Rocky Mountain National Park is full of stunning landscapes, amazing wildlife, and remote adventure. One of our favorite areas in the massive park is known as the Wild Basin Area and it is full of beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous alpine lakes, and jagged peaks. All the trails here are long enough to make for great backpacking trips or long day hikes. Bluebird Lake is one of those deep alpine lakes. With Ouzel Falls and Ouzel Lake being located along the path, backpacking Bluebird Lake might be the best overnight adventure in the park.
Stats for Backpacking Bluebird Lake
- Distance: 12.8 (Round-trip)
- Elevation: 8,510’ – 11,028’
- Elevation Gain: 2,518’
- Trailhead: The Wild Basin Trailhead
- Location: Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park
Trip Report for Backpacking Bluebird Lake
The trailhead for Bluebird Lake is the Wild Basin Trailhead of Rocky Mountain National Park. We arrived early (7:45 AM) to make sure we had a parking spot at the actual trailhead. At this time of the morning we had no issues parking, but the small lot was filling up fast and the trails were already crowded. We have visited this area before and knew that it can be difficult to find a parking spot. When backpacking Bluebird Lake you don’t want to have to hike the dirt access road in from the gate. That would add over 2-miles each way to the overall hike.
The Wild Basin Trailhead
After gathering our gear we set off down the trail. The Wild Basin area (8,510′) is the starting point for many trails in the area so this trailhead gets a lot of traffic. The trail is initially flat and very wide. It follows the flow of the North St. Vrain Creek. About 0.3-miles in is the first of several small waterfalls known as the Copeland Falls. From here the trail steepens slightly as it continues to follow the flow of the creek.
Ouzel Falls and Unimproved Intersection
After a mile and a half on the trail, we came across the first backpacking site known as Pine Ridge. It sits near the intersection for the trail leading to Ouzel Falls (straight) and the Unimproved Trail (right) leading to several other backcountry campsites. At the intersection, we stayed straight and continued the short distance to a bridge crossing over the North St. Vrain Creek.
The Water Ouzel
There is a gorgeous wide water cascade flowing through this area. With good luck, we spotted the namesake of the lake and falls the bird called a Water Ouzel (AKA: Dipper) fishing in the stream.
On to the Calypso Cascades
After the bridge, the trail gets much steeper. It is well established in this area with stone steps leading up to the Calypso Cascades located at 1.8 miles. These cascades are a grouping of several steep but shortfalls coming off the mountainside. There are three sections of these falls all equipped with bridges crossing over them. It is a gorgeous example of a great trail creation for a mass public scenario. These trails are well traveled.
From Calypso to Ouzel Falls
After passing the Calypso Cascades the trail leaves the water and winds through the woods along the mountainside as it moderately climbs towards the favorite day hikers destination of Ouzel Falls.
At 2.7 miles the trail reaches the stunning Ouzel Falls (elevation: 9,370’). We took a left just before the bridge and climbed the well-worn path adjacent to the east side of the cascading creek up to the falls. There are tons of people taking in the sights and sounds of this immense amount of water falling the 40’ height and crashing into the boulders below. This is an amazing site and anyone can see why it is a favorite day hiking destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. We liked it so much that we decided to have an early lunch so we could sit and enjoy the sight and sounds over our meal.
From Ouzel Falls to the Next Intersection
After lunch, we continued our journey of backpacking Bluebird Lake. Upon returning to the main trail from the spur to the falls, the trail immediately crosses over the cascading runoff below Ouzel Falls via another well made and new bridge. The old bridge was washed out during the floods of 2013. From here the trail ascends to a small outcropping revealing gorgeous views back down the valley. It then turns and descends slightly before mostly leveling out to a flat hike (by RMNP standards) to the next intersection.
Bluebird Lake and Thunder Lake Intersection
At 3.1-miles in we came to the intersection with Thunder Lake (right) and Bluebird Lake (left). Although the signage along the trail thus far has been good this is the first sign that actually has Bluebird Lake listed on it. If you go right from here it will lead you back to the Unimproved Trail where it intersects at the junction near the North St. Vrain Campsite. This is a loop option back to the Wild Basin trailhead. Other hikers or backpackers might continue on towards Thunder and Lion lakes.
Goodbye Day Hikers
We went left and began a steep climb towards the valley above Ouzel Falls. From here on out the day hikers mostly fall away. Few hikers venture beyond Ouzel Falls and the few that do tend to make the hike a loop by heading back on the Unimproved Trail. We only saw a hand full of hikers on our two days out past this point.
The trail here climbs steeply through the woods. It is nice to have the tree cover on a hot summer day like ours. About half a mile later the trail reaches the ridgeline. A fire went through this area in the late 1970s which cleared most of the vegetation. It has recovered, but the trees are still rather small leaving the trail exposed with no canopy. On the bright side, it allows for great views of the surrounding peaks all around you. The downside is on a hot day you are exposed and it can feel like you are in an oven.
Once on this exposed ridge, the trail undulates slightly for the next mile as it leads travelers towards Ouzel Lake. The Ouzel Creek can be heard in the distance but not seen. Make sure you have plenty of water before departing Ouzel Falls as there are nearly 2 miles of trail without easy water access.
Ouzel Lake Spur
4.5-miles into our journey we arrived at the intersection for the Ouzel Lake spur. We headed left leading us down to Ouzel Lake. It is a half mile with a slight descent to the lake. The last of the trail is a beautiful section following the lake’s outlet – Ouzel Creek.
We stopped and took in the lake for a while. It was a hot day and the shade of the trees along the shore was too tempting. There is a campsite located fairly close to the shores of the lake. It has a privy (toilet) which is really nice in the backcountry. The lake itself is fairly shallow and surrounded by trees with peaks rising in the distance. We ran into a couple the next day who overnighted here and they were rewarded with sights of a moose bathing in the lake in the early morning. We meandered about the lake for about an hour before heading back out on the trail to the spur’s intersection and continuing our adventure of backpacking Bluebird Lake.
Ouzel Lake and the Moose
Back at the Ouzel Lake spur intersection, we continued towards Bluebird Lake. From here the trail climbs along the rocky exposed terrain to views overlooking Ouzel Lake. Along the way, there is another un-named lake that I called Lilypad Lake due to the fact that it was covered in lilypads. As we approached the overlook to Ouzel Lake we ran across a group of hikers who told us to keep an eye on the left-hand side of the trail as there was a bull moose bedded down in the tall grass. We easily spotted the moose about 20 yards off the path. He was big. I was attempting to grab his attention for some photos when another bull stood up about 15’ from the first.
The 2nd Bull Moose
The second moose slowly made its way towards us and I decided that it was best to move on. We made our way to a boulder field slightly further down the trail and I went out onto an outcropping to get better views of the second bull. He seemed less interested in me than the large bush he was after for a mid-day snack. Once I had taken enough photos we set back out on the trail.
More Wildlife While Backpacking Bluebird Lake
The trail then finally enters into a forest unaffected by the 1970s’ fire. The shade was appreciated. Along the way, the trail crosses over some creeks and we soon ran across a doe (deer) coming down the trail. She was headed towards the water and was reluctant to venture off the path. When we were less than 10’ from her she finally skirted the trail by heading a few feet into the woods before returning to the well-worn path.
Upper Ouzel Intersection
From the intersection with Ouzel Lake to the Upper Ouzel Campsite’s turnoff, it is about 1.5 miles and almost 600’ of elevation gain to the Upper Ouzel area. The intersection for the Upper Ouzel campsite is located in an amazing area full of streams of water surrounded by a multitude of beautiful wildflowers (at least in July & August).
Upper Ouzel Campsite
We made the ascent up to our camping spot on the ledge overlooking the surrounding mountainous terrain. We set up our tent and proceeded to pump some water for an early dinner. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. We had started the day really early getting up at 5:30 AM to drive in so everything was a little off today. After dinner, we continued up to Bluebird Lake. Click here to read more about the Upper Ouzel Creek Campsite.
The Last Half-Mile to Bluebird Lake
We hit the trail and started the half-mile push up to Bluebird Lake. From the Upper Ouzel Creek Campsite intersection, it is over a 400’ climb in a half mile to the lake. It starts out by crossing over the Upper Ouzel Creek and then paralleling it before it splits off to the south (left) and switchbacks tightly up to the ridge before landing on a slanted slab which we traversed to the top of the ridge. The path then crosses over to the north side of the ridge where the creek once again revealed itself as it cascaded down the small ravine.
Snowpack in July
The trail climbs onto the top of the ridge and then descends slightly before continuing the ascent. Here we found the remnants of winter in mid-July. The snowpack was thick for about 15 yards and the main trail led directly onto it. Not having brought our micro-spikes we found an adjacent trail that climbed more aggressively over the rocky ridge to the right.
Overlooking Bluebird Lake
Once on top of this ridge the trail moderates as it climbs over the last of the incline to the overlook for bluebird lake. With the lake in sight we descended the 30’ ridge to its shore.
Bluebird Lake is the largest alpine lake in the Wild Basin Area. It is impressive and looks to be very deep. At one time this lake was dammed although today no remnants of that structure remain. The 12,716’ Ouzel Peak rises steeply out of the lake’s edge directly to the west. As we were here in the late afternoon everything was cast in shadow and we decided quickly to return again to the lake the following morning.
Morning at Bluebird Lake
We returned the next morning to the lake and surrounding peaks glowing in the early morning light. Having the ability to see this lake early in the day when the light shines on the east facing peaks is the best reason for backpacking Bluebird Lake and overnighting at the Upper Ouzel camp spot.
Beyond Backpacking Bluebird Lake
For those more adventurous souls there are far less traveled trails beyond Bluebird Lake to Lark Pond, Pipit Lake and Junco Lake. These trails take some effort to find. We did not adventure up these paths but spoke with someone who did and he said they are amazing spots to explore. These other lakes can be explored by using the Upper Ouzel Creek campsite as a basecamp.
Tips for Backpacking Bluebird Lake
- Backpacking permits for RMNP (camping): Required (May 1st – Oct. 31st).
- Permits for May 1 – Oct 31 are available as of March 1st. Get your permits in early March as they book up fast especially for weekend trips.
- Cost (2018): $26/reservation
- Reservation Website: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping.htm
- Bear canisters are required in all RMNP backcountry campsites.
- Arrive early as most of the parking lots in all of RMNP fill up early and Wild Basin is no exception. The gate is over 2-miles up the dirt road and it is not uncommon for visitors to have to hike this before reaching the trails at Wild Basin.
- During the wet summer months, bug repellant is needed!
- You are only allowed to camp at designated spots in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Snow typically covers the trail from October thru late June.
- There is plenty of water flowing throughout most of this hike for filtration purposes.
- As always, use Leave No Trace practices when in this and all wilderness environments.