Bear Lake

Distance: 11.0 miles (round trip)

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, San Isabel National Forest, near Buena Vista in Central Colorado

Bear Lake with Mt. Yale in the background

Bear Lake with Mt. Yale in the background


Great views of three Colorado 14ers; Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia and Mt. Yale, are the rewards of this hike up the scenic Horn Fork basin to Bear Lake, an alpine jewel nestled in a rugged bowl beneath the Continental Divide in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
See Trail Detail/Full Description

  • Distance: 11.0 miles (round trip) to Bear Lake
  • Elevation: 9,890-ft. at Trailhead
    12,410-ft. at Bear Lake
  • Elevation Gain: 2,520-ft. to Bear Lake
  • Difficulty: moderate-strenuous
  • More Hikes in:
    Buena Vista / Central Colorado

Why Hike Bear Lake

This excellent hike travels up the scenic Horn Fork Valley to beautiful Bear Lake, cradled in a stark, rocky shelf beneath a rugged ridge along the Continental Divide. From the lake enjoy stunning views of the area's 14ers -- Mt. Harvard (14,420-ft.), Mr. Columbia (14,073-ft.) and Mt. Yale (14,196-ft.).

The trail initially travels through forest up the North Cottonwood Creek Valley before turning north into the Horn Fork. As the trail gains elevation intermittent views open to Mt. Yale to the south and Mt. Columbia towering over the east side of the valley.

Near the head of the valley the trail breaks from the trees and views open to Mt. Harvard and the peak and ridges ringing the head of the valley. Behind you are grand views of Mt. Yale and, in the distance, Mt. Princeton (14,197-ft.).

At the head of the valley the trail crests a high bench and curves to the west, passing the trail climbing to Mt. Harvard. A short climb leads to Bear Lake (12,374-ft.), a starkly beautiful alpine jewel nestled in a rocky bowl beneath the valley’s rugged west ridge. In addition to the panoramic views of the nearby 14,000-ft peaks, the lake features good fishing for cutthroat trout.

This trail is popular with hikers climbing to Mt. Harvard, so don’t expect solitude. Parties wishing to overnight near the lake will find the best campsites in the trees a mile and a half below the lake. These campsites are typically crowded with people who spend the night in the Horn Fork basin and then summit Mt Harvard on the second day.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile Bear Lake

Best Hiking in Central Colorado around Aspen, Marble, Leadville, Buena Vista and Crested Butte

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Trail Resources

Trail Detail/Full Description / Trail Photo Gallery / Trail Map

Basecamp(s) Information:
Buena Vista

Region Information:
Central Colorado

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