Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
950.00 ft (289.56 m)
Trail type
3.30 mi (5.31 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

National Park Pass


Iconic rock formations. Panoramic views of Front Range.


No backcountry campsites.

Trailhead Elevation

7,880.00 ft (2,401.82 m)


Rock climbing
Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day


Suitable for



Nearby Lodging + Camping


A nice rock formation that is seen around 1.4 mi up from the trail is Paul Bunyan's boot. It is a rock in the shape of a boot. One can get to Gem Lake from either the Lumpy Ridge trail head or the Cow Creek trail head. Starting from Lumpy Ridge trail head is probably the most popular one. If starting from the Lumpy Ridge trail head, the other destination that can be added to make it a half day hike is the Balanced Rock. It is 4 mile round trip from Gem Lake and can be done in a couple of hours. it is a big rock on top of another rock, hence the name "Balanced Rock".

I did the Gem Lake trail last week ( Feb 24, 2019) starting from the Lumpy Ridge trail head. There was not much snow on the trail since the trail faces south and is completely exposed to sun the whole way up to Gem Lake. So unless one is doing this trail early in winter, you might not need snowshoes. There were patches where one needed spikes, but could do the entire hike with no micro spikes. It is usually pretty windy up at the Gem Lake.

If one starts at the Cow Creek trail head, it is possible to go to Bridal Veil Falls also. It will make it a longer day for sure, but it will be worth for someone looking for a whole day adventure.
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