Cub Lake Trail to Fern Lake Trail – RMNP Hiking – Estes Park, CO

In Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park Colorado, Cub Lake and Fern Lake trail heads are reached by driving west from the Beaver Meadows entrance station on US-36, quickly turning left onto Bear Lake Road, and taking the second right onto Fern Lake Road (not well marked). The trail head is typically open during the winter because it is east of the Trail Ridge Road; which is closed October to June. Primary activities include hiking, backcountry camping (with a permit), and horseback riding but mountain bikes, dogs, and hunting are prohibited. A park pass is required to reach the trail head. The trail head does not provide restrooms or water; and cell phone service is weak. Parking is limited to several small lots near the Cub Lake and Fern Lake trail heads so an early arrival is advised. We stayed in a YMCA of the Rockies cabin for two nights which provided easy access to the park.

Cub Lake Trail

We hiked a loop from the Cub Lake trail head to the Fern Lake trail head (i.e., in a clockwise direction). The 2.3 mile hike to Cub Lake starts at 8,080 feet and ends at 8,700 feet. The first mile of trail is flat, wide, and easy to manage.

From the beginning to the end, this trail provides scenic views that include the nearby mountains to the west.

The first mile of trail continues to run along the western edge of Moraine Park and is set inside the montane ecosystem. The montane ecosystem includes Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine, Colorado Black Bears, squirrels, chipmunks, and Elk.

The following picture shows the view to east of Moraine Park that is visible before heading into forest canopy.

The trail begins a gradual climb up to Cub Lake from this point.

We were attacked by mosquitoes once we entered the forest and, unfortunately, did not have any bug spray with us because we had never experienced bugs in RMNP.

Cub Lake

Cub Lake is very similar to Dream Lake, Nymph Lake, and Emerald Lake in that it is nestled along side 10,000+ foot mountains and includes an accessible shoreline. The shoreline offers several eco friendly and durable spots (i.e., rocks) on which to set up a picnic.

The following video captures the serenity of Cub Lake.

The next picture is a backwards looking view of Cub Lake visible after hiking past it.

From Cub Lake, we hiked an additional 1.2 miles to The Pool; totaling 3.5 miles. After some climbing, the trail descends for a significant distance making the hike from Cub Lake to The Pool fairly easy but it would require more work to hike in the reverse direction. Specifically, the ascent is less steep when hiking from the Cub Lake trail to the Fern Lake trail than it is hiking the loop in the reverse direction.

The Pool

The Pool is a vibrant intersection of water and rock that generates both soothing sights and sounds.

The subsequent video shows The Pool’s heavy flow generated from a very rainy spring.

Hiking to the Fern Lake Trail Head

Hiking from The Pool to the Fern Lake Trail head is 1.7 miles of mostly downhill trail that runs along side a stream. The total distance for this loop hike is 5.2 miles.

We hitched a ride 1.1 miles from the Fern Lake trail head to the Cub Lake trail head and then used our car to pick up the rest of our group from the Fern Lake trail head. Walking from the Fern Lake trail head to the Cub Lake head is easy but does add time to an already long hike.

In sum, hiking from Cub Lake to The Pool and returning back to the Fern Lake trail head was a long, easy hike with an eclectic set of experiences including stream crossings, a serene lake, a vibrant water flow (i.e., The Pool), following a stream, and being up close to 10,000+ foot mountains. The following are other RMNP/Estes Park trails we have enjoyed:


4 thoughts on “Cub Lake Trail to Fern Lake Trail – RMNP Hiking – Estes Park, CO”

  1. Haven't been to RMNP in many years and now finally going back in August to have my kids experience the great hikes that I did! Ranging in age from 6-15 years old…thought about doing Cub Lake, Bear lake, Nymph, etc…What do you all recommend for non-experienced hikers who I want fall in love with the scenery? Great Blog!!

  2. From easiest to most difficult, I recommend visiting the following: Lily Lake, Bear Lake trail head (includes Bear lake, Nymph Lake), Glacier Gorge Junction trail head (Alberta Falls), and Cub Lake trail head. All of those trail heads provide access to fantastic scenery within 1 to 2 miles of hiking.If those trails prove to be too easy, then check out Lily Mountain and Deer Mountain.Also, we really liked staying in a YMCA cabin:

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