Fern Lake is a hiking and fishing delight – Estes Park Trail-Gazette

  • A greenback cutthroat trout sits on a rock after being caught. (Dan Poust/Collaborating Photographer.)

  • A bull moose sits on the shore of Fern Lake.(Thomas...

    A bull moose sits on the shore of Fern Lake. (Thomas Poust/collaborating photographer)

  • Burnt trees are in ruins because of the...

    Burnt trees lie in ruins following the Fern Lake fire. (Matthew Poust/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

  • Fern Lake.  (Matthew Poust/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

    Fern Lake. (Matthew Poust/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

  • Burnt trees fill the stunning view on Fern Lake Trail....

    Burnt trees fill the stunning view on Fern Lake Trail. (Matthew Poust/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

  • A purple plant sits in front of a fallen tree...

    A purple colored plant sits in front of a fallen tree burned by the Fern Lake wildfire. (Matthew Poust/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

For those looking to get out for another effective hike in Rocky Mountain National Park before the cold months sweep through the region, Fern Lake Trail is a top pick. Sitting at a 7.5 mile round trip with an elevation gain of 1,476, the trail can be strenuous for some, but is rewarded once the alluring lake nestled in the mountain is reached.

My dad, brother and I did the hike over Labor Day weekend. As fly fishers, we were looking for a footslog that would pay off in fish caught, and talk around town led us to search for Fern Lake.

The trailhead begins at the prairie end of Moraine Park and is easily accessible by a short drive through the Bear Lake Park entrance.

Within a quarter of a mile of our effort, we saw a herd of elk that numbered about 50. They were lying in the shady brushwood of the forest, enjoying the relief of the scorching sun that beat down that day, and with rut season looming, a few sizable bulls were watching the peloton.

The first stopping point on the trail is about a mile and a half away at a landmark known as “The Pool”. The blue-water waterfalls that run through the area are formed by the convergence of the Big Thompson River and Fern Creek, which marks the end of the flat land and the start of the slope.

The part of the trail past The Pool brings with it a graveyard of towering dead trees, blackened and laid bare by the 2012 Fern Lake wildfire. As low-growing pink and yellow shrubs paint the ground the slow rebirth of the landscape, an eerie 3,500-acre hole has been left ravaged for the foreseeable future. Through two miles of switchbacks of rocky trails this burn scar continues until the lake is reached.

The land of devastation we passed through came in handy when we saw the bubbling surface water that seemed to be at a boiling point due to the surging fish. We each picked rocks to stand on and as we put on our rods we were greeted by a group of four moose lounging on the shore of the lake nearly 50 yards away.

With our flies tied and the antler species of brill in front of us, we started casting in the fishy water below us.

My dad’s first cast yielded the coveted species of green-backed cutthroat that inhabit the surrounding lakes of the region: a telltale sign that great Rocky Mountain National Park is being fished. At only 10-12 inches, what these fish lack in size they make up for in color. Shades of green and yellow mottled with dark spots, a scarlet belly and blood red gills, these greenbacks are some of the most vibrant species of trout one can have the pleasure of landing.

Scattered along this species of trout are many Colorado cutthroats and brookies that have their own beauty. By finding luck on the end of each of our lines, we were able to land handfuls of fish, my dad and brother totaling ten against mine, as they are better anglers than me. However, a person’s skill level doesn’t matter much at Fern Lake, as the water is full of hungry mountain trout, making it a surefire option for any angler.

After repeating the capture and release process until our accomplishment, we trudged back down the mountain to our starting point.

Overall the hike took just over four hours and is a top selection for a day trip. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely hike with rewarding views or hoping to grab a few bites on your hook, Fern Lake Trail is a selection to choose from.

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