Fern, Odessa, and Cub Lake Loop

Odessa Lake covered in fog.

Odessa Lake covered in fog on a chilly fall day.

Hiking details:

  • Mileage: 12 mile loop hike
  • Altitude: Odessa Lake: 10,020 feet, Fern Lake:9,530 feet, Cub Lake: 8,620 feet
  •  Elevation gain: Bear Lake to Odessa Lake: 1,215 feet
  • To get there: Take the Bear Lake Road in RMNP to the Bear Lake trailhead.

I think Odessa Lake is very pretty. I’ve heard it is. But I can’t say Odessa Lake is pretty, because I don’t know. There is a thick fog hanging over the lake when we arrive, clinging to the dark surface of the water. We can see the shoreline, scattered logs fallen criss-crossed in the water. But other than this glimpse, the lake is a mystery. The jagged mountains I know are standing behind it are hidden behind the white curtain too.

Odessa Lake on a clear day.

Odessa Lake on a clear day.

I say I feel like I am going blind, staring ahead at a place I know is scenic and seeing nothing. Although we are not on a twelve-mile loop hike in search of fog, the fog in itself is fascinating to me. It’s so thick, engulfing the entire landscape and bringing to mind a fear that it might engulf us too. We climb up on a high rock on the shore—as if this will enhance the views somehow—and eat half our lunch here. The other half is left untouched because our fingers go so numb that we decide to keep moving.

I am with my friend Liesel today and we are talking nonstop, catching up on a whole summers’ worth of news. This long day hike is just what we needed: we could not have spent six hours over lunch or coffee catching up. That would be absurd. But six hours on foot, laughing and thinking and talking is not absurd, and I am so happy I have at least a handful of girlfriends to do this with.

Soon, we reach Fern Lake and are again looking out over a vast, settled fog. There is no need to stop and take it in, and we keep walking. This hike, I say is good to help me develop more of ‘It’s the journey, not the destination’ attitude. I like hiking and views along the way, but am always secretly hankering for the sought-after destination. But today, if I am going to enjoy the hike at all, I will have to enjoy the journey. The destinations are covered in fog.

Stretches of this trail are picturesque, a secret garden in a concrete world. Rocks and Aspens line the winding path, and

Fern Lake on a clear day.

Fern Lake on a clear day.

foliage reaches out into it. Even in September, some wildflowers are still standing tall and small brooks trickle down the hillside, tumbling over rocky drop offs.

The next “destination” on this hike is Fern Falls, and it’s the first we can see. I’ve been here before, earlier this season when the falls were running so full I could feel the spray from 15 feet away. Now it’s different, calmer and narrower. Still, we pause for a picture. And then down the hill we go. At The Pool we reach a junction that allows us three choices: stay left to the Fern Lake trailhead and take the shuttles back to our car, go right to the Cub Lake trailhead and take the shuttles, or go right for a quick stop at Cub Lake and continue to our car/Bear Lake on foot. We decide on option three, the longest route. When we reach the trail for Cub Lake, we take a quick jaunt down it, then go back to the junction, then go back toward Cub Lake after deciding to sit and eat our half-finished lunches. Here, we are above the lake, looking down at the strange patterns that water and lily pads have made together.

From Cub Lake to Bear Lake is the steepest part of this hike, the only time

Cub Lake

Cub Lake from above.

when we aren’t talking nonstop because we are using all our energy to only walk and breathe. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve hiked, and the exertion feels good. Tiredness is setting into my legs, cold from the fog and drizzle are chilling me but still I am content and unhurried, trudging on, as life would have it.

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


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