Round-Trip Length: 6.5 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,475′ – 10,692′
Elevation Change: +1,217 net elevation gain
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Bear Lake Trailhead is located 8.9 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station in Rocky Mountain National Park. Just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Bear Lake Trailhead is located at the end of this road. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Last Sunday we decided to head back up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike. Although we have done a lot of hikes in the park over the years, there are still trails we’ve never been on. I picked out Lake Helene, a smaller less popular trail than many others. Although we like Rocky Mountain National Park, it gets so crowded in the summer with tourists.
We headed out from home early, hoping to find a spot at the Bear Lake parking lot. Although we arrived in the park around 8:15am, it was still way too late to get a parking spot at that lot. We had to park in the shuttle lot several miles down the road and even that lot was already quite full. Some friends of ours were also in Rocky Mountain National Park that day and got a slightly later start and they had to park at the Visitor Center near Estes Park and take two different shuttles to get to the Bear Lake area to start their hike. So, word to the wise, get a very, very early start or be prepared to ride the shuttles!
A couple of pictures of Bear Lake with Hallett Peak reflecting in the lake. We were still early enough to see the calm waters of the lake and the morning light.
We started around Bear Lake to the turn off for Lake Helene. Lake Helene is not marked on any of the trail signs. You just need to follow signage for Odessa Lake which is beyond Lake Helene.
After about 0.45 miles the trail splits, with the right spur heading to Bierstadt Lake. We took the left, still heading in the direction of Odessa Lake.
We continued climbing up and soon had some great views to the south of Longs Peak.
The next signage was the turnoff for Flattop Mountain (1 mile from the trailhead). We kept to the right still in the direction of Odessa Lake.
We came to a small stream crossing with some beautiful wildflowers.
Continuing up the trail.
Encountering some snow between the trees as we continued up.
As we continued to climb, we did encounter some late season snow fields we need to cross.
Shortly after that, we crossed a small scree field on an open slope and discovered a few columbine blooming around the rocks.
Ours views opened looking in the direction of where Lake Helene lies.
I always have to pause to take any reflection shots I can find, even if just in a small pool!
We are getting closer to Lake Helene with great views up the valley.
To the left of the trail we caught a glimpse of Two Rivers Lake but the trees were blocking the view and there was no trail to the lake so we continued up towards Lake Helene.
We turned off of the main trail onto a social trail and headed towards Lake Helene. Before long we arrived.
As we sat for a minute, Lisa spotted some moose on the other side of the lake.
We continued up a short distance and climbed on a small ridge to have our lunch and take in the views including a waterfall.
We saw quite a few marmots scrambling around on the boulders as well.
After our lunch break, we headed back down towards Lake Helene and made our way through through some of the dense krummholz to get to the northeast shore where we could get the great views of Flattop Mountain (12,324′), Ptarmigan Point (12,363′) and Notchtop Mountain (12,129′).
We headed back up to the main trail. When we reached it, we took a left and headed up just a short distance to another overlook. We had a beautiful view down towards Odessa Lake, another 1.15 miles. We decided not to hike down to the lake but just enjoy the views of it from our vantage point.
More spectacular views from this lookout.
After taking in the views, we headed back down the trail towards the trailhead. More wildflowers along the trail.
A final shot of Hallett Peak back at Bear Lake before getting on the shuttle to take us back to our car.
Our trail route for the day.