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Hiking Through Rocky

The weather this weekend was forecasted to be gorgeous in the mountains. And it was. The shuttles in Rocky Mountain National Park still run during the weekends in October (weather permitting), so we used that to our advantage which takes a lot of pressure off knowing if you'll get a parking spot at the exact trailhead that you want to do. We started our adventures by being the first car to park at the park-and-ride and hitching a ride on the shuttle up to Bear Lake. A ranger at the park-and-ride told us that there was still parking at Bear Lake trailhead, but we were planning a different kind of hike where we actually didn't want to park at Bear Lake, despite starting our hike there.

We parked at the park-and-ride because we ended our hike in Moraine Park. There is no shuttle that goes from Moraine park to Bear Lake, but both shuttles do go to the park-and-ride, so that's why we parked there. Because of the shuttle service, we were able to hike 10 miles across Rocky Mountain National Park without having to track back on the trails we hiked up, and we ended our hike in a completely different area than where we started. The hike started with slick ice, fresh snow, and cold weather. The hike ended with no snow in sight and us not wearing any of our layers other than our base clothing. We were well prepared for all of those conditions, which was good, but it was neat to have that varying degree (pun intended) of nature during our hike. We were also able to shave off strenuous elevation gain by making this a one-way trip instead of an out-and-back, only having to do 1,200 feet of elevation gain but almost 3,000 feet of decent. All of those things combined made this a pretty spectacular hike.

Our hike started at the Bear Lake trailhead where we went counter-clockwise around the lake. Bear Lake is always busy, but most people start their hike by going clockwise, so almost immediately we were hiking in what felt like a secluded area with few people which was great since we go into the mountains to be away from people anyway. From Bear Lake, we hiked up 1,200 feet in elevation to Lake Helene, which marked the high point of the hike. From there, we hiked down to Odessa Lake. This is where most people turn around and hike back up to Lake Helene and back to Bear Lake. But we continued on descending to Fern Lake, then down to Fern Falls, and concluded through Moraine Park where we hitched a ride from the Fern Lake Shuttle stop back to the park-and-ride.

The only downside to the shuttle service is that if you are planning to use them, you better make it back on at least the last bus. This added a little pressure to the hike, even though we still had plenty of time when we finished the hike to catch a ride. But because of this time constraint, we were constantly looking at the time to make sure we were on track to not get stranded in Rocky. Not only that, but the busses leave Fern Lake Trailhead (where we finished) once every hour, so at the end of the hike we pushed ourselves a little harder than we should have to make sure we didn't miss the bus and have to wait around for an hour. Our hustling got us to the bus stop 5 minutes before its scheduled departure (and 2-hours and five minutes before the final departure). I am still glad we hiked the end quickly to make sure we got on that bus rather than taking it easy and having to wait an hour for the next one.

Only because it turned out OK I have to point out that Katie went for an accidental swim in Lake Helene. We had no idea that we were walking on thin ice when her foot went right through the ice into the lake. Her foot got soaking wet. She trekked onward with squishy socks for the remaining 6+ miles even though it would have been quicker to turn around. This marks an important lesson in carrying some spare socks, particularly as the weather gets colder and hiking (or snowshoeing) turns from something you can get by being relatively ill-prepared to something that could be life-threatening in the wrong environment.

Trailhead Location
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10.11 mi 4.8 hrs 10,614 ft 1,365 ft
View Graph
Pine Beetle
Notchtop Mountain
Lake Helene
Towering Mountains
On To Odessa Lake
Little Matterhorn
Burn Area
Not Frozen
Fern Falls