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Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: Bluebird Lake

Lower Copeland Falls
Lower Copeland Falls
Deb Stanley

Wild Basin is the southeast section of Rocky Mountain National Park and is an incredibly beautiful place to explore. Numerous lakes and high peaks in this area create dramatic scenery.

Bluebird Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Bluebird Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Deb Stanley

After hiking to Finch Lake, Sandbeach Lake, the Lion Lakes, Ouzel Falls, Ouzel Lake and backpacking to Hutchinson Lakes and Thunder Lake, there was one last area to explore -- Bluebird Lake. There are only two campsites high in the valley, so I decided to do a day hike here.

The hike to Bluebird Lake starts at the main Wild Basin trailhead (directions below). Hike over a bridge, take just a few steps down the trail and you're quickly in thick forest. The trail starts flat, but it gets tougher the further away from the trailhead you go.

Just a short 0.3 miles down the trail, you'll come to the first picture stop, Lower Copeland Falls. Walk the short spur trail over to the river and the falls. This is a small cascade, maybe five feet high, but it's a nice spot. A short distance away, is Upper Copeland Falls, then it's time to continue on the main trail.

About 1.4 miles from the trailhead, you may spot a turnoff for several backcountry campsites, some people like to use this trail as a bit of a "shortcut" to/from Bluebird Lake. If you're interested in doing that, I would suggest using that trail on the way down and staying on the main trail on the way up to see Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. However, my GPS showed the trail distance was about the same each way.

Just a tenth of a mile from the campsite turnoff, you'll cross a long bridge at a cascade. This is not Calypso Cascades, but it is a nice cascade for a quick photo stop. It's also a good spot to catch your breath and take a drink of water because you're about to have your first steep climb.

It's about 0.3 miles from this unnamed cascade to Calypso Cascades with 200 feet of elevation gain. There are a lot of steps along this section of this trail, but the reward is worth it.

Calypso Cascades is a tall cascade! Here water cascades over rocks and trees down a 100-foot drop. Thanks to the construction of a log bridge, hikers can stand in the middle of the cascade and enjoy the show created by Cony Creek. The cascades are surrounded by a forest, adding even more beauty to the photos.

While Calypso Cascades is a nice spot, Ouzel Falls still awaits. Hikers gain another 300 feet over the next 0.9 of a mile to the bridge at Ouzel Falls. At the Ouzel Falls bridge, take a photo or two, then look carefully to your left for a faint trail that leads hikers to the front of the falls and even a better view! The trail is rocky, sometimes muddy and involves climbing over some downed trees. It's all worth it to stand in front of Ouzel Falls. Stand in the right place and you may even get a misty shower depending on which way the wind is blowing. Ouzel Falls drop more than 40 feet through a cut in a dark rock wall.

After you enjoy the falls, it's back to the main trail for the hike to Bluebird Lake. From here, there are a couple switchbacks down a hill and a trail split. Take the turn toward Ouzel and Bluebird lakes and start climbing again. Soon you'll come to a wide-open meadow with many burned and downed trees.

In August 1978, a bolt of lightning hit near Ouzel Lake and started a fire that burned for more than a month. At first, the park managed the fire, but strong winds started pushing the fire to homes near the park. 500 firefighters were then brought it to put the fire out. The fire burned 1,050 acres.

While you can easily see where the fire burned a path through this area, you will also see how the forest is coming back. There are wildflowers, aspen trees and fir trees making a comeback. There are trees that are a foot high and many that are 5 feet high and taller. And thanks to the fire clearing out most of the trees, you can easily see and enjoy the peaks surrounding this part of the trail.

At about 4.75 miles, you'll come to the sign for the turnoff for Ouzel Lake. From here, it's a half mile of up and down trail to the shore of the lake. However, if you want to see both lakes, I recommend doing Ouzel on the way back. That's because you'll get a glimpse of Ouzel Lake from the Bluebird Lake trail and you'll need your energy for the Bluebird Lake hike.

As you stand at the turnoff, look west. You're going up that valley. See the shorter peak in the middle of the valley? That's Ouzel Peak. Bluebird Lake sits in a basin right below it. We're going there.

As you hike the Bluebird Lake Trail, you'll notice you are still in the burn zone. It's amazing how much damage is left nearly 40 years later. But you'll also see where the fire stopped on the way up this valley and the line of forest begins.

Just a half mile or less from the turnoff for Ouzel Lake, you should see the lake in the trees below. Ouzel Lake is a shallow lake surrounded by marsh and thick forest. It sits below Copeland Mountain.

Continue hiking up the valley toward Bluebird Lake. At times, you'll be in the thick forest. At times, you'll be in open meadows with a view of the area. In the meadows, watch for moose. We saw one on our trip. Another hiker saw three.

Six miles from the trailhead, you'll come to a turnoff for the Upper Ouzel Creek campsite. This is a good landmark. Take a few more steps on the trail, cross the outflow of Bluebird Lake and begin the last, steep climb up to Bluebird Lake. And I do mean steep. You'll gain about 300 feet in the next 0.4 miles. The trail gets faint at times as it climbs this rocky, steep section and you may also find yourself hiking up one to two snowfields even in the middle of the summer.

But the reward at the top is fantastic! Bluebird Lake is a large lake in a basin at the bottom of Ouzel Peak. This cirque is very dramatic with peaks surrounding it. Bluebird Lake once had a dam, but park workers did a great job removing all signs of the dam.

If you have a map, you'll notice two to three more lakes in the next valley, up and to the northwest. The climb is about 400 feet to the top of the ridge to get a view of that valley and hike on to Lark Pond, Pipit Lake and Isolation Lake.

When you're done exploring, return the way you came.

Details: The hike to Calypso Cascades, Ouzel Falls and Bluebird Lake is about 12.8 miles roundtrip with about 2,600 feet of elevation gain. (Add extra distance for the hike over to Ouzel Falls, Ouzel Lake and up to the ridge to see the lakes above Bluebird Lake.)

Find more great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and across Colorado in this list of 200+ hikes across the state. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.

Directions: From Denver, take U.S. 36 to Boulder then to Lyons. Stay on U.S. 36 as it turns left and goes through Lyons. At the Highway 36/Highway 7 split, turn south on Highway 7. Take Highway 7 about 21 miles past Allenspark to the sign for the Wild Basin area. Turn left. Just a short distance from Highway 7 is an entrance station (regular admission prices apply). Then drive about 2.3 miles on a dirt road to the trailhead. Arrive early on the weekends (before 8:30 a.m.) or you may have to park down the road, adding more distance to your hike.