With the finish line in sight for lakes residing in the Odessa Gorge area, we decided to tackle five remaining on the list today: Two Rivers Lake, Lake Helene, Odessa Lake, Tourmaline Lake and Marigold Lake. There is little information concerning Tourmaline Lake and Marigold Lake and we predicted route finding and bushwhacking in our future.
Dave Spates’ Goal: hike to the shore and snap a picture of every named lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park continues to operate on a timed entry system from 6AM – 5PM, to avoid this we passed through the gates at 5:30AM. We opted for the Fern Lake Trail via Bear Lake in order to catch a sunrise before setting off. Bear Lake Trailhead was already busy despite the early hour and we spotted several hikers around Bear Lake this morning.
Check out our video footage from this epic hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake Trail > Flattop Mountain Trail > Fern Lake Trail
A right hand turn on the Bear Lake Loop led us to the Fern Lake Trail junction. We had done Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak a month ago which stems from the same trail so we had no problem navigating. The trail travels gently uphill and we passed trail junctions for both Bierstadt Lake and Flattop Mountain.
The trail was blissfully empty until a mile into our hike, where we encountered other hikers. A gentleman traveling the opposite direction said there was a cow moose 200 yards up near the trail but (shocker) we couldn’t find her. It was at this point we walked over a patch of snow; one of three on the entire trip.
After 3 miles we had reached the turn-off for the first Lake on the list – Two Rivers Lake, elevation 10,640 ft.
There is no sign for the turn-off to Two-Rivers Lake. A small and less definitive trail on the left will lead you down to the lake.
Though the path down is not well defined, it was quite easy for us to find our way to the banks. From Two Rivers Lake we had a view of Flattop Mountain, and we saw a mama duck with three ducklings but otherwise there was not much to see at the lake. A brief re-connection with Fern Lake Trail followed by a left on to Lake Helene Trail brought us to our second stop.
If you stay on the designated trail, the distance shore to shore between Two Rivers Lake and Lake Helene is 0.3 miles with a small elevation drop. Lake Helene has an elevation of 10,580 ft, with towering views of Flattop Mountain, Notchtop Mountain and Knobtop Mountain.
After a brief visit at Lake Helene we wanted to push the extra 0.3 miles one way to Grace Falls, but halfway there we were greeted with lots of snow and steep slopes. The conditions were sketch and we had a beautiful vantage point of Grace Falls as it was so we made the decision to turn around and continue towards Odessa Lake.
Fern Lake Trail travels uphill until the Lake Helene turnoff, then it begins to move in a downhill trend. From Lake Helene we could see Odessa Lake from above and knew the elevation loss was considerable (600 ft).
During this leg of the trip there were two sections of snow, both with a little bit of hiking exposure. It was still early in the morning and the snow was very icy and footholds were negligible. In all honesty we should have strapped on the microspikes, but we traveled cautiously and continued unscathed.
Five miles into our hike and we had reached Odessa Lake. There was a couple returning from a camping trip and one other solo hiker sharing the lake with us. At the mouth of the lake a bunch of logs had been pushed up together – good for climbing and interesting foreground for photography.
Off Trail Hiking to Tourmaline Lake
Now the real work began; our ascent to Tourmaline Lake. We figured following a creek stemming off Odessa Lake was our best bet, ergo we traveled counterclockwise around the lake. Across the water we spotted an elk and a calf having breakfast. Though it is not apparent from Odessa Lake, there is somewhat of a trail that leads to Tourmaline Lake with dispersed cairns. We began on a steep uphill and hugged the creek, making sure to check the map often.
Climbing alongside the creek did have its benefits and we were treated to some cool waterfalls, including one where the water was defying gravity and shooting upwards. We agreed that this “trail” was easier than our trip the previous weekend to Loomis Lake; less boulder hopping and climbing over fallen trees.
We also discovered a small cascade with some of the best views that we’ve seen in the park yet.
5.7 miles marked our arrival at Tourmaline Lake. Similar to Loomis Lake, we had a nice view of Gabletop Mountain, as well as Knobtop Mountain.
Tourmaline Lake sits at 10,600 ft. The route we took from Odessa Lake to Tourmaline Lake was 1 mile one way.
Tourmaline Lake is small, but the water is a vivid shade of aqua and it beckoned us to dip our toes in. We worked our way down to the shore for a photoshoot, but here our visions of taking a swim were snuffed – the water was freezing! Dave hardly made it ten seconds before jumping out.
After relaxing by Tourmaline Lake for a moment, we retraced our steps down to Odessa Lake. We didn’t see many fish in the lakes we visited today, so if fishing is your calling I wouldn’t recommend these ones. Our final destination was Marigold Lake, a small lake just above Odessa Lake.
It was immediately made clear that not many people visit Marigold Lake; the trail was nonexistent.
Heavy reliance on our maps helped us reach Marigold Lake, a 0.5 mile round trip excursion from Fern-Lake Trail. Marigold Lake was teeny tiny and Mosquito-topia, I would recommend omitting this one if you are thinking of hiking in the area.
Regardless, we relished the fact that we bagged five named lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park we hadn’t been to yet. The hike back up Fern Lake Trail was tough – the temperature was steadily rising and there was increased foot traffic on the trail. At least the two tricky portions with snow softened up some and were easier to cross sans microspikes (although Dave wore his for good measure).
The Hike to Two-Rivers Lake, Lake Helene, Lake Odessa, Tourmaline Lake, Marigold Lake
The trip in its entirety measured 11.7 miles with an elevation gain of 2,900 feet. Our moving time on the hike was roughly 6 hours. The Bear Lake parking lot was full upon our return and the shuttle buses were in full swing. Back in the car with the air conditioning blasting we enjoyed a deli meat picnic before making our way back to Denver.
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