Although the round-trip mileage from Lumpy Ridge Trailhead to Gem Lake and back might not shock your weekend warrior friends, the elevation gain might. In just 1.65 miles this trail ascends almost 1,000 feet in elevation, aided sometimes by 1-foot-tall stone steps along the way, earning the intrepid hiker spectacular views of Estes Park and the sheer granite cliffs that encircle Gem Lake.
That's not to say that this hike is underutilized, however. It's one of Estes Park's most popular hiking destinations because it's generally accessible year-round and it grants access to Lumpy Ridge, a massive exposed granite outcropping and one of Rocky Mountain National Park's most popular rock climbing crags.
During the first half mile hikers pass through the historic McGregor Ranch, originally established by Clara and Alexander McGregor in the mid-1800s. Intending to preserve the undeveloped valley, park officials purchased 1,221 acres just over 100 years later, and they still actively maintain it. The old homestead and surrounding private ranch now function as a working ranch, youth education center, historic site, and public museum.
Once you've reach Gem Lake, really only a small pool, don't simply turn around, rather, continue your explorations by scrambling up the granite dome crag that rises up east of the lake. The granite surface provides sure footing, and the short extension will rise you high atop Lumpy Ridge with 360-degree views of the stunning surrounding landscape and national park.
If time permits, extend your hike further on the return by passing under the iconic Twin Owls, one of Lumpy Ridge's most popular rock climbing spots.