Hike to Gem Lake, Balanced Rock, & Paul Bunyan's Boot

A moderate hike along Rocky Mountain National Park's Lumpy Ridge. You see unusual rock formations and a small lake with a beach.
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A moderate hike along Rocky Mountain National Park's Lumpy Ridge. You see unusual rock formations and a small lake with a beach.

If you are a rock hound and love unusual rock formations, then the Lumpy Ridge is for you. Even the name, "Lumpy" delivers on the oddities that you will discover. The Gem Lake trail starts at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, near the Twin Owls, two rock formations that look like large owls overlooking the town of Estes Park.

Gem Lake Trail Map

1. Lumpy Ridge Trailhead

Lumpy Ridge Trailhead.

Lumpy Ridge Trailhead

This trailhead is actually outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. It's in Estes Park, CO, off of Devil's Gulch Road. The trailhead features vault toilets and bear-proof trash bins. Shortly after embarking on the trail, you will come to a T intersection. Turn right to continue. This is really the start of the Gem Lake Trail. In a short distance, you will see a sign saying, "You are entering Rocky Mountain National Park." Enjoy the walk and stop at the several overlooks of Estes Park.

2. Paul Bunyan's Boot

Paul Bunyan's Boot on Gem Lake Trail. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Paul Bunyan's Boot on Gem Lake Trail

At about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, after several steep switchbacks, you will come to a landing with a rock formation called, "Paul Bunyan's Boot." It's obvious why the rock was named so, because it looks like a giant's hiking boot with a hole worn through the sole. If you're thin and petite, or hiking with children, it's a favorite spot for a photo of someone crawling through the hole or sticking their head through from the back side.

After the boot, the trail becomes very steep. Gem Lake is 1.7 miles from the trailhead and over that distance you climb 1,000 feet. The stone steps in the trail can be 15-20 inches high. Unless you are very fit, I don't recommend this hike for families with young children. You will need to lift kids up each step.

3. A Privy with a View

Privy on Gem Lake Trail. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Privy on Gem Lake Trail

Right before you reach Gem Lake, there is a surprise! A privy is tucked behind a large boulder down a short side trail.

4. Gem Lake

Gem Lake. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Gem Lake

Your next stop is Gem Lake. It's a small lake flanked with large lumpy rock walls. There's a small beach, perfect for a nap in the shade, or find a comfortable seat on the rocks and have a picnic lunch.

Gem Lake is at the top of this ridge, so if you continue on the trail you will be headed downhill another 2.2 miles to Balanced Rock. You will come onto a fork in the trail, at which you will turn left.

5. Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Balanced Rock

After a couple of miles on a shady, forested path, you reach Balanced Rock, the end of this trail. The rock looks like a huge golfball on a golf tee, and it's a fun place to climb and explore.

The Gem Lake Trail is an out-and-back trail, but it does meet up with another trail between Gem Lake and Balanced Rock if you want to do a much longer loop hike.

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