Cub Lake Trail, Estes Park, Colorado, USA
The hike to Cub Lake begins from the Moraine Park area. To reach the trailhead from Bear Lake Road, follow Moraine Park Road for a half-mile to an unmarked junction – just before reaching the campground. At the junction, turn left and drive roughly 1.2 miles to the Cub Lake Trailhead. Parking space is fairly limited here, however, you will have the option of taking the free hiker shuttle from the Moraine Park Visitor Center.
cub-lakeMuch of this hike passes through terrain that was charred by the Fern Lake Fire during the fall of 2012. The wildfire burned 3500 acres in the Cub Lake, lower Forest Canyon and Moraine Park areas, making it the largest wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park history.
It’s believed the fire was sparked by an illegal campfire on October 9th. Although it was a low intensity fire, and for the most part remained under control, it still forced the closure of almost all the trails in the Moraine Park and Bear Lake Road areas for several weeks. That all changed on November 30th when a fierce wind storm brought 70 mph gusts that pushed the fire three miles in only 35 minutes, and more than doubled its size as it raced across Moraine Park. At its peak more than 600 fire fighters were assigned to the blaze. The fire was all but fully extinguished when heavy snow arrived in mid-December.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead the path crosses the Big Thompson River. From here the trail traverses along the western edge of Moraine Park. If hiking this route during the fall you’ll stand a pretty good chance of seeing elk grazing in the meadows during the annual rut season.
At roughly one-half mile from the trailhead hikers will arrive at the South Lateral Moraine Trail junction. From here the Cub Lake Trail turns towards the right and begins heading in a westerly direction. The trail also begins to follow Cub Creek towards its source at Cub Lake, though you’ll have no direct contact with the stream. Shortly after passing the junction will be a series of small lakes on your left known as the Beaver Ponds.
cub-lakeAt roughly seven-tenths of a mile you’ll begin seeing the first signs of the Fern Lake Fire. Up to this point there’s really no indication that a fire had ever passed through the area.
At almost 1.9 miles the trail begins climbing above the valley floor. As it climbs the path becomes fairly rocky as it traverses through mature aspen groves.
At 2.3 miles, just prior to reaching the lake, hikers will pass the short side trail that leads to the Cub Creek Backcountry Campground. A short distance from this junction is Cub Lake. As you get closer to the lake the damage from the fire becomes fully apparent. After arriving near the northeastern corner of the lake you’ll have to continue traveling a little bit further down the trail in order to find a spot where you can access the shoreline, as there are now many dead trees that have fallen near the shore as a result of the fire.
This beautiful lake is ringed by a thick pine forest and a marshy shoreline in some places. During the summer months the surface of the lake is covered in lily pads. Looking due west from the lake is 12,922-foot Stones Peak, which provides a nice backdrop to this tranquil scene. As you might expect a variety of ducks can often be found swimming in the cool water. We’ve also seen moose here as well.
The main trail continues along the north shore of the lake and offers hikers various vantage points of the surrounding area, as well as the option of continuing on to The Pool or Fern Falls. Using a second car, or the free shuttle system, a loop hike can be created by combining the Cub Lake Trail with the Fern Creek Trail.
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