Estes Park, Colorado is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and you don’t even have to pass through the official park entrance to reach many a lovely hike. Gem Lake is an easy-ish uphill walk of about 3.4 miles round trip, with rewarding views. Boulders and trees open up to show off 14,259-foot Long’s Peak and a range of 13ers, as you hike from nearly eight-thousand to nearly nine-thousand feet. The lake at the top is really more of a pond, but it’s surrounded by stunning granite formations. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind being harassed by small gangs of thieving chipmunks. I recommend going on a weekday for peace and quiet, and a chance to see raptors. We went on Monday, July 16, and even then we passed plenty of tourists.
The Gem Lake Trail is easy to find. Take US 36 to downtown Estes Park. From there, head north on MacGregor Avenue, which turns into Devils Gulch Road. Go less than a mile past the gateway to MacGregor Ranch, and turn left at the sign for the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. The parking lot isn’t far off Devils Gulch Road. Here’s a short video of a few things you might see along the trail, and yes, that sound at the end is a small afternoon thunderstorm: