Hiking to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely breathtaking. There is an abundance of alpine lakes, peaceful fields, jagged peaks, and spots to enjoy the beauty of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. However, with all of its beauty come the flocks of visitors. Whether we visit in the summer when many take time to vacation or in the fall when outdoor enthusiasts come from near and far to see the elk and changing leaves, we have found it hard to find solitude in the park.

But don’t let the crowds deter you from visiting this Colorado gem. There are ways to enjoy your time here without being surrounded by other visitors. Our unplanned hike to Cub Lake offered much the beauty of this renowned area without the crowds.

Cub Lake is covered in lily pads
Cub Lake is covered in lily pads

Getting to Cub Lake Trailhead

From Estes Park, take US 36 (Park Entrance Road) towards Rocky Mountain National Park. Once you pass the fee booth, take a left onto Bear Lake Road. Then, turn right onto Moraine Park Campground road and stay to the left of the upcoming fork to continue past Moraine Park Campground onto Fern Lake Road.

Cub Lake can either be reached from the Cub Lake Trailhead along Fern Lake Road or the Fern Lake Trailhead, which sits at the end of Fern Lake Road. The trailheads are about a mile apart, so if you want to make this hike a loop, you can start at one trailhead and finish at the other, walking or hitchhiking the mile in between to return to the trailhead you started at.

Most roads and trailheads in the park are very well marked, so it is pretty easy to find your destination. We recommend getting to the trailhead early. While this hike is not as popular as others nearby, it is still well-trafficked and parking is limited.

Fern Lake Trail follows a beautiful river
Fern Lake Trail follows a beautiful river

Fees

When entering the park, you will have to stop at the fee station to pay for entrance. Below are the options for passes, some of which can be bought online or at the fee station. We opt for an annual National Parks Pass since we hit various parks and monuments around the country, making it very worth it for us.

  • Day Pass – per vehicle: $30
  • Day Pass – per person: $15 (this covers individuals entering by foot or bicycle)
  • 7-Day Pass – per vehicle: $35 (this covers entrance for seven consecutive days)
  • 7-Day Pass – per person: $20 (this covers individuals entering by foot or bicycle)
  • Annual Rocky Mountain National Park Pass: $70 (unlimited entry to RMNP in a 365-day period)
  • Annual National Park Pass: $80 (unlimited entry to national parks and select monuments in a 365-day period)

In recent years Rocky Mountain National Park implemented a timed entry permit requirement. If you visit in the summer between May and October, you need a reservation to visit the park. For more information, click here.

The Hike to Cub Lake

We started at Fern Lake Trailhead after failing to find parking at the trailhead for Emerald Lake and Cub Lake Trailhead. Fern Lake Trail began among the tall pines. It was cool in the shade of the trees, and the river made the area feel serene despite this part of the trail being fairly busy. Many people frequent this portion of Fern Lake Trail to see wildlife, fish in Big Thompson River, hike just a portion of the trail, or climb some of the large boulders just off the path.

As we hiked further, we saw fewer people. At about 1.7 miles, we reached The Pool, marking where Cub Lake Trail and Fern Lake Trail meet. This is a pretty waterfall overlook and a good spot to take a breather before leaving the shade of the trees and making the ascent up to the lake.

Perched above The Pool
Perched above The Pool

The next part of the hike was somewhat steep. We admired the mountains in the distance as we hiked among large boulders and the burnt remains of trees that charred in a fire years ago. Upon reaching the top of the hill, we saw Cub Lake down below. The dense, green lily pads on the surface almost disguised the lake, making it look more like a field.

Beautiful views of the Rockies from Cub Lake Trail

When we reached the lake, we found a secluded rock to enjoy our packed lunch on. There weren’t many people around, but there sure was a ton of chipmunks trying to sneak some food! After relaxing at the lake a while, we descended back the way we came. However, you can continue along the edge of Cub Lake and descend towards the Cub Lake Trailhead if you want to make this a loop.

Taking in the views of Cub Lake
Lia taking in the views of Cub Lake

Cub Lake Hike Details

Hike Type: Moderate Out-And-Back or Loop

Hike Distance:
Cub Lake Trailhead to Cub Lake and back: 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers)
Fern Lake Trailhead to Cub Lake and back: 5.8 miles (9.3 kilometers)
Cub Lake Loop (including distance between trailheads): 6 miles (9.7 kilometers)

Hike Duration: 2-4 hours, depending on route, hiking speed, and time spent on lake

Regulations: Dogs are not allowed; No parking outside of designated lots – there is a shuttle from town if you cannot find parking

What to Bring: Sturdy shoes, bug spray, layers and rain jacket, camera, snacks or lunch

If you are planning to hike to Cub Lake in the winter, always check park road conditions and closures. You may also snowshoes or traction gear, depending on snow conditions.

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