A Walk in the Woods: Cub Lake

By Bill Bruner
Communications Team

Too often in my life I forget how important it is to get out into nature, to relax and enjoy the splendor of the land that surrounds me. My life gets way too busy between work, home, friends and family. I believe I'm doing fine because I keep moving forward but I forget that without my deep connection to nature and the outdoors, I am never as complete as I can be. I have made a promise to myself that I will try to get out into the mountains at least every other week. 

As my knowledge of the area grows and I begin to find different places to go, my heart fills with the discovery of these new places. I hope as I write this column that I can give you a small sense of the wonder that I find in the simplest things, and I hope, if nothing else through my writing and pictures, I compel you to venture out into the great expanses of Colorado.

Cub Lake

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The trail begins in a beautiful meadow.

In the short time that I have been here, one of my favorite places to go on a regular basis is Rocky Mountain National Park. As I continue to write here, I'm sure that I will share many of the trails that I have had the opportunity to explore in this beautiful place. Today, I want to bring you along to Cub Lake.

Cub Lake can be a fairly easy hike; the trail length from the Cub Lake trailhead to the lake itself is only 2.3 miles (or 4.6 miles round trip). My wife Heidi and I decided on this day to make the hike a little more difficult by creating our own loop back to the Cub Lake trailhead. We did this by adding a second hike to the Cub Lake trail, named the Pool. The Pool hike is 1.7 miles one way and this trail ends about 1.2 miles from Cub Lake. By adding this trial and the transition from Cub Lake to the pool and from the Fern Lake trailhead back to the Cub Lake trailhead we hiked approximately 6 miles.

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Elk resting in another meadow.
The hike begins at an elevation of 8,080 feet; if you're going to drive yourself to the trailhead you need to get there early. There is very limited parking at both the Cub Lake and Fern Lake trailheads. The national Park Service during the summer months has a free shuttle that will take you to Cub Lake. This shuttle runs approximately every hour from the park and ride location.

You walk for a ways across this meadow with lovely views of the surrounding peaks everywhere you look. There are some aspen trees interspersed with the meadow, but for the most part you are just walking through a vast wide-open meadow. Within a half-mile or so we came across a herd of elk. These elk were so close to us we could have reached out and touched them. We allowed them to move as they wished, and slowly continued on the path forward.

Bruner 3Cub Lake, according to the National Park service, is a moderate hike that gains 540 feet in elevation as you move up to the lake. The views you are able to enjoy on this hike make it well worth your time and energy.

The trail ahead can be rocky; I always suggest wearing a good pair of hiking boots, even in the warmer weather. This gives you plenty of support as you walk along the rocky trail.

The hardest part of this hike is that all of the elevation gain (540 feet) is in the last half-mile or so. The first 2 miles are relatively easy as you cross the meadow and move through the valley between the soaring peaks of the Rockies.

Bruner 4Cub Lake from this approach isn't the easiest to see right away; as you move along the upper backs of the lake you'll be rewarded with a magnificent view. We sat and enjoyed the lake for quite some time before we began our journey across to the Pool trail.

The walk from Cub Lake to the Pool is through a forest. The trees truly surround you along this path. I imagine I'll need to re-visit this hike in the fall to take in all the beautiful colors on this segment. Besides the trees, the path is dotted with wonderful waterfalls and the sounds of the Big Thompson river.

The pool is an interesting place where you can enjoy the Big Thompson river up close. The true power of this river shows as it churns into the backwater that creates the Pool. This is a very crowded area, and thus can be difficult to find a place to sit and enjoy it. We only stayed for a brief period of time, but we'll always remember the power of the water.

Bruner 5The final return back to the Fern Lake trailhead is again mostly through an open meadow that runs parallel with the Big Thompson. Again, this portion is fairly easy. Once you get to the Fern Lake trailhead, you'll have to walk back approximately three-quarters of a mile to reach your beginning point at the Cub Lake trailhead. If you took the shuttle, you can pick up the shuttle at Fern Lake as well.

This hike will take you between three to four hours, depending on your pace and how much time you spend at the various outlooks along the way. Heidi and I took about 5 hours to complete this hike.

I hope you've enjoyed this month's journey. If you have a hike you think I should try out, just drop me an email at

Till next time,

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