Nestled at the base of Ypsilon Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, Ypsilon Lake is a rugged alpine lake flanked by a sheer cliff face to the northwest and views of Bighorn Mountain and the Roaring River Valley to the southeast. At about 4.7 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain from the Lawn Lake Trailhead, it is a reasonably strenuous ascent. Frankly, much of the trail won’t reward hikers for their effort, but Ypsilon Lake and its smaller companion, Chipmunk Lake, are two of many beautiful alpine destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park and worth the hike on their own merit, and anglers will find a cool and quiet place to drop a line.
From Lawn Lake Trailhead, follow several steep switchbacks to a gradual ascent northwest through Douglas fir toward Roaring River. After the half-mile mark, the trail will open on the Roaring River. There is a stark change in the terrain where massive flooding in 2013 tore through the canyon, cutting into the canyon walls and depositing tons of sediment and rock and timber into Horseshoe Park, leaving behind bare walls and a completely new canyon. The raw power of the 2013 floods destroyed housing and infrastructure in Estes Park, and it has taken years to recover. Aspen and other fauna have quickly recolonized the canyon floor.
Follow the ridge overlooking the canyon for another half-mile or so to a junction; take the left spur to Ypsilon Lake. Cross the canyon floor and a small footbridge over Roaring River and begin ascending again for another half mile. The trail will continue ascending another mile before the trail levels sharply at a small but conspicuous clearing. This is a good place to pause before the push to Ypsilon Lake.
Continue ascending for another 1.5 miles to Chipmunk Lake, a small, quiet pond no more than a half-mile from Ypsilon. Backcountry camping is available nearby at Chipmunk Campground. After a brief ascent past Chipmunk Lake, the trail will descend to Ypsilon Lake for no more than a half mile. Cross a dilapidated footbridge to find the lake shore and its emerald waters. A waterfall is just a short trek to the northwest. The best views are found by following the lake shore to the southeastern edge of the lake, where Ypsilon Mountain can be seen towering high above the lake’s waters.
Find a quiet rock to cast a line, or enjoy the view with lunch and a friend before the trek back to the trailhead.