Chasm Lake Trail: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Most Underrated Hike

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Rocky Mountain is one of the most beloved U.S. National Parks—and, actually, the fourth most popular with visitors! While some of its hiking trails can be absolutely packed, there definitely are a few hidden gems in the park, including the Chasm Lake Trail. 

Along this incredible hike, you’ll get to enjoy jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountain peaks and a stunning turquoise lake, sitting in the shadow of some of the most rugged peaks in the Rockies. Here’s everything you need to know about the Chasm Lake Trail, one of the most underrated hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Couple standing along the water at Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
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About Chasm Lake

Distance 

8.0 miles

Elevation gain

2,552 feet

Man hiking along the Chasm Lake Trail with Mount Meeker in the background in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Difficulty

Hard. The elevation gain is quite gradual along the trail, though, so, in my opinion, most hikers in decent shape should have no problem with this hike. 

Dog-friendly?

Sadly, you’ll need to leave the pups at home for this one. Like most national parks, dogs aren’t allowed on Rocky Mountains’ hiking trails. 

Passes or permits? 

Per the national park’s website, you need to have an entrance pass to enter any area of the park at any time. These passes cost $30 per private vehicle for one day or $35 per private vehicle for a week.

Alternatively, you can pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, which allows you to visit any of the national parks an unlimited number of times for an entire year for just $80–we LOVE ours and consider it one of the best money saving travel hacks in the United States! 

Woman holding America the Beautiful Pass in Olympic National Park in Washington

To get to the trailhead, though, you do not pass an entrance or fee station. So if you’re planning on visiting other areas of the park during your stay, you might want to plan to hit Chasm Lake later in your itinerary, so that you can have an opportunity to pick up an entrance pass beforehand. 

If you’re only planning on visiting Chasm Lake during your time in Rocky Mountain National Park, I have read that some hikers choose to risk not picking up an entrance pass, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it—let’s be sure to support our wonderful national parks!

The closest entrance station is the Beaver Meadows entrance station, about ten miles north of the Chasm Lake trailhead. 

Vista from Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

If you’re visiting from late May through late October, you’ll also need a timed entry permit if you plan on entering this section of the park between 9 AM and 2 PM.

Note that if you plan on heading to the Bear Lake Corridor section of the park, which is home to many of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, like Sky Pond or the Lake Haiyaha Trail, you’ll actually need a different kind of timed entry permit to enter that section of the park from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can find out more information about these permits and how to reserve them here.

With respect to Chasm Lake, though, I’d personally just recommend entering the park before 9 AM, so you don’t have to worry about it! 

How to Get to Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake’s trailhead is located here in Estes Park, Colorado, about an hour and a half northwest of Denver. From the Denver area, you’ll follow Highway 7 north and turn left on Long’s Peak Road. 

The roads are paved and well-maintained the entire way. However, given these are windy mountain roads at high elevations, drive carefully and slowly, especially if you’re visiting from late October through early June, when the roads may be icy and snow-packed. 

Uphill view of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

The Chasm Lake trailhead has a decently sized parking lot, holding around 75 cars.  Given the fact that this trail shares a parking lot with Long’s Peak, one of Colorado’s famed 14ers, though, it can be hard to snag a parking spot, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend during the busy summer or fall seasons. 

While your best bet is getting to the trailhead on the early side, most hikers start the Long’s Peak Trail eaaaaarly (as in, like, 3 AM or 4 AM early) so unless you’re a REAL morning person, you may not be able to beat these hikers to a parking spot. 

Parking lot at Chasm Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

If the parking lot is full when you get there, there’s a handful of overflow parking spots along the western side of Long’s Peak Road, but be sure to follow the plethora of “No Parking” signs. Rangers have been known to give tickets to those parked where they shouldn’t be! 

For what it’s worth, my husband, Justin, and I visited on a weekday in early October and arrived at the trailhead around 7:30 AM. The lot was only probably about 30% full and when we returned to the trailhead in the early afternoon, there were still plenty of spaces left. Visiting on a weekday during the off-season, FTW!

There’s a ranger station in the parking lot that’s open in the summertime from 8 AM to 4:30 PM and a number of vault toilets. 

Pssst…. there’s extremely limited cell service on the Chasm Lake Trail and even along some of Highway 7. I’d recommend downloading offline maps on both Google Maps and All Trails.  You'll need the AllTrails+ version of the app to download offline maps. Luckily, you can get a 7-day free trial, PLUS our awesome readers get a sweet 30% off discount for their first year—just use the code “Uprooted30” at check out! 

If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your AllTrails account to the paid version (I know it took me, like, five years to make the jump), we wrote a whole post about whether an AllTrails+ account is worth it.

What to Expect along the Chasm Lake Trail

From the trailhead, you’ll start climbing along a dusty path that winds through a beautiful forest of pine and fir trees. While the incline on the trail is moderately steep, it’s also quite gradual and consistent for the majority of the hike—I loved that we could get into a groove of just steadily climbing the trail, instead of grappling with constantly changing elevation gains. 

Man standing in forested section of the Chasm Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

About 1.9 miles into the trail, you’ll come across a log bridge that crosses over a waterfall along Alpine Brook—after almost two miles of dense forest, it’s a welcome change in scenery. 

Shortly thereafter, the scenery will change yet again, as you pop out of the treeline and into the alpine tundra. From here, you’ll have absolutely STUNNING panoramic views of the surrounding Rockies, with Long’s Peak towering in front of you and the Twin Sisters behind you. And, while we unfortunately came a bit late in the season to experience this, we’ve heard that the wildflowers and shrubs blanketing the meadows here are absolutely beautiful in the summer and fall. 

From here, the trail becomes a bit steeper, with lots of stone stairs and boulders you have to hike over. 

Woman hiking up the Chasm Lake Trail with Long's Peak in front of her in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

At 3.1 miles into the trail, you’ll reach the well-signed junction with the Keyhole Route to Long’s Peak, where hikers who are planning to summit will split off to the right through a boulder field, whereas Chasm Lake hikers will head to the left. There’s also a backcountry pit toilet here—I guarantee it’s the prettiest view from a toilet that you’ll get! 

Tip: We met some hikers along the Chasm Lake trail, who were considering going down the Long Peak’s Trail on a whim. If you’re the type of person to go on sporadic adventures, I’d strongly recommend doing your research before deciding to head off on the Long’s Peak Trail. 

While Chasm Lake is your run-of-the-mill butt-kicking hike, Long’s Peak is MUCH more technical and can be quite dangerous in the wrong conditions (more than 70 people have died on the trail since 1915)—it definitely shouldn’t be something you hike on a whim! 

The next half mile of the Chasm Lake Trail is along a blessedly flat (and sometimes, even downhill!) ridgeline, with absolutely spectacular views. Off to your left, you can see the 110 foot tall Columbine Falls, crashing into the brilliantly blue Peacock Pool—and right in front of you, are the glaciated peaks of Mount Meeker and Long’s Peak. 

Woman hiking along a Chasm Lake Trail with Peacock Lake to her left in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Chasm Lake definitely saves the toughest section for last, with the final 0.1 miles to the base of the lake being a pretty steep and challenging scramble over a large rock fall, with some pretty enormous boulders. When we did this hike in October, we encountered quite a number of icy patches on the slick rock, so go super slowly and be careful—it would be VERY not fun to fall here. 

Man hiking up rock slide along the Chasm Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Luckily, this section is quite short and before you know it, you’ll be at the turquoise waters of Chasm Lake. This is seriously one of the most gorgeous places we’ve ever been, with the striking striations of Mount Meeker and the purple-y hues of Long’s Peak and Lady Washington. There’s plenty of rocks around the lake, where you can sit back, enjoy your lunch, and see if you can spot any tiny hikers making their final push to the summit of Long’s Peak! 

Once you’re done taking in the views, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead. 

When to Hike the Chasm Lake Trail

The best time to hike the trail is from June through October, when the trail is likely to be ice and snow-free. 

Clear water at Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

On either edge of this window, you can likely still climb to Chasm Lake, but I’d advise bringing along microspikes for any icy patches along the trail and to be prepared to turn around if the conditions are sketchy. 

Once the trail is covered in snow, certain areas, especially the final climb up to the lake, can be quite dangerous, unless you’re trained in route-finding and avalanche risks. If you do hit the trail in the wintertime, be sure that you have the appropriate avalanche gear, including a beacon, probe, and shovel (we love this avalanche safety kit that includes all the essentials).

Tips for the Chasm Lake Trail

Check the weather before you go.

Before you head to the trailhead, make sure there aren’t thunderstorms in the forecast—given the high elevation and how open the alpine tundra section of the hike is, there’s a high risk of lightning strikes along this section of the trail. If you hear or see a thunderstorm approaching you along the trail, head back to the treeline—not getting struck by lightning is WAY more important than making it to Chasm Lake, as cool as it is! 

Woman reading lightning hazard sign along the Chasm Lake Trail in Colorado

Start the hike early. 

Besides giving you a better chance of snagging a parking spot and getting the trail to yourself, you’ll increase your chances of being able to safely make it to the lake if you hike in the morning. Come the afternoon, it’s common for clouds and thunderstorms to roll in, especially during the summertime, and, as we touched on above, getting struck by lightning is bad for your health!

Bring warm layers.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll be plenty warm as you’re climbing thousands of feet up to Chasm Lake, but, once you’re near the lake itself, it gets pretty chilly, between the high elevation and the gusty wind. So even if you’re visiting in the summertime, bring along a warm jacket and a hat to throw on at the lake—it would be sad to cut your time at the lake short because it’s too frosty! 

Couple holding hands in front of Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Be prepared for the elevation. 

The trailhead is at over 9,400 feet in elevation (close to two MILES above sea level!) and you’ll be climbing up over 2,500 feet higher. So if you haven’t had much time at higher elevations, I’d recommend spending a few days acclimating before tackling this hike—there’s definitely challenging parts, even when you’re acclimated and downright butt-kicking if you’re coming here straight from sea level! 

Bring sun protection.

About half of this hike is totally exposed to the sun, so be sure to bring along sunscreen, sunglasses, and a brimmed hat. 

Woman standing along the forested Chasm Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

At higher elevations, the UV rays are much stronger and can burn you extremely quickly, even on cloudy days. True story—I visited Colorado to go skiing when I was a little girl and got sunburnt so badly from a day on the slopes that I got HUGE blisters on my face. Not exactly how you want to spend your Rocky Mountain vacation! 


We hope you enjoy Chasm Lake—it’s definitely one of our favorite trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. Do you have any questions about this underrated gem? Let us know in the comments below! 

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