August 1 of 2020 found us at Odessa Lake and Fern Lake on our big hike during our Colorado Trip. This one counted out at 11.5 miles on my Fitbit and 12 miles on Steve’s Fitbit. Definitely a big mountain hike for two over 50 year olds from Iowa!! I’m not going to lie, this was a tough one. Be that as it may, I would do this hike again. I would list this as our #3 toughest all time hikes with #1 being up the Bright Angel in Grand Canyon and #2 Being Mist Falls and Nevada Falls at Yosemite. You can click on the links if you would like to read about them. Although it was a tough hike, Odessa and Fern Lake are one of many beautiful Colorado trails and worth the effort.
All things considered, this is not a good hike for anyone with feet, ankle or knee problems. It is a tough hike. With this in mind, I would suggest to acclimate to the altitude before hiking here and to bring water, salty snacks and electrolytes. Also working out in advance really helped! In reality, I always wish I would have worked out more when doing these hikes!
Odessa Lake is not a place you can drive to, it is one of those Colorado lakes you can only get to by foot. Located on the Eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Easy to get to, this trail is located about a half hour from Estes Park. Follow Highway 36 W and then take Bear Lake Road. You will access the Odessa Lake Trail via the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. The Bear Lake Parking lot is at the end of the road. It was already full when we arrived at 6:30. Alternately you can park at the Glacier Trailhead but will have to walk a bit further. This also was full so we parked at the Park and Ride Shuttle service instead.
The Park and Ride Shuttle Service is located on Bear Lake Road and has ample parking space. Once parked you wait in line then hop on the shuttle. There are two shuttle routes in the park and I believe in addition there is one from town. We took the Bear Lake shuttle and all in all it was an easy way to get where we wanted to go!
I was very impressed with social distancing courtesy on the trails and the wearing of face masks/coverings. People were very good at moving to the side for uphill hikers and hikers going both ways would pull up or put on a face mask before passing people. As a matter of fact, I was impressed with Colorado as a whole in regards to mask wearing, social distancing, and respecting others space.
Once off the shuttle we headed to the Bear Lake Trailhead and spoke briefly to the ranger who pointed us on our way. We have been to Bear Lake before so did not go around the entire lake. We enjoyed the view and then headed towards are trail. Bear Lake is such a beautiful lake and is so accessible.
Up the Mountain
We soon found out that the name of the game here was climbing up continuously. For the most part, the first mile up was a pretty steep incline through the forest. The path was not hard to walk on but did have some rocks.
Flowers and Boulders
As you continue on your way up, the incline does become more gradual at times. You will pass through small meadows with lots of wild flowers, cross over a boulder field, and see some small unnamed ponds. All in all, this is actually a very pretty hike. We even came across some snow!
Marigold Pools & Lake Helene
About 3 miles in you will come across what is known as the Marigold Pools. When we were there they were dried up so all we saw were rocks. A local guy hiking told us that is what they were or we would have passed by without noticing them.
This hiker also told us how to find Lake Helene. It was on our map and appeared to be right after the pools and we of course wanted to check it out. It is not an easy path to find, in addition, you can not see the lake from the Odessa Lake Trail. We found the Lake Helene trail at 3.12 miles from the trailhead. It actually wasn’t a trail and more of the path. While ascending up past the pools, look for a small path to the left that heads downward. The local we met told us there would be a fallen tree marking it. I am not sure we would have found it if this gentleman wouldn’t have given us this information.
Lake Helene was pretty and we were the only ones there. The path was a bit hard to follow with weeds overgrown across the path and lots of branches and twigs. We also spotted poison ivy so be careful if you go here. The absolute worse part though was the mosquitos. They were vicious! The hiker had told us you could walk around the lake but we opted not to mostly because of the mosquitos but also because the trail wasn’t too great.
Large Boulder Field
Back on the trail to Lake Odessa we climbed upward for about a tenth of a mile and then the trail started downhill. As a matter of fact, the rest of the hike was mostly downhill from here. The path continued to the right and we could see Lake Odessa below us. It didn’t look very big. We were against a mountain to the the right and to the left was the Lake, Notch Mountain, and a beautiful mountain scene.
For the next 3/4 of a mile we walked on what I call a boulder field. Large rocks were basically the path. Not an easy path to walk. At this point I was glad I did not bring my trekking poles as I was afraid they would have caught in the rocks. We only saw one other couple during this time and they were coming up. They started the day where we planned to finish and I would say that we made the better choice. They looked exhausted!
Just under 5 miles from the trailhead we made the turn to Odessa Lake. To see Odessa Lake you have to follow the trail, otherwise you just pass it by. The path to the lake was beautiful. You will walk along a creek, cross a footbridge and the see the beautiful snowcaps in the background. Absolutely breathtaking.
Odessa Lake was very nice and a prime example of Colorado beauty. We only saw a couple of other people here. One guy was fishing and others, like us, just resting and taking a break. There were a few dark clouds in the sky and it started to sprinkle when we were there so we headed back to the path to head further down in case it would storm.
Hiking to Fern Lake did not have the dramatic scenery the first part of our hike did. We mainly hiked through forest on a path with lots of loose rocks.
I tracked Fern Lake at just over a mile from the Odessa Trail turn off to the footbridge over the creek along Fern Lake. The lake was pretty with trees around it. There are campsites here, I am presuming more primitive but again, very few people were at this lake. It was sprinkling again when we were here and the clouds looked somewhat dark so we didn’t stop long and continued on our way down.
Our next milestone was Fern Falls. The falls were further from the lake than I had figured, about 1.75 miles. The trail was still rocky but getting better. Now I was wishing I had brought my trekking poles.
Fern Falls plunges down into Fern Creek. They are quite impressive. As we approached here the clouds let loose and started to downpour. We donned our rain gear and just about as soon as we were all situated the rain stopped.
After enjoying the Falls 23 continued downward on the trail and stopped long enough to remove our rain gear and have a snack, and electrolytes.
The trail for the next mile was much easier as we hiked another mile down to an area called the pool. This area is where Fern Creek meets the Big Thomson River. This confluence was a nice spot to just sit and relax. There were quite a bit of people here. More than we had seen all together all day. Actually the trail the rest of the way was pretty busy. The trail was also much easier to hike on as well.
The last milestone on the trail was about a half mile away and called Arch Rocks. These are large rocks that fell years ago from the cliffs above and landed in an odd way that they form somewhat of an Arch. It was getting to be a long day and I must admit we sat and rested again!
Fern Falls Trailhead
We finally made it to the Fern Falls Trailhead, and I admit I was pretty happy to see it! There is a small parking lot here and it was about half full. The rest of our hike was on a dirt road to the shuttle which was another .8 tenths of a mile away.
We were so happy to see the shuttle there and not have to wait for it!
(it arrives every 30 minutes.) The shuttle took us back to our Jeep and we were glad to relax!
This trail was amazing even though tough and exhausting! It was strenuous and I am glad we had been working out and preparing for this all summer. We were both glad were able to check off Lake Odessa and Fern Lake Trails on our Colorado bucket list. My Fitbit clocked 11.5 miles from Bear Lake Trailhead to the Shuttle. Steve’s clocked 12 miles. The signs show Bear Lake being 8.5 miles from the trailhead. I am assuming the extra miles were from hiking to Lake Helene, hiking the path to Lake Odessa and hiking to the shuttle at the end. This Hike took us approximately 8 hours and 10 minutes.
Colorado Chelsea, Hikes and Travels in Colorado and Beyond is a great resource for hiking in Colorado. Chelsea lives in Colorado and has blogged about her many different hikes giving great information on each.
All Trails. All trails is a hiking App that gives information on most every hike known. You can use this app to get an idea of where or what type of hike you want to do. Directions are available as well.
I used Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park guide book to determine which hike I wanted to do. This book covers a lot about each trail listed along with difficulty level, distance, and location. In regards to location, it is additionally broken down by area and includes maps of each trail. I like that it is broken down by area in case we finish a trail early we can find another one nearby easily. It also has a lot of colored photos which I like.
I like the National Geographic Trail maps and the Rocky Mountain Trail Map is another great one. I just bought the map for this trip and wish I had bought it a couple of years earlier. We referenced this map frequently on this hike to check where we were. An added bonus to having this map was finding areas on the map that did not have a marker on the trail. One of them was Lake Helene and another was the Marigold Pools.