Gem Lake is a short but strenuous hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only do you get to visit a pretty lake but you also get sweeping views of Estes Park with Longs Peak in the distance. If you are looking for a short, family-friendly hike, and don’t mind a bit of a stair climb at times, this is a good hike to add to your to-do list.
Facts About the Hike
Distance: 3.4 miles out-and-back
Starting Elevation: 7,870 feet (Lumpy Ridge Trailhead)
Ending Elevation: 8,830 feet (Gem Lake)
Total Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
When to go: The trail is open all year, but it is best from May to October, when the trail is clear of snow.
Gem Lake Elevation Profile
Gem Lake Hike
Lumpy Ridge Trailhead
The hike to Gem Lake starts at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. This trailhead is located just north of Estes Park. To get here, you will take Devils Gulch Road to Lumpy Ridge Road. You will not pass a park ranger booth to get to the trailhead.
Next to the trailhead are toilets. Two trails start at this trailhead. Go right to hike to Gem Lake. The trail to the left is the Lumpy Ridge Trail.
Hiking to Gem Lake
From the trailhead, it is an uphill walk almost the entire way to Gem Lake. Some sections are rather steep and you need to be prepared to hike up long staircases made from giant rock steps. This is a short hike but it is tiring. It will have you stopping to catch your breath occasionally.
The trail starts climbing immediately. Over the 1.7 miles to get to Gem Lake, you will be hiking in and out of the forest and along giant granite boulders and walls.
Occasionally, the trees will break and you will be treated to wonderful views of Estes Park. There is one wide clearing, about halfway up the trail, where you get amazing views of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The final third of this hike is the hardest. The trail gets steeper and through most of this section you will be hiking up and over large rock steps. It’s tiring on the way up but it can also be tough on the way down, since the steps are so large. If you have bad knees, consider bringing hiking poles to help you on the way back down the trail.
The trail ends at Gem Lake. The water that fills this lake is from snowmelt from the cliffs and higher land that surround the lake. There is no stream or river leading into or out of this lake.
Walk around the lake for photos. There is a sandy, beach-like area on the western side of the lake. During our visit, kids were climbing and playing on top of the cliff walls that surround the lake.
If you want to go further, you can continue on the trail until you reach Bridalveil Falls and the Twin Owls Loop.
Tips to Have the Best Experience
Even though it is a tough hike, this is a good trail to hike with kids. We saw kids as young as 5 and 6 at Gem Lake, playing on the rocks.
Leave no trace. When you are in the park, practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring into the park, be considerate of other hikers, stay on the trail, and do not remove anything from the park.
What to Bring on the Hike
Hiking shoes or a good pair of walking shoes. As long as there is not snow on the ground, a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes are sufficient. The trail is rocky and uneven but hiking shoes are not necessary for this hike.
Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. For most of the hike you will be walking through a forest but once at Gem Lake you will be exposed to the sun.
Camera. Even a smartphone will do. For great photos of the trail and the mountains, use the panorama feature of your smartphone.
Hiking poles. Due to the steep nature of this trail, hiking shoes are beneficial if you suffer from any knee or leg pain on hikes with steep descents or stairs.
Mosquito repellent. There can be mosquitoes, primarily around the lake. When we did this hike in early July, we did not encounter any mosquitoes, but I have read other trail reports of mosquitoes in the summer months.
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
If you have any questions about hiking to Gem Lake, let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!!
Learn more about Rocky Mountain National Park by visiting our Rocky Mountain National Park Guide or by reading these articles:
- Best of RMNP: Top 10 Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Itinerary: Rocky Mountain NP Itinerary: Suggestions for 1 Day to 1 Week
- Best Hikes: 15 Great Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Sky Pond: Sky Pond: One of the Best Hikes in RMNP
- Tombstone Ridge: Hiking the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
- Dream & Emerald Lakes: How to Hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes
- Odessa & Fern Lakes: How to Hike Bear Lake to Odessa Lake and Fern Lake
- Deer Mountain: Deer Mountain Hike, Rocky Mountain National Park
- Estes Park: Best of Estes Park: Things to Do, Where to Eat & Where to Stay
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