Cub Lake Trailhead (8,080 Feet)
January 5th, 2008
4.0 Miles Roundtrip
Greenhouseguy, KeithK, and Carolyn
Cub Lake is an easy-to-reach and surprisingly scenic destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail skirts a broad and open glacial moraine for half a mile before it turns up a pleasant valley lined with Ponderosa Pines and Aspens. Beaver ponds, interesting boulders, and wildlife add to the scenery along the way. The trail is accessible in all seasons, and it makes a particularly nice snowshoe hike.
To reach the Cub Lake Trailhead, we passed through the Beaver Meadows Entrance on Hwy. 36 in Estes Park. After about ľ of a mile, we turned left (south) on Bear Lake Rd. and followed it towards the Moraine Park Campground. We stayed on Bear Lake Road for about 1.2 miles, then turned right on the road to the Moraine Park Campground. We followed this road for Ĺ of a mile to the intersection with the road to the Fern Lake and Cub Lake Trailheads. There was plenty of parking at the trailhead.
Map of the Cub Lake Trail
The weather was comfortably in the 30s when we arrived at the trailhead. I checked the snow on the first part of the trail, and it was packed so hard that we clearly would not need our snowshoes right away.
The Cub Lake Trailhead
The trail started out on pretty level terrain. The incredibly flat ground moraine stretched nearly as far as the eye could see. A high ridge (the South Lateral Moraine) limited views to the south. Fairly heavy traffic on the trail had packed the snow, but there was very little ice. The weather forecast called for high winds and a 10% chance of snow. We were fortunate; we enjoyed big fluffy flakes of snow without a breath of wind.
We followed Cub Creek up a beautiful valley. Wetlands plants like Thinleaf Alder and River Birch grew close to the creek, while Ponderosa Pine and Douglasfir grew on the hillside. There were plenty of squirrel and rabbit tracks along the trail, but there was not much wildlife to be seen. The snow on the second mile of trail was substantially deeper than the snow closer to the trailhead.
There is a large elk population in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Moraine Park is one of their prime feeding grounds. When snow covers the grass and shrubs, the elk feast on Aspen bark. Virtually every Aspen tree in this part of the park bears black scars from elk feeding on their bark.
Just before we reached the lake, we ascended a gradual slope. The increase in elevation gave us a good view of the valley, the moraine, and the hills beyond.
Looking down the valley
Just below the east end of the lake, there is a small campground. After we passed the sign for the campground, it did not take long to reach the lower end of the lake.
The marshy east end of the lake offers some of the best views of the lake. Fortunately, the marsh was frozen and we had no trouble reaching the shoreline to take in the scenery. Ordinarily, there would have been an excellent view of Stoneís Peak and the Continental Divide; although we enjoyed hiking in the snow, the downside was that it interfered with our views. Cub Lake is shallow (an average depth of only three feet), and reportedly has no fish. Summer hikers enjoy the yellow flowers on the lily pads.
Cub Lake from the east
Carolyn led us back down the trail. As we got closer to the trailhead, we passed several groups of hikers. Not much snow had accumulated during the hike, so we were able to finish up without using our snowshoes.
Carolyn hiking down the trail
The beaver ponds along the trail must be old; I didnít see any chewed stumps, and grass had entirely grown over the dams.
There were plenty of interesting boulders along the trail. Itís difficult to imagine these rocks being pushed around the valley, but they must have been like mere pebbles to the immense glacier that carved this landscape.
This massive split boulder reminded me of Pac Man
The big, fluffy flakes were still falling as we reached the footbridge over the Big Thompson River. The parking lot was only a few hundred feet beyond the bridge.
Footbridge over the Big Thompson River
We loaded our gear in the back of the Jeep and headed back to civilization. We saw a large herd of elk grazing on the eastern end of the Moraine Park. I joined the ranks of the tourists and got out to snap a few shots.
Elk herd grazing in the Moraine Park
This classic hike is not particularly challenging, but it is one that even the most experienced hiker would not want to miss.