With breathtaking views of misty mountains and peculiar switchbacks of Bear Lake Road, the Bierstadt Lake Trail is a stunning hike one should never miss when in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bierstadt Lake Trail: A Hike that Starts at Bierstadt Lake Trailhead
Vibrant yellow, red, and orange fall hues spread in front of us, reaching the misty mountains as far as the eye could see. Foggy blankets, trapped in the tops of evergreen trees nestled outside this seasonal brilliance, strived to hide this colorful sea from lonely hikers tramping uphill along the Bierstadt Lake Trail.
Yet all the efforts of naughty weather were unsuccessful. Despite the thick misty cloth and generous heaven’s gifts in form of rain and hail, the Bierstadt Lake hike invigorated all physical and visual senses.
How could such a gorgeous trail to be our last in Rocky Mountain National Park? Why was that that only one person, a former ranger, mentioned the Bierstadt Lake Trail as a must-do hike in Colorado?
We didn’t have answers to these questions. Nor were we upset that the trail was almost empty. Visiting Rocky Mountain National park in October when the weather instructed park’s guests to stay inside more often than outside certainly played to our advantage. The Bierstadt Lake hike felt like such a relief compared to popular trails in the Bear Lake area.
But the biggest allure of this steep path were the panoramic views. After admiring the vibrant fall foliage along the Cub Lake Trail, a section of the Alberta Falls Trail, and some sporadic colorful outbursts in the Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake area, finally we could soak up all of the fall magic in Rocky Mountain National Park at once.
Right from the trailhead, the moderate hike rewarded us with more than we could imagine. And we weren’t even close to Bierstadt Lake yet.
BIERSTADT LAKE TRAIL: HIKE UP THE MOUNTAINSIDE
Quick Trail Facts
- Distance: 2.8-mile, round-trip hike
- Location: Bierstadt Lake Trailhead
- Elevation Gain: 566 feet
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
- Time: 2 hours
Discrepancies in Estimating the Distance of Bierstadt Lake Trail
A few articles I had read prior to our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park insisted the the entire Bierstadt Lake hike was 2.4 miles long. There was no clear details about the trail at the trailhead. But the hike up the mountainside to subalpine Bierstadt Lake felt certainly longer than 1.2 miles one way.
As we walked deeper into the woods that secluded this precious gem in Rocky Mountain, a mile marker with 1.2 miles on it indeed adorned the side of the trail. The lake, however, wasn’t nowhere to find yet. Instead, we needed to hike for additional 0.2 – 0.3 mile to get to the shore of Bierstadt Lake.
The length variation depended on which side of the place you wanted to see first. We succumbed to a possibility to discover new sights along the longer path. Surprisingly, our choice proved to be the best. The views from the eastern shore of the lake were to dream of: wondrous, stupendous, and unobstructed. And while the closest to the Bierstadt Lake Trail junction shore hosted a few fall hikers, our side was as quiet as a desert.
With that said, I’d agree with those who insists that the Bierstadt Lake hike is not shorter than 2.8 miles. It may be even slightly longer if you choose to tread around the lake.
Bierstadt Lake Hike Overview
A few trails in the Bear Lake Road Corridor take you to Bierstadt Lake. The majority of the park’s visitors hike to the subalpine gem from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Considered that this area is a start of many other astonishing hikes and has one of the largest parking lots in the park, it makes it a rather convenient location to trek to the secluded lake from.
Hike from the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead
The so-called official hike starts at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead. A small parking lot with a restroom marks the beginning of the trail. From here, the path steadily runs uphill. A lodgepole pine forest shades the trail for approximately 0.2 mile. Slowly, it releases its grasp, allowing to see an aspen grove, peeking through the green veil.
Bursting with the radiant yellow colors amid the prevailing brown and grey tones, this section looks especially welcoming and refreshing in fall. While you might think that it’s the best part of the Bierstadt Lake hike, the trail continues to ascend, preparing even greater surprises ahead.
Slowly, you leave the grove and tramp along a series of switchbacks toward the top of the Bierstadt Moraine. The Bierstadt Lake hike is the most tedious at this point. The vistas, however, surpass any hurdles tenfold. The jaw-dropping views of the distant rugged mountains and the basin area below them open up. In late September – mid-October, this region is dotted with the vivid fall colors.
TIP: Don’t rush here. Stay on the trail as long as you need to take in all this splendor. Once you satisfy your visual thirst, hike farther up the mountainside toward Bierstadt Lake.
Into the Woods
Eventually, the trail departs from the cliff edge and veers into the woods. The pine forest takes over this part of the hike once again. At 1.2 miles into the hike, the path comes across the Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail junction.
If by this time you’ve almost run out of breath, turned to the right and continue hiking for 0.2 mile. It’s the shortest way to get to Bierstadt Lake from here.
Alternatively, you can keep going straight until you reach another trail junction. The left fork takes you to Bear Lake. The right one runs deeper into the woods until stopping at the eastern shore of the lake. Your Bierstadt Lake hike is officially half-way done here.
End of Bierstadt Lake Hike
You can turn back and return to the trailhead the same way you came, or extend your Bierstadt Lake hike by trekking through the woods to the Bear Lake Trailhead.
Meet Bierstadt Lake
Bierstadt Lake is a shallow lake surrounded by the rugged Rocky Mountains and the lodgepole pine forest. While the former guard the area from afar, the latter keeps it secreted from all oblivious visitors hiking nearby. No steams, flowing in or out, disturb the serenity of the area. Only melting snow and rainwater are allowed to fill Bierstadt Lake to the brim.
History: The tranquil lake was named after a great landscape painter, Albert Bierstadt, who immortalized the natural beauty of the area in his masterpieces. Although the artist is long gone, his name is not forgotten and his works still adorn the walls of numerous galleries and museums throughout the country.
Bierstadt was brought into the Colorado wilderness by the Earl of Dunraven, a prominent Irish aristocrat. Dunraven commissioned the artist to paint the expansive landscapes with towering Longs Peak in the Estes Park area.
Bierstadt Lake Trail: Location and Direction
The Bierstadt Lake Trailhead sits along Bear Lake Road, nearly 11 miles from the town of Estes Park. Take US-36 W and follow it for 3.8 miles, entering Rocky Mountain National Park at the Beaver Meadows Entrance. At a road intersection, located 0.2 mile from the entrance, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. Drive for 6.8 miles until you reach the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead, sitting to your right.
Map: Direction to Bierstadt Lake Trailhead from Estes Park
Start the Hike: Bierstadt Lake Trailhead vs. Bear Lake Trailhead
Which hike is better, the one that starts at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead? It’s simply a matter of preferences. I think the first one is prettier. On the other hand, the trail is steeper and the hike is more strenuous. Here are a few other points to consider while choosing where to start your Bierstadt Lake hike.
The Bierstadt Lake Trailhead wins over the Bear Lake Trailhead when it comes to the panoramic views along the way. Running up the mountainside, the first trail unveils the natural wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park from, what it feels like, a bird’s eye view.
The trail that starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead passes mostly through the woods, omitting most of these epic vantage points.
Starting at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead, the path springs up the mountainside and through the pine woods for 1.4 miles. To get to the same destination from the Bear Lake area, you need to tramp through the thick forest for 1.6 miles.
This point summarizes what was said a few times before. The hike from the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead includes traversing the lodgepole pine forest, the small aspen grove near the beginning of the trail, and the large area with several switchbacks that open up the remarkable views of the Bear Lake Road Corridor.
The Bierstadt Lake hike from the Bear Lake Trailhead is modest in its vistas. The path proceeds mostly through the woods, limiting your sights to the tall trees and the sky above them.
So far, the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead leads in all categories. At least when it comes to my hiking preferences. Yet this path is not flawless. The biggest disadvantage of the Bierstadt Lake hike that starts at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead is a steep incline. The trail gains more than 566 feet in elevation before reaching the lake.
Slightly longer, the hike from the Bear Lake Trailhead feels easier. The trail doesn’t ascend higher than 255 feet over the entire duration of the walk.
Things to Know and Tips for Hiking Bierstadt Lake Trail
Trail is Open Year Round
The best time to hike to Bierstadt Lake, though, is from late spring though mid-October when the trail is free of snow. For a winter excursion, be sure to bring snowshoes.
Don’t Take Altitude Sickness Lightly
The trail starts at 8,840 feet and gains more than 566 feet in elevation by the time it reaches the lake. So be sure to get acclimated to hight altitude – if you’re not at ease with it – before attempting the hike.
Hike Early in the Morning
Although not as popular as the Bear Lake Trailhead, the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead gathers hordes of hikers during the summer season. Considering the limited parking spaces, it might be a big problem.
Therefore, be sure to hit the trail early in the morning or late in the afternoon to ensure an open parking spot. Otherwise, use park shuttle to get to the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead from other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Pets are not allowed on the Bierstadt Lake Trail.
Ride a Horse
On the other hand, you can use a horse to conquer the steep incline to the lake.
Wear Shoes with Excellent Traction
It’s always advisable to wear good hiking shoes with excellent traction while marching along the strenuous, uphill running trails.
Keep yourself hydrated whether you hike to Bierstadt Lake in summer or winter.
Wear Hat and Sunscreen
A good section of the Bierstadt Lake Trail is exposed to the sun. Protect your skin by slathering on sunscreen and wearing a hat and sunglasses.
Make Use of Hiking Poles
To assist you with the steep hike, be sure to use a pair of hiking poles.
Fishing is not allowed at Bierstadt Lake. Keep it simple. Just find a perfect rock to perch on and enjoy the distant mountains and the close embrace of the pine forest.
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