The first time we did this hike, I hated it.
In retrospect, I may have overreacted. It’s not my favorite hike in Rocky, but it’s still pretty nice.
I’m sure the fact that I was asking my tired legs – which had hiked 10 miles (16 km) the day before – to climb a bunch of switchbacks was part of the reason for my hatred. I’d also made a poor choice in hiking attire; the fleece-lined leggings were nice in the early morning shade, but when gaining 600 feet (185 m) elevation over 1 mile (1.6 km) of switchbacks under the intense, high-elevation sunlight, they were terribly unnecessary.
Also, while the views from the trail are amazing (photos above), we were highly underwhelmed by the lake. Once you reach the top of the switchbacks, you find yourself on a flat, forested hilltop. From here, a loop trail encircles the lake, with a few access points to bring you to the lake shore.
We went clockwise counterclockwise around the loop (Pat just pointed out that we actually went counterclockwise… I know how a clock works, I promise) and took the first spur trail down to the lake. From here, Bierstadt Lake looks more like a marshy pond surrounded by pine trees. Pretty underwhelming when compared to the rest of the lakes in Rocky.
We made the decision to not complete the loop, and therein lies our final mistake. If you keep walking to the opposite side of the lake, there are actual views! We didn’t learn this until I saw someone else’s photo a few months after the fact. But when we returned to the lake this past fall (I know it looks like winter in the photos below, but it was only early November) we completed the entire loop and were rewarded with these beautiful sights:
We also saw a bobcat as it ran across the trail in front of us! I don’t have a photo because we literally only had time to gasp and point and then he was gone. But it was the first (and, to date, the only) bobcat we’ve ever seen so that was really neat!
Compared to the other short lake hikes in this area of Rocky (Sprague, Bear, Nymph/Dream/Emerald, and Gem), this is probably the least crowded. Both times we hiked it, we saw very few others… especially in November. That being said, the parking area at the Bierstadt trailhead is tiny and I’ve never seen an available space in the summer. Best to leave your car at the park-n-ride and take the free shuttle. In November, however, the lot still had plenty of space at 10am.
Long story short, a moderate hike to a pretty lake.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: this hike departs from the Bierstadt Trailhead on Bear Lake Road; consider leaving your car at the park-n-ride in the summer and taking the free shuttle to the trailhead
- Fees and passes: there is a $25/car daily or $35/car weekly entrance fee to RMNP; interagency annual passes are accepted. Due to COVID, entry to Rocky currently also requires all visitors to reserve a timed-entry permit that allows for entry into the park during a specific 2 hour window (learn more on the FAQ page)
- Hiking: 3.2 miles (5.2 km) round-trip to complete the entire loop, 650 feet (200 m) elevation gain
- Other: the beginning of this trail and the entire upper section around the lake is in the trees, so plan for shade in the summer and ice in the winter; we wore microspikes for these sections on our November hike. The rest of the trail is wide open under the blazing sun… even in the winter, this section was warm and dry