Fern Falls


Hike details:

  • Mileage: 5.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 645 feet
  • Altitude: 8,800 feet
  • To get there:  Take Bear Lake Road in RMNP to Moraine Park area. Follow this road to the Fern Lake trail head.

As I slip down the packed snow on the trail, snowballs whiz by me. Only one or two hit, but I feel like I’m in a snowball war zone.

“Alex Jeffrey, stop it!” I call back at my boyfriend Alex, laughing.

“What?” he replies innocently. “It was Elk throwing snowballs. Didn’t you see them duck into the woods?”

I hear him running to catch up with me and I wait. We are heading back from Fern Falls and we haven’t seen many people on the trail. We’re having fun being childish in the solitude. We didn’t plan on Fern Falls today, but that’s where we ended up. We begin at the Fern Lake trailhead with blue skies and a breeze blowing. About a mile in we pass under Arch Rocks, one of the attractions of this trail. They lean slightly, like they’re swaying in the Rocky Mountain wind. They stick out from the rest of the scenery, as they tower 40 or 50 feet above us. After a quick clamor on them we continue on to The Pool, another destination on this trail. The pool is as it sounds: a swirling, frothy, rapid- filled pool of river. We climb above it just off the trail and I discover right away, like at Gem Lake, a carved out nook of granite perfectly formed for sitting. Here, we lounge and eat lunch in the company of extremely pesky golden mantle ground squirrels (similar to chipmunks). They are fearless, way too close to our food and faces. They had, without a doubt, been fed before by human hands.

It’s an obvious spring hiking day as we continue on the trail to the waterfall. Instead of a trail, we find a small stream running downhill as we pass it going uphill. As we get up close to the falls, at 8,800 feet, we find a snow-packed trail. Clearly, many feet have passed over it and it is not much of a challenge. When we reach the falls, we are alone and it is flowing fast with snow melt from above. Fallen trees lay across the river below, getting pounded with the force of the falls. Everything is wet and muddy, melting and flowing away to the calmer river below. I straddle one of the fallen logs and begin to inch my way across.

“Is it safe?” I yell over to Alex.

He looks at me in confusion, so I signal: thumbs up or thumbs down. He shakes his hand back at me, telling me it looks moderately safe. I stay where I am on the west end, the root end, of the tree and turn to face the falls. Droplets of water are bouncing off of every rock, every tree, off of each other, and there is a frigid mist blowing onto my face. I feel like I am at a mountain spa.

When I come down off the log, Alex and I sit on the rocks and let the afternoon sun dry the mist from our clothes.

“I love you,” he says. (romantic hah?)

“I love you too,” I tell him. “And I love this waterfall! And I love our life!”

This, I realize, is a thought that has crossed my mind nearly every day of the two weeks we’ve been here. I am always in disbelief that this is how I’m living. Every day here I feel all my senses on overdrive: the sight of the mountains, the feel of a cool breeze, the smell of pines, the sounds of hummingbirds on my porch, and the taste of…well…that hasn’t changed much (except for earlier today when I ate the pitch off a pine tree because we read it’s good for congestion…blugh!) I feel happy being surrounded by mountains, by good old friends, and by good new ones. With Alex, alone next to Fern Falls, I am convinced that this is the best way a life could be.

Hiking details from Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park by Kent and Donna Dannen.


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