Rocky Mountain National Park – Hike to Lawn Lake & Crystal Lake

Hello again to those of you living life in pursuit of great adventure.   I have been away from my blog here in an attempt to keep up with my regularguyadventures YouTube channel.   I am really happy with how the video portion of my Lawn Lake / Crystal Lake hike turned out.  I am back now and want to go into some detail about the specifics of this hike.

Let me start by saying, I had read in some places that the hike to Lawn Lake from the trailhead was 7 miles.   In truth, the sign at the trailhead said 6.2 miles but it was a fairly grueling 6.2 miles.  This hike gains roughly 2,500 feet of elevation, rewarding the hiker with the privilege of seeing Lawn Lake (11,000ft) and the Saddle beyond.  Be prepared to don your pack, leave your car behind and start with a steep climb.  There are numerous switch-backs contained in the first mile.  20150805_075804When you stop to rest during this first mile, (and you will need it) you will see a beautiful valley below with Trail Ridge Road snaking the mountain beyond.  In my opinion, this trail is not what I would call a day-hike.   Others must agree with me because we saw very few people (less than 10) during our 4 hour hike.

You will soon be treated to the sound of the Roaring River crashing its way down from above.  If you are a student of Lawn Lake lore, then you may be aware that the dam broke in 1982 flooding Estes Park.   If flooded again in 2013, leaving very visible scars along the trail.  It still has its own beauty.


The trail will distract you with unexpectedly lush flora and take your mind off the elevation gains that lie before you.  There are areas that contain a mix of wildflowers, pines and Aspen trees that must be stunning in the Autumn. 20150805_085957

Be prepared for multiple sets of switchbacks.  Somewhere around the 5 mile mark, the pine trees really thin out and you can tell you are leaving the sub-alpine.  When I studied the Trails Illustrated map prior to this trip, I understood there to be a stock camp site and one regular backcountry site.  In realty, there are 4 backcountry sites and one stock site.   I expended a lot of extra energy checking all the campsites till I found #4 was vacant.   The other 3 sites already had tents setup.


After setting up camp, we were able to get down to the serious business of fishing.   It didn’t take long to finally find the Greenbacks.   My son and I fished for the next 5 hours.  Time didn’t exist for us.  We were lost in the rhythm of casting, tying on new flies, netting fish and soaking in the surreal beauty of this lake.  The fish were constantly sipping insects off the surface making the fishing relatively easy.  We had great success using Griffith’s Gnatts, Hare’s Ear Nymphs and black ants all in size 18.  The fish we caught at this lake were noticeable bigger on average than those we caught at Thunder Lake.

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After coming back to realty, my son and I headed back to camp for a hearty dinner.  The camp sites are an uphill walk from the lake and are nestled in the thick pines.   This makes for an idyllic camp site but also invites swarms of mosquitos.  The trees block the nearly constant breeze that blows down at the lake.  Don’t leave home without your head-net and bug dope.   Also, don’t forget to bring your water container with you so you can gather water and walk uphill to camp only once.


The next morning, we awoke early to chilly temperatures and a brisk wind.  I would estimate it was 45-50 degrees.   All the camp sites are in deep shade till mid-morning adding to the chill.  Casting at Lawn Lake was a challenge in this wind but Jackson and I managed to hook 6 more willing trout between the two of us.  After 45 minutes of fishing, we put away the rods and began the 1.5 mile hike up to Crystal Lake.  The trail is not well marked and was grown over in places.  We managed to find our way up to the 11,500ft. lakes.  Yes, I said lakes.  Big Crystal Lake, Little Crystal and one other small, unnamed lake.  The photo below depicts Big Crystal on the far right, Little Crystal on the left.   Don’t waste your time fishing Little Crystal since it’s barren and too shallow to hold fish.


Big Crystal is an experience unto itself.  The giant boulders around the lake make for an entirely different style of fishing.   The wind constantly blows and changes directions here which will really play havoc on your casting.  Be prepared to roll cast at time and cut loose with a long cast during the lulls.    The Greenbacks are really large if you can find one cruising the shores willing to take a fly.  The water (as seen below) is so clear, you can literally see 15 -20′ under the surface.  I was fortunate enough to hook a monster Greenback on an Elk Hair Caddis.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAt this point, I felt as though my trip was complete.  I came here, hiked to remote lakes and caught the rare Greenback Cutthroat Trout.  Don’t be too quick to leave Crystal without hiking another 3/4 mile up to the Saddle area.  Warning:  This will take you over 12,000ft and the taxation of your lungs is legit.  The good news is, the view is so spectacular, you may want to kick back and drink it in for a while.


After hiking back to camp, we rested for a while and ate dinner.  Each day, we had many visitors in camp including:  Chipmunks, squirrels, Yellow Bellied Marmot and Mule Deer.   We never did see any large animals and we were looking for them.   We still used the bear canister but were  not warned of any danger of bears in this area.  That evening, I couldn’t help but to sneak back down to Lawn for a few final casts.  I caught one final Greenback on my last cast. 20150806_193928This trip was a dream come true.  I urge you to plan a trip like this of your own.   If fishing doesn’t interest you, plan some similar trip and “Get busy living.”



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