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Lumpy Ridge Loop to Gem Lake, Rocky Mountain NP, CO June 14, 2008

July 26, 2008

Posted July 26, 2008

On Saturday, June 14, Will and I got up fairly early for a hike in RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park). You can loop around a mountainous ridge (Lumpy Ridge; extensively used by climbers), come down the backside of Lumpy along Cow Creek (a trail used to get to Bridal Veil Falls), cut across the end of the ridge to Gem Lake, and then end up back at the car. All in all, a “good” 10 mile hike (so, maybe between 10 and 11 miles) with a variety of hiking.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative.
I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (This link
will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.)
In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map of the Lumpy Ridge Loop trail.
All links open a new browser window.

There are several good reasons to take this hike. One, it only takes 1 hour to drive to it from Fort Collins. Two, it is snow free early in the hiking season. And three, although it is in RMNP, it does not require you to purchase an entry ticket into the park. Good stuff : )

So, we left Fort Collins around 6:30 am, got up to “The Egg and I” in Estes Park around 7:30 am, had a rather great breakfast (combination of excellent service, excellent food, and very reasonable prices), and were on the trail no later than 9 am. I did discover that they have constructed a brand new trail head and parking lot (pretty decent in size), but the parking lot WILL fill up. When we got there at 8:30+am there were only a couple of dozen cars. When got back the parking lot was full (there is an additional row of parking that can’t be seen in this photo).

The trail head does have a restroom facility and a good description of the trails in the area. Take a few minutes to review and it will probably help you decide where to go. If you do not feel like doing the “loop”, there are shorter options as far as hiking.

We immediately were able to see some of the striking rock formations that Lumpy Ridge is known for (most being much larger than this, of course).

The trail cuts over a small ridge ………

And through some small clearings. One thing you notice very quickly is that you will (for the next 4 miles) get many great views of Longs Peak and the continental divide. So, I took many photos of Longs Peak : )

Zoom in a little on that. Will wants us to climb Longs Peak later this year. Hmmmm. Looks kinda high to me.

Eventually you see the Black Canyon Creek valley. The trail will travel up the valley (the split to the right) for another 3-4 miles and slowly (well, rather quickly near the end) gain altitude and cross Lumpy Ridge to descend down Cow Creek.

That said, for another couple of miles, the trail is almost flat (relatively speaking) and a real delight to hike. We were having a splendid time; everything was green, the air was cool, no mosquitoes or flies, the sky was blue, just about as perfect as you could wish for.

Here is Will standing on a slight rise on what used to be a parking spot for the “old” trailhead. It is no longer used. Behind him is the bottom of the Black Canyon which is occupied by the MacGregor Ranch (which at one time I thought was being purchased by RMNP, but it appears that fell through; or something happened).

Yours truly in my normal heroic role : ) As I said, Longs Peak just seems to be the normal background for this area.

Grove of aspen. As I said, everything was very “green”.

As we headed up the trail, you could see some of the rock formations that were popular with the climbers.

Another view of Longs across the Black Canyon valley.

View of the trail as it starts up the Black Canyon. The trail kinda curves around to the right (along with the creek). But stays very level for some time. This part of the trail (and for another mile or more) would be a very nice “short” hike for people with children (say, between 6 – 10 years of age) who did not want to go too far from the parking lot. That would give you a round trip hike of 4-5 miles (depending how far up the Black Canyon you go).

Again, slightly different view of (yes, again : ) Longs Peak across the Black Canyon Creek. Note that there is a sign that “reminds” you to not go off the trail and down to the pastures/creek below as it is “private” land (not really sure what the true legal entity is that owns the land, but they don’t want you in it). But, that’s ok. You eventually get into the park itself.

We were able to see the climbers on some of the rock faces. Note that they looked much smaller than this to the naked eye. These are zoomed in with my camera and the climbers are still smallish : )


A final look back down Black Canyon valley. Longs Peak is “gone” (finally : ), but you can see Twin Sisters in the distance to the right.

The trail entered some open forested areas. Ran into a herd of deer and one of them stopped to say “hi” (or, what the heck are you? : ) We watched them jump over a fence. They looked like they just “floated” over the fence. So effortless.

Now, I have to say that up to this point the trail had been “relatively” flat. But, after entering the forest, the trail definitely began a noticeable uphill trend. And, it would stay that way for at least a mile or more.

But, we did get to some scenic viewpoints where, yes, you could (again) see Longs Peak : )

I’ll zoom in a little on that. Yep, that be Longs.

And still, the trail went up.

But, eventually, we reached the ridge top. From here we would drop down into Cow Creek and take the trail down towards the Cow Creek Trailhead parking lot. The trail to Gem Lake turns off the Cow Creek trail about a mile and a half prior to the Cow Creek Trailhead parking lot. If you go “left” on the ridge here, you will end up at Lawn Lake. Quite a nice place. But there is a shorter trail to Lawn Lake that takes off from the Fall River road in RMNP.

The trail down to Cow Creek takes you through a very pretty grove of aspen (which will extend along Cow Creek all the way along the trail).

I began to see quite a few wild flowers which meant “photo time” : )

Let’s take a macro of that…….

The day began to warm up as we followed the trail.

After descending approximately half a mile (or less), you reach the wide open valley section of Cow Creek. From this point all the way to the Cow Creek Trailhead, it’s a very nice valley with easy hiking.

As nice as the aspens look growing along side the creek during the summer, they are spectacular during the fall.

Taking it easy. And it was just as nice as it looks : )

The view from my eyes………..

Coming to the little park where the Bridal Veil Falls trail splits off from the Cow Creek Trail. Rather pretty section.

You have to cross a little creek first. It was a somewhat treacherous and tricky crossing.

Will tells me he thinks he has it licked.

Here is the sign at the trail crossing.

Looking up Bridal Veil Falls trail without the sign. It is a nice hike and the falls (early in the summer) can be very entertaining (although a little tricky if you want to keep hiking above the falls). Yes, the white stuff is snow.

This section of the trail runs along (and just above) Cow Creek (and it’s aspens).

Here is a view of Cow Creek through the aspens.

Zoom in just a bit.

So, after a really great hike down Cow Creek, we hit the intersection of the trail to Gem Lake. This is looking back up the trail we had just come down.

Now, if you ask us, while the sign states 2.8 miles to Gem Lake, we believe that you go through a space/time warp which seems to increase the millage to Gem Lake by around (only approximate, of course) 10,000 miles. Or more. It probably depends on the time of day (afternoon for us), direction of travel (we were going to be heading “up” the trail), how many miles already covered (we had just hiked 6-7 miles), and the sun/air temperature (rather warmish by now).

It had a promising beginning. You first head down to cross Cow Creek.

At Cow Creek it is nice and shady, cool, with the rippling creek adding a quaint background noise.

There is even a “bridge” to pause on and look down the stream.

Will and I crossed Cow Creek and headed towards Gem Lake (approximately 10,002.8 miles away). I was distracted by a flower and paused to take a quick photo.

You do gain quite a bit of altitude coming up from Cow Creek. So, quite often you get some good views of the surrounding country. This is looking back up the valley that has Bridal Veil Falls. Still a fair amount of snow in the high country. Will and I would have a close encounter with the white stuff on our next hike.

The terrain you hike through to get to Gem Lake is varied. Some of it is through fairly thick forest cover, but some of it goes through what looks like old burns. Most of it seems to be uphill : )

Finally. Gem Lake. We found a place to sit and just relax for around 10 minutes. Not a very large lake. But by then I would have thought it beautiful if it had only been 10 feet across : )

We started back down, but ran into a great overlook almost immediately after leaving the lake. I persuaded Will to pause for a few photos. Will and the old man.

View of Estes Park and some strange mountain I’ve never seen before : )

Zoom in on that a little.

Here is a pano of the entire Estes Park view.

On the way down the trail towards the Gem Lake/Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, you keep the sight of Estes Park and the mountains in view almost the entire time. So, pretty good scenery all the way down.

The trail itself was quite steep in some places (where it’s as if you are hopping down a stone stairway made for giants). But most of the time the trail was very nice. Since the trail from the parking lot to Gem lake is only around 2 miles in length (1.7 per the sign) one way, it is very popular. We passed a lot of families with children (8+ years of age).

We even passed “hole in the rock”. Will cannot resist.

After close to 10 miles of hiking, Will was pretty tired and let the rock win after a few minutes of combat.

You come to an intersection that provides a quick route to the parking lot (.5 mile to the left) or a slightly longer route if want to do a little loop (1.1 mile straight ahead). We opted to go left for some reason.

Closeup of the sign.

Now the next section of trail was very interesting. It was lined with wild rose bushes. Very pretty.

Just couldn’t resist. Wild roses and Longs Peak.

And then, Will knew, we were done.

And life was good : )

Great day in total. Very good hike. Highly recommended as an early season hike. Take plenty of water (or, bring a filter). And, don’t forget the sunscreen : )

– Geoff Weatherford

4 Comments leave one →
  1. jon permalink
    February 2, 2009 4:45 am

    thanks for the pics…we went up there this past late december….day or two after Christmas….such a nice cold day

  2. Tracey Bland permalink
    January 23, 2010 5:20 pm

    Amazing views!! My husband and I are venturing to Estes in June for our honeymoon and this is one trail we will definitely have to hit. I can’t wait to show this blog to him tonight!

  3. January 24, 2010 11:35 pm


    It is a very nice hike. I did another hike on that trail in May of 2009 that you may want to review ( It is more up to date and has some info on which direction (if you do a loop) you may want to hike the trail.
    Thanks for visiting.


  4. December 18, 2015 5:10 am

    I love it so much

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