By: Mark Munson @markonthemove
Blog post in partnership with Coloradotography
Distance: 3.5 Miles
Trail Type: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: Approx. 1000′
Looking for a hike that is short and sweet that has amazing views? Gem Lake Trail is the perfect summer hiking trail that isn't too long of a hike but provides great panoramic views of Estes Park the entire way up. The trail is moderately trafficked but is outside Rocky Mountain National Park so no fee is required to get to the trailhead. Getting to the lake only requires a 1.75 mile hike with a slow elevation gain, doable for any level hiker. Gem Lake is unique because it has neither in inlet or outlet, but instead is filled with runoff and rainwater that collects each year after the winter season.
From the parking lot there are two different trailheads that ascend up into the Lumpy Ridge. Hop on the trailhead to the right to start your ascent to Gem Lake. The initial half mile of the trail winds up through the canyon next to a stream with views of unique rock formations. At the half mile mark you will reach the Black Canyon Trail Junction where you will want to continue right. As you continue to ascend up towards the lake there will be plenty of spots to stop and take in the amazing views of Estes Park, Longs Peak, and the surrounding mountains. At roughly 1.4 miles you'll reach Paul Bunyan's Boot, which is probably the most interesting rock formation on this trail. The rock has a perfect circle carved out of it which lets you view through the rock itself. You'll hike through some very large boulders before reaching the last ascent to the lake and the final part of the trail before reaching Gem Lake has switchbacks to compensate for the elevation gain. There is also a unique outhouse tucked away in the trees near the top if you need to take care of business.