Bear Lake is the most popular and busy trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It a beautiful drive on a good road to a picture-postcard lake sitting at the base of the Continental Divide in the heart of the Park. In fact, the views of Hallet and Longs Peak from Bear Lake are probably the most photographed in the park, and have made their way on to many postcards.
On a summer weekend the parking lot, which holds several hundred cars, is full before 9:00 AM. Many of these are tourists who are there for their 15-minute photo-op, creating a situation where cars frequently come and go, while others circle like eagles waiting to swoop on an open spot. Best to avoid the place during this time, but if you are climbing something you will have arrived long before.
There is a good bus system to the trailhead, which can be useful for a car shuttle assist if you are doing a traverse. The trailhead gives access to numerous peaks along the Divide.
The road to the trailhead is accessed from the Beaver Meadows Entrance to RMNP. From downtown Estes Park take US Highway 36 to the entrance. If you are traveling west through Estes on Elkhorn Avenue, the main street in town, turn left (south) at the traffic light at Moraine Ave. Note this is a double lane turn, not everyone realizes that, and I have seeen several near crashes here.
Moraine Avenue climbs a short hill then makes a right at a stop sign, but you don't need to stop for the right turn. The Colorado Mountain School is located on this corner. Follow Moraine Avenue past assorted shops and one traffic light to the Park entrance (about 3.5 miles).
From the entrance travel 0.2 miles and turn left on the Bear Lake Road. From there it is 8.5 miles to Bear Lake, an enjoyable drive. Elk, deer, tourists and other wildlife frequent the area, so don't travel too fast on the winding road.
The road is usually open and plowed all year, but occasionally it can be closed after a big storm.
External LinksMaps of Estes Park showing access roads to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park Shuttle Bus Service information.