For experienced hikers who want day hike in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park early in the season or new backpackers that want to get more experience in the backcountry with an easier loop, Lumpy Ridge is a perfect solution to both. Relocated in 2007, the trailhead for Lumpy Ridge was born out of the Gem Lake and Twin Owls trailheads, and this makes for very easy access to either side of the ridge.
The loop can be completed in either direction as a tough long run, a moderate day hike, or a beginner’s overnight to some of the campsites on the backside of the ridge. Hikers have the option to detour to Bridal Veil Falls. To minimize crowds, hike counter-clockwise; this allows you to hit Gem Lake early in the day before the crowds show up. Alternatively, hiking clockwise saves the best for last and offers the best views of Estes Park and the Continental Divide on the descent from Gem Lake at the end of the loop.
If you’re going clockwise, the first views you’ll see will be the Twin Owls peeking through the trees as you hike along the foothills just below the rocky cliffs. The Twin Owls are a very prominent rock formation and one of the best rock climbing spots for beginners.
The forest quickly opens up into gorgeous meadows of the historic MacGregor Ranch, which in 1983 had a conservation easement allowing over 1,200 acres of the ranch to be preserved for natural beauty under private ownership. This undeveloped area is a great place to see early season wildflowers and late season golden aspens in the fall. The mountains that line the horizon make a perfect backdrop.
Returning to the woods, an ascent tops out an an unnamed low pass to access the Cow Creek Trail along the northern end of the loop. Continue down along the creek until the trail opens back up into scenic meadows. Good signage along the route allows for a last-minute decision on whether to turn left toward Bridal Veil Falls. Continue east and follow signs to Gem Lake, where the second tough climb will yield great reward. Because of its low elevation, Gem Lake remains hikeable for much of the year.
The trail returns to the trailhead along a very scenic stretch through rocky outcroppings with tremendous views of the Estes Park valley, Longs Peak, Twin Sisters, and the Continental Divide. Estes Park is a nice pitstop after the hike for a meal, ice cream, or for exploring the quaint mountain town.