If you like long hikes or backpacks, then put Lake Husted, Lake Louise and Lake Dunraven on your “to do” list. These lakes are three of the six beautiful lakes on the north end of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The North Fork Trail is so far north, you don’t access the trail from the Estes Park area, you have to drive about 20 minutes past Estes Park to Glen Haven to get there (directions below). The hike starts at the Dunraven Trailhead.
The North Fork Trail used to drop into a canyon of the North Fork of the Big Thompson River, but that part of the trail was destroyed in the floods of 2013. Because of the damage, please call the Forest Service before you go to make sure the trail and the trailhead are open.
When we visited in September 2015, the trail was open, but there was a detour for the first mile. Now when hikers park at the Dunraven Trailhead, they go around a gate and hike up a steep road to the Cheley Boy’s Camp. You’ll climb up about 250 feet in the first 0.40 miles to the camp’s entrance. Then the trail drops about 250 feet over the next 0.4 miles. Stay on the road as you pass the cabins and follow the white paper signs, covered in plastic, that will direct you to where the detour meets the old trail near the Big Thompson River. The good news? The detour is actually about a half mile shorter than the old trail.
Once you’re on the North Fork Trail, it starts on an old road and soon becomes a single-person wide, dirt trail that winds through sections of thick forest and wide-open meadows. When the trees open up, enjoy views of the nearby hillsides and peaks.
About 3.7 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to an odd sign that says, “Leaving travel zone.” A short distance away, you’ll come to the sign that says you’re entering Rocky Mountain National Park. The “travel zone” is apparently the section of the Comanche Peak Wilderness that you have to hike through to get to the national park. It’s nearly a mile from here to the North Boundary Trail. That trail takes hikes to the Silvanmere campsites, but if you hike that trail about six miles from here, you’ll hit the Cow Creek Trail north of Estes Park. The Cow Creek Trail goes to Bridal Veil Falls. A sign here also says it’s another 4.4 miles to Lost Lake. Lakes Husted, Louise and Dunraven are past Lost Lake — so hike on.
It’s just a third of a mile to the next landmark and it’s an interesting one. At just about 5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to the turnoff for the Halfway campsites. The Halfway sites are appropriately named because at this spot a sign tells you that you’ve climbed half of the elevation gain (1400) to Lost Lake (total 2800 gain). Again — hike on.
Over the next 0.75 miles, you’ll pass the Aspen Meadows Group campsite and the Happily Lost campsite (both have privys if you need one). Then the climb begins. You’ll soon find yourself on a long hike up the side of the canyon, on a rocky trail, gaining some 700 feet as you approach the turnoff for the Stormy Peaks Trail. Lost Falls is near this trail split according to the map, but my group didn’t find it.
After the Stormy Peaks Trail turnoff, there’s still some more elevation gain. The trail gains another 300 feet in the next 0.8 miles, then mellows out at Lost Meadows. Lost Meadows is a beautiful, open meadow with a great view of the peaks in the distance. This is a tempting place to take a break, but from here it’s just 1.25 miles and another 300 feet of elevation gain to the lake.
As you get close to Lost Lake, you’ll pass a Lost Lake campsite, then a hitchrack and another campsite. When the trail signs show the Lost Lake campsite #2 and a privy is a straight ahead, you should see a trail that turns right. That trail goes to Lost Lake. Take a few steps and suddenly, there it is!
Lost Lake is a large lake in the valley between Sugarloaf Mountain and Mount Dunraven. While there are trees around part of the lake, it can be windy here. Lost Lake had a dam for many years, but it was removed after the Lawn Lake Dam failed. (The dams at Pear, Sandbeach and Bluebird lakes were also removed, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.)
After a break at Lost Lake, there are two ways to get to Lake Husted:
1. Go back to that sign for Lost Lake site No. 2 and the privy and follow that trail west as far as you can. Then strike out north and west to Lake Husted.
2. Walk around the west side of Lost Lake, turn west and head through the trees. You’ll climb a steep hillside and just keep going mainly west and a bit north. From Lost Lake to Lake Husted via this route, it’s a hike of about 0.9 miles with 350 feet elevation gain.
From Lake Husted, head west toward that unnamed, but striking, mountain peak that is slightly southwest. Lake Louise is at the bottom of the mountain, about a half mile from Lake Husted.
Now the question is — how do you get to Lake Dunraven? From Lake Louise, Lake Dunraven is pretty much, directly south. However, it’s 250 feet higher. And between Lake Louise and Lake Dunraven, there’s a lot of rocks and lot of willows and a river.
On the way up, we went on the west side of the river. We ended up climbing through a boulder field, then lots of willows that were taller than us. On the way down, we had an easier time on the east side of the river.
While it is a challenge to get to Lake Dunraven, my hiking partners highly recommend continuing south past Lake Dunraven to the two unnamed lakes above it. Many thought that sixth lake was the most beautiful of all of the lakes in this beautiful valley.
Details: The hike to Lost Lake, according to my GPS, with the detour, was about 18 miles roundtrip with 2800 feet of elevation gain. The hike to the 4 lakes (Lost, Husted, Louise, Dunraven) was about 21.2 miles with 4300 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs. Adding the two unnamed lakes above Dunraven adds another 1.3 miles roundtrip.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, don’t miss 4th and 5th lake, Lakes Nokoni and Nanita, Blue Lake and Bluebird Lake. Find more Rocky Mountain National Park hikes and Colorado hiking trails in this list of 400+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Estes Park, take Wonderview Ave just past the Stanley Hotel and turn right on MacGregor Avenue. MacGregor turns into Devil’s Gulch Road/County Road 43. (Call the County or Forest Service to check on this road because it is under construction in 2015 because of flood damage 2 years earlier in 2013.) Pass through Glen Haven and drive another 1.7 miles to Dunraven Glade Road. Take this dirt road until it dead ends at the trailhead.