The first real snow came to our mountains this past week, officially beginning the awkward transitional season where there is too much snow to hike yet not enough snow to snowshoe. Ryan and I were undecided as to where we should go this weekend because of this, but after having a full day of sunshine and relatively warm weather, we would risk the trail conditions and hike in Rocky Mountain National Park while staying below 10,000ft to better our chances of a “dry” hike.
Since we didn’t hike the entire trail consisting of Lake Helena, Odessa Lake, Fern Lake, The Pool, and Fern Falls last weekend for the sake of time (we only visited Lake Helena and Odessa Lake), we decided that we would start on the opposite side of the trail and pay a visit to Fern Falls, The Pool, and Fern Lake this time (as Fern Lake sits at 9,500ft).
We had a relaxed morning and arrived to the park around 10am, not worried about the crowds as it is now far too cold in the mornings for the hoards of tourists, it seems. We snagged one of the last spots at the Fern Lake Trailhead (it has the capacity for ~15 cars, and there were 4 spots left), put our layers on (as the temperatures were in the 40s in addition to a cool morning breeze) and hit the trail!
We didn’t share the trail with anyone– this quiet morning combined with the clear sky and fallen leaves coating the trail had us in an excellent mood as we made our way up the mountainside. It didn’t take us long to reach The Pool, which is only about 1.75mi from the Fern Lake Trailhead. While this is usually filled with turbulent waters, it was a quiet river today as it is late in October and there has not been any recent precipitation (other than the snow, which is sticking to the area and not melting).
We continued on to Fern Falls, which is only an additional 1mi or so from The Pool. As we gained in elevation, however, snow and ice began to make its first appearance around the trail. Our path was mostly dry at this point so we carried on without any issues. It did not take us long to reach the falls. A quick breather was taken here, as Fern Falls was a beautiful sight with the fresh snow surrounding it.
With 1.2mi left until Fern Lake, with 650ft elevation gain, we continued onward and upward. At this point the snow became nearly completely covered in snow and ice but luckily it was sufficiently packed down and we had no problems safely navigating the trail with our hiking boots (although our pace did get slower).
The lake was a refreshing sight upon climbing the final hill, leading us to a spectacular view of Fern Lake in the valley below us with the large peaks (ranging from the 11,018ft Gable to 12, 129ft Notchtop Mountain) in the background.
We took in the sights from the north shore before continuing around the lake before stopping on the east shore to look back on the 12,922ft Stones Peak. The wind was too chilling on the exposed rock outcropping that we were sitting on, so we walked back to the north shore to enjoy our snacks (and new Clark’s Nutcracker friend!) before turning back for the trailhead.
A half hour into our descent I came to an abrupt halt, turning around to silence Ryan. “A MOOSE! LOOK AT THAT BULL!”. Once we were on the same page of the location of the animal, we crept forward on the trail for a better look. From the safety of a rock outcropping and some trees we watched him graze until we heard some noises coming from behind us. As I snapped away on my camera, Ryan went back to investigate only to return with the news that a cow and calf were making their way towards us to join the bull!
We pulled back on the trail to give the animals some space, all the while watching in complete awe at the scene unfolding before us. There were no sounds except the low guttural sounds that the moose were making to each other. It didn’t take long, however, for the cow to notice our presence. I was crouched behind some shrubs along the trail while Ryan stood behind me when the cow started to make her way towards us.
We were in a tense situation– stay put and hope she moves on, or get out of there ASAP? I snapped this final photo of the moment we were spotted before Ryan and I sprinted back up the trail to a safer distance. We watched the three moose make their way across the trail and into the forest, before excitedly continuing on our way.
The whole hike, coming in at 7.6 miles round trip, only took us around 4 to 5 hours to complete. By the time we finished we had changed into our t-shirts and were able to fully enjoy the perfect fall day. While the lake itself (as well as The Pool and Fern Falls) was beautiful, seeing the moose was the highlight of my day. It is so rare to come across wildlife like that, let alone that close to them, and our choice to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park this weekend was clearly the right one.
“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”