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Visiting the Bear Lake Trailhead in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

Not only is the Bear Lake Trailhead area incredibly beautiful, but it’s also one of the most accessible lakes in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. After a drive along the Bear Lake road corridor visitors will reach the Bear Lake parking lot which sits steps from the lake.

In this post we’re going to discuss everything you need to know when visiting Bear Lake, one of Rocky Mountain’s most popular attractions.

If you’re looking to make a reservation to enter Rocky Mountain National Park you can do so at the NPS website which I’ve included a link to.

I’ve also put together a resource on how to use the timed entry system for those who have never used it. The guide includes tips for securing reservations as well as what to do if there aren’t any slots available.

Bear Lake Corridor views of Hallet's Peak in Rocky Mountain National ParkPin
Bear Lake offers stunning mountain backdrop views

Already have your reservation squared away? Perfect! Read on to learn more about what to expect when visiting Bear Lake!

Once you’re finished reading this guide, be sure to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide I put together over on my YouTube channel. It includes tons of great footage I shot during my visit throughout the park.

You’ll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I’m still happy you’re here!

How to get to Bear Lake Trailhead?

The Bear Lake Trailhead is situated in the Bear Lake road corridor and can be best accessed from the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors will want to use the Beaver Meadows entrance station.

Without traffic the drive from Estes Park to the trailhead should take you between 30 and 45 minutes.

Most of the drive time occurs after entering Rocky Mountain National Park which means you’ll be able to take in the beautiful scenery along the way.

Map of Bear Lake nature loop Rocky Mountain National ParkPin
Map of the Bear Lake nature loop

If you’re entering Rocky Mountain National Park from the west near Grand Lake you’ll have to drive across the entirety of Trail Ridge Road to reach the trailhead. This journey can take around two hours to complete.

Considering many of RMNP’s best hikes and sights are located along the Bear Lake road corridor, it’s no surprise that most people suggest staying in Estes Park over Grand Lake.

If you’re still searching for accommodations you can find great deals in Estes Park here or in Grand Lake here.

What to expect when hiking Bear Lake Colorado?

This is one of the easier hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for several reasons and frankly I would consider this more of a nature walk than a hike.

After navigating the Bear Lake road corridor the lake is just steps from the main parking lot making it easily accessible for all visitors. The trail is perfectly flat and well maintained. According to AllTrails the walk around the lake is only 0.7 miles, or just over 1 km.

While the lakes elevation sits at about 9,450 feet (2,880 meters) this shouldn’t be an issue for visitors considering it lacks uphill sections and is short in duration.

Mountain overlooking Bear Lake ColoradoPin
Hiking on to Emerald Lake will lead you closer to the prominent mountain shown here

Since the stroll around the lake is so easy and short you won’t need to pack anything special for this hike.

If you plan to continue on from Bear Lake towards Nymph, Dream or Emerald Lake (which I highly recommend) you’ll need to prepare a bit differently. The Bear Lake Trailhead also doubles as the starting point for these areas.

This area also serves as the starting point for the more difficult Flattop Mountain hike.

Where do I park for the Bear Lake Trailhead?

Unfortunately like many other popular National Park activities the parking situation at Bear Lake Trailhead is pretty rough.

When I visited in late July we had a 9am timed entry slot which included Bear Lake Corridor access.

We entered the park around 9:30am and reached the trailhead parking area around 10am. At this time rangers were directing traffic at the parking lot entrance. Most cars were being turned away and told to park at an overflow lot (with shuttle access) down the road.

Some way, some how, we were the last car they allowed to park here before the main parking lot was temporarily blocked off again. Sometimes it’s just about being lucky!

Bus at Bear Lake parking lot ColoradoPin
The shuttle system at Rocky Mountain National Park helps mitigate parking issues

Unless you’re arriving very early you should probably just plan on parking at the overflow lot and taking the shuttle bus service to the trailhead. Shuttle buses are plentiful so you shouldn’t need to wait long for one.

Is there cell phone service at Bear Lake Colorado?

Cell phone service throughout most of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is minimal. You may get intermittent cell phone service around Bear Lake but don’t plan on it.

The higher points of the park (towards the Alpine Visitor Center) will offer better opportunities to get a cell signal.

We also had some luck getting signal near the end of Tundra Communities Trail just down the road from the Alpine Visitor Center.

In general the Bear Lake road corridor area does not have great cellular service.

How much does the Bear Lake Trailhead entry cost?

There isn’t a fee specific to accessing the Bear Lake Trailhead. The Rocky Mountain National Park entry pass and timed entry reservation are all you need to access this area of the park.

You can check out current entry rates at the National Park Service’s website.

How long does it take to visit Bear Lake Colorado?

Start off by budgeting 30-45 minutes of driving time from Estes Park, Colorado. From there let’s assume you park at the overflow lot and need to wait 10 minutes each way on the shuttle bus for pick up.

Considering these factors you’ll need to budget about 1 hour for logistics. The trail itself is very short so it’s unlikely you’ll spend more than one hour walking around the lake and taking photos.

Are pets allowed at Bear Lake Colorado?

Unfortunately, pets are not allowed in this area. While your pet is welcome to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, don’t expect to take them with you at the Bear Lake Trailhead or along any of the other trails.

Pets are generally only welcome around parking lots and certain campgrounds.

Are there bathrooms at the Bear Lake Trailhead?

There are bathrooms at the trailhead parking lot. This is especially convenient if you plan to continue onto Dream Lake or Emerald Lake afterwards.

What is the best time of day to visit Bear Lake Colorado?

Given the short duration of the Bear Lake Trail you can really visit any time of day. Keep in mind that during the summer months Colorado’s Rocky Mountains often experience afternoon thunderstorms.

Arriving early or late in the day can improve your prospects of parking in the main lot and cut down on crowds around the lake.

Also, don’t forget to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide over on my YouTube channel if you haven’t already!

Should I bring any special hiking gear for Bear Lake Colorado?

You won’t need to bring any special hiking gear with you to the Bear Lake Trailhead. This is more of a nature walk so you don’t really need any advanced preparation.

But chances are, if you’re visiting Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park you’ll be doing some hiking. If you’re doing some hiking you’ll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.

For your convenience I’ve put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don’t overlook anything.

That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, so if you’re doing something more casual you probably won’t need everything on that list. But rest assured you won’t overlook a thing!

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Read my Timed Entry Reservation Guide

There’s one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring one of Americas most beautiful destinations.

Fortunately – I’ve put together a guide walking you through that process. I also cover useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.

You can access my Timed Entry Reservation Guide here!

I hope you find this guide helpful to your Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park visit!

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