Nestled in the heart of the Bear Lake Corridor in Rocky Mountain National Park, this less traveled hike leads to a beautiful lake and affords hikers an opportunity to see a local family of moose that call the area home.
Bierstadt Lake Trail Hiking Stats
|Trail Description||Out-and-back (with loop at the lake)|
|Trail Location||Bierstadt Lake Trail, Colorado 80517 – located in the Bear Lake Corridor in the Rocky Mountain National Park|
|Parking Lot||40.32720, -105.61575|
|Round Trip Mileage||3.2 miles|
|Average Time||2 hours|
|Difficulty||Moderate (due to elevation gain)|
|Elevation Gain||~626 feet|
|Elevation at Summit||9,419 feet|
|Best time to visit||Late spring – early fall|
|Entrance Fee||$30 for a one-day vehicle pass; $35 for a 7-day vehicle pass; America the Beautiful pass is accepted or a variety of other annual passes. (Prices subject to change). Additionally, from late May to early October a timed entry permit (reservation) is required for entrance to the park. The current fee is $2 for reservations.|
Our experience at the Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the height of summer is a popular time for everyone. The Park has become so crowded in recent years they had to adopt a reservation system to slow down the huge influx of visitors. Unfortunately, we didn’t know about this until it was far too late to get a pass into the Bear Lake Corridor. The good news is that after 6 p.m. you may enter Bear Lake Corridor without a reservation. We figured since it was only a 3.2-mile hike and we had two hours before sunset, there would be just enough time to complete the hike before dark.
We arrived at the trailhead about 6:15 p.m. and found only a few parking spots in the small lot. It takes around 10-15 minutes to drive from the main park entrance to the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead, so be sure to factor that into your travel plans.
The trail immediately begins up a hill on a series of switchbacks through the forest, before opening up to see the valley between the mountains. Off in the distance you can see Sprague Lake to the southeast and the Bear Lake parking area to the west. This section of the hike, while more difficult due to the elevation gain, was probably our favorite due to the spectacular views.
After the switchbacks end, it’s just a short walk to the lake shore. As we were nearing the lake, a man walked up to us asking us to be quiet (sound carries quickly in the forest). He beckoned us to the lake and we saw a majestic mama moose foraging for food in the middle of Bierstadt Lake. She didn’t seem bothered by us at all and we were a very safe distance away.
Related: Check out our video of the moose at Bierstadt Lake!
As the sun was dropping quickly, we decided it was time to move and complete the loop around the lake. We tried to stay close to the shoreline but the trail was spotty at best and we quickly found the “real” trail was an outer loop trail around the lake through a heavily forested area. Unfortunately, this meant having zero views of the lake. We kept making our way as close to the lake as possible and running out of track before being routed back to the outer trail again. It was frustrating not to be able to see the lake or moose that was still munching away.
After we had gone around about 75% of the lake, my husband suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. Less than 10 feet in front of us was a baby moose, casually standing in the middle of the trail. Of course, mama moose was keeping a close eye on her baby and her head popped up to look at us the second we got close to her baby.
We quickly backed up and after anxiously looking around for signs of dad moose, decided to give the baby a very wide berth and continue on. By this point, mama went back to feeding and the baby moose just looked at us and continued waiting for mom.
We finished the lake loop and headed back to the car to get down just before darkness set in.
Should you visit the Bierstadt Lake Trail?
Rating: 4.0 Mooses
What we liked
- Seeing moose at Bierstadt Lake was a quite a treat.
- Compared to the same time of day at the nearby Bear Lake trail that was crawling with visitors, we virtually had the trail to ourselves. If you check out other reviews of the trail, you’ll find that most agree, this trail (regardless of the time of day) is far less busy than other trails nearby. If solitude is important to you, this is probably as much as you can get for trails located in the Bear Lake Corridor area.
- The view of the valley in the first mile or so of the trail was beautiful and worth the climb.
What we didn’t like
- The trail around the lake itself leaves something to be desired. There are two trails around the lake, an inner and an outer. The outer trail is wide and fully encircles that lake, but you can’t see the actual lake itself, only the woods surrounding it. The inner trail follows the shoreline, but it is incomplete and often leads straight into marshy areas that you don’t want to hike in.
Verdict: If it weren’t for the moose encounter, we’d probably rate this hike a 3.0/5.0 mooses. The view of the valley was great on the way up, but the lake at the top was difficult to see unless you try and piecemeal together a path close to the lake shore. The lake itself was also average and not very large. Since the hike is short and you don’t need a timed pass after 6 p.m., it’s worth a shot to try and see the moose family that lives in the area. Be sure to bring a flashlight as it gets dark up there fast.
Know before you go
- You’ll need a national park pass and mostly liked a timed entry pass (reservation) to access the Bierstadt Lake trailhead.
- The trailhead parking lot is very small and fills up quickly. You can park at the nearby park & ride and take the free shuttle if there are no spots. We highly recommend this option if you’re there during high season.
- The first mile is where all the elevation gain is and it’s mostly exposed. If it’s hot, you’ll want extra water and a hat.
- If you’re lucky enough to see moose along the trail, be sure to keep a safe distance.
- Bring a headlamp/flashlight if you’re planning on doing a late hike like we did. The sun goes down quick and it got pretty dark in the forested areas of the trail. It would be very difficult if not impossible coming down in the dark without a light.
More information for your trip to Bierstadt Lake Trail
How long is Bierstadt Lake Trail?
The trail is 3.2 miles long from the official Bierstadt Lake Trailhead. It takes approximately 2 hours to complete.
What is the elevation of Bierstadt Lake?
The elevation at Bierstadt Lake is 9,419’.
Do you need a pass for Bierstadt Lake?
Bierstadt Lake is located within the bounds of the Rocky Mountain National Park. An entry pass is needed for the park, along with a timed entry permit during the busy season (late May – October). A variety of passes are accepted and can be purchased at the park entrance if you don’t have one. The timed entry passes must be pre-reserved on the recreation.gov app. To get to the trailhead for Bierstadt Lake, you’ll need a timed entry pass that includes the Bear Lake Corridor. These passes are difficult to get as they sell out quickly.
During the summer months, you are able to enter the Bear Lake Corridor after 6 p.m. (or before 5 a.m.) without a timed entry pass. You’ll still need to purchase a pass to enter Rocky Mountain National Park.
What is the best time to visit Bierstadt Lake?
The optimal time to visit Bierstadt Lake is between late May and October after the snows have melted and before winter sets in again.
Who was Bierstadt Lake named after?
Back in the 1870s, a man named Albert Bierstadt, an artist, was a great admirer of the area. Albert was a German-American painter and spent most of his time painting landscapes in the western half of America. He helped increase the popularity of the Rocky Mountains due to the multitude of paintings he disseminated to the public.