Length: 4 miles one way with a car shuttle, or 8 miles round-trip
Why we love it: Generally good snow conditions and shelter from the wind make this a great winter outing
When to go: Winter through spring, depending upon snow conditions
Pre-hike buzz: Stop at Kind Coffee or one of the many other shops scattered along East Elkhorn Avenue in Estes Park
Restrooms: Outhouse at the trailhead
Dogs: Pets are not allowed on trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
The combination of easy access, relatively gentle terrain, and an optional car shuttle make this an excellent half-day (one-way) winter outing. To maximize the elevation drop, it’s best to begin this route at Bear Lake, located at the end of the Bear Lake Road on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The lack of steep terrain reduces the risk of avalanches in this area, but it’s always important to check conditions and take appropriate precautions.
From the trailhead at 9,460 feet, head east on the Bear Lake Trail. After circling around the lake’s eastern edge, the trail veers away from the water and heads northeast up the ridge. At the junction about 0.25 mile from the lake, turn right (northeast) to follow the Flat Top Mountain Trail up to the ridge top.
Continue heading northeast through the beautiful forest, which provides excellent protection from the wind. At the next junction, instead of taking the right-hand fork to Bierstadt Lake, head left (northeast). After a short distance, you’ll reach another fork, where you should also veer left to carefully descend the steep slope into the Mill Creek drainage.
From the valley floor, the route continues to head northeast toward the creek. At the next junction, take the right fork, which closely follows the south side of, and eventually crosses, Mill Creek. After the crossing, the route joins the Hollowell Park Trail. Turn right here, following this trail along the north side of the creek. At the next (and last) junction, turn right to continue following the Hollowell Park Trail east to Hollowell Park. Here you can either jump in a parked shuttle car or turn around and enjoy retracing your steps back to Bear Lake.
Getting there: From Denver, follow I-25 North to Exit 243. Turn left here and follow CO 66 west for 16 miles to the town of Lyons. Just past 4th Street, veer right onto US 36 and follow it for 20 miles to Estes Park. Turn left onto East Elkhorn Avenue/US 36 West, then left again after 0.4 miles onto Moraine Avenue/US 36 West and follow this to the national park entrance. After paying the fee, continue west on US 36 to the junction with the Bear Lake Road. Turn left here and follow this to the turnoff to Hollowell Park. If you plan to do a car shuttle, turn right and park the first car in the small lot about a quarter mile up this road. Return with the second car to the Bear Lake Road and follow it south to its end at a large parking lot.