Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cub Lake

Distance: 5 miles round trip
Elevation: 8,120 ft - 8,625 ft 
Elevation Gain: 503 ft (net), 640 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: No (National Park)
Date Hiked: 21 July 2012

Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its Lily Pads
Cub Lake is a short but scenic hike in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park.  It is popular because it is lower in elevation, has minimal elevation gain, and ends at a sleepy mountain lake filled with Lilly Pads and waterfowl.

Trailhead
Standing on the bridge looking at the Big Thompson River
I ended up on this trail recently because a friend from Florida came into town and I needed an easy, close to Denver, hike.  Originally, I was going to take her to Dream Lake, but on this date Bear Lake Road was under construction and getting into the park was an exercise in herd dynamics and getting to Bear Lake Trailhead with a couple hundred of my "closest friends" was more than I could stomach.  The bus to Cub Lake was practically empty.   Even when RMNP is not under construction, this pattern holds.  Cub Lake, while far from empty, will be significantly less crowded than other places in the park. 

Early trail segment through scrub and Ponderosa Pine
Looking out into Moraine Park
To get to Cub Lake turn off of Bear Lake Road on to Moraine Park Rd (dirt passable by a passenger car) and head west.  You'll pass the Moraine Park Campground entrance before reaching the trailhead for.  There is only parking here for a dozen or so cars so be advised.

The trail turns westward and slowly begins to climb
Closer to the lake, the flora changes to Spruce, fern and Aspen. 
The trail heads north and crosses the Big Thompson River on a nice metal bridge.  In this dry year, the river was barely flowing, but that did not stop families with small children from frolicing in the water.  After the bridge, the trail weaves in and out of some interesting rock formations along the western edge of Moraine Park, a large grass filled meadow that dominates this part of the park.  In the fall this meadow will be filled with a flash mob of elk dancing in their annual rite of species renewal.

After around 1.7 miles, the trail becomes steeper, rockier, and more shaded. 
Aspens and ferns make lingering on this segment pleasant,  particularly on a hot summer day. 
In half a mile the trail winds around to the right and heads westward.  A less than obvious junction with the South Lateral Moraine Trail, which heads back towards Bear Lake Rd, also marks the general area. From this point on, the trail slowly gains altitude as it skirts the edge of a ridge overlooking a small valley filled with ponds, lush brush, Aspen, and Spruce and Fir.

You won't be alone at Cub Lake
Yellow flower from the Water Lily (Nuphar polysepala).  This plant has large green leaves that float on top of the water of shallow, muddy ponds.  
Around 1.7 miles, the trail becomes much steeper as it ascends the final pitch to the lake. This segment is rocky but shaded by numerous Aspen that would make this trail lovely in the fall.  At just past two miles is a spur to a backcountry camp.  The lake itself comes into view at 2.5 miles.

The author, foreground, and her friend Christine sunbath on their very own rock at Cub Lake.
We observed this Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans) swim from leaf to leaf.  While a common terrestial inhabitant of the park, I did not know they also enjoyed the water. 
Long and narrow, Cub Lake is covered in Lily Pads and there were at least 5 species of ducks that were cruising the southern shore. Along the northern shore is a series of large boulders and small clumps of people were perched, marmot-like, on each one. The cacophony of chatter was at times unnerving but in the park, you have to get used to your fellow humans.

Clouds reflected in the lake
We lingered on our rock for quite a while and several female Mallards came cruising by within inches of us, totally unaffected by our presence.  After a while we got back on the trail and headed an additional 0.2 miles to a higher lookout that provides a great view of the lake from above.

Heading upwards for a view of the lake from above
Looking down on the lake
If interested the hiker can continue heading west until the trail intersects with the Fern Lake Trail another 2 miles, and considerable elevation gain, further on.  From that junction the hiker can either return to the trailhead via trail/road or take another deter to Fern Lake itself.

Map of the area showing the flat Moraine Meadow and Cub Lake 
It has been years since I have hiked to Cub Lake and I was surprised at how inviting the experience was.  The numerous people we passed was a slight deterrent, but the scenery and ease of access easily compensated for it.

2 comments:

Sharon said...

How lovely to see you write about our favorite RMNP hike. It's our favorite because, for a couple of reasons, it is our traditional first hike when visiting the park. We are generally there in mid-May and it is one guaranteed to be snow free plus a good starter when anxious to get out there and hike, but still acclimating to the higher elevations.

hikingtohealthy said...

Beautiful pictures and a great description. I hope my husband and I can do this trail soon! I really love your blog!