Lake Helene Hike
Bear Lake Trailhead
National Park: Rocky Mountain
For hidden alpine lakes, towering mountain vistas and excellent opportunities to spot Rocky Mountain’s creatures, take the Lake Helene Hike. Beginning from the popular Bear Lake trailhead, the journey begins by traveling around the shores of Bear Lake and if you get out early enough, you can beat the crowds that flock to the area each afternoon. Getting on the trails early in the day also reduces your sun exposure, provides better lighting for photography and increases your chance of seeing wildlife.
You soon fork to the right and begin a gradual and steady ascent past bubbling springs and small meadows nestled in the pine forests. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and elk in addition to the Park’s diverse bird populations.
The first landmark is Lake Helene but you must keep your eyes out for a spot to venture off the main trail and reach its waters. Scenically placed in an amphitheater of peaks, Lake Helene is secluded from the gaze of most visitors. Its stillness and silence hypnotize you in to state of blissful contemplation; stare into the Lake’s peaceful reflection until you’re content to continue on.
Shortly after, you reach the trail’s highest point and begin a pleasant descent into the Moraine Park valley. Listen for the “eep” of a pika as the trail winds alongside boulder fields and craggy peaks. Odessa Lake, which you first see sitting below you like a gem, is reached by following the quaint trickle of a creek that brings the Lake’s waters farther downstream. Hiking around the Odessa’s rim affords a variety of spectacular views and spots to stop for a secluded lunch.
A short walk later, Fern Lake or an optional side trip to Spruce Lake make for further relaxation where you can easily escape the presence of the few other visitors in the area. Listening to the faint lapping of wind blown waves slipping through cracks in the rocky shore, it’s difficult to imagine you are in the heart of one of our Nation’s most highly visited parks. This feeling of being immersed in an enchanted landscape is only heightened when, a bit later, you discover Fern Falls cascading through a patchwork of mosses and logs.
Upon reaching a junction at The Pool, a point where water briefly collects before continuing its journey down the Big Thompson River, you have the choice of ending the hike at either the Fern Lake or Cub Lake Trailhead. I highly recommend the latter, which passes a final point of interest before cutting through a landscape dotted with wooded ponds and meadow-lined rivers. Cub Lake, nestled in deep forest, is framed by an impenetrable sea of lily pads; in the center, its deep blue waters provide prime habitat for Rocky Mountain’s riparian creatures, such as moose, ducks and beavers.
The Lake Helene Trail is remarkable in many ways. Beyond its fascinating wildlife and pristine mountain scenery, it also provides visitors the chance to venture deep into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park with relative ease. Starting at Bear Lake and ending in the valleys of the Moraine Park area, the trail actually has a net loss of elevation, which makes a daunting 10+ mile hike go by fairly quickly. It is best to leave your car at the exit trailhead and take the Park’s free shuttle to your Bear Lake start point. After a few days of acclimating to the high altitude environment, this hike is a perfect way to escape and explore this mountain haven on your own.