frequented by squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and elk.
In the water, Bear Lake is a breeding ground for greenback cutthroat throat. In the air, birdwatchers may spot Steller’s Jays, nutcrackers, and chickadees among the occasional alpine waterfowl.
Camping: There are no developed campsites near Bear Lake. Instead, campers can book overnight stays at campgrounds along Bear Lake Rd, or in dispersed backcountry sites throughout the national park’s wilderness.
Read about the camping near Estes Park and RMNP.
Fishing: Fishing is not permitted in Bear Lake.
Hiking: Bear Lake is circumnavigated by a 0.8-mile loop trail that features an interpretive walk with signs offering geological and historical information. Although the area is a popular launching point for multi-day backpacking trips, most visitors typically enjoy a scenic walk around the lake or a more difficult hike to destinations like Nymph Lake or Dream Lake.
Picnicking: The National Park Service provides picnic tables and bathroom facilities for visitors to use at the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot. The area fills up quickly during peak seasons, and several benches can also be accessed within the trail system.
Swimming: To protect the ecosystem, swimming is strictly prohibited in Bear Lake.
Address: Bear Lake, Bear Lake Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517
Season: Year-round (closures only for weather or maintenance)
Fees: Daily fee or National Parks pass required
- Rocky Mountain National Park Map
- Bear Lake Area Hiking Trail Map (Summer)
- Bear Lake Area Hiking Trail Map (Winter)
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