Bear Lake sits at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. It was formed by ice-age glaciers and is surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The staff at Rocky Mountain National Park have built an easy trail that circles the lake and has many benches for resting and reflecting. This is one of the most memorable landscapes I’ve ever experienced.
What makes Bear Lake so special? I’ve been to many mountain lakes – all beautiful, but it’s the combination of qualities that make Bear Lake unforgettable. It’s one of those places I’ll return to over and over again in my mind when I want to place myself in a peaceful, spiritual spot – when I want to stretch my spirit.
Bear Lake is a thin place.
GETTING TO BEAR LAKE
Rocky Mountain National Park has a shuttle that will transport visitors to the lake and the other stops on Bear Lake Road (currently the road is closed during the day due to construction – but after 4 pm cars have access). The entrance is on the east side (Estes Park) of the RMNP. Elk freely roam the area, including the parking lots, so keep an eye out.
It is important to come to Bear Lake in the right state of mind. It’s best to settle yourself before you begin the trail, and to experience the lake slowly taking care to notice the details.
THE BEAR LAKE SETTING
It’s amazing to see such a small lake completely surrounded by a ring of mountains and trees. When the glaciers formed this lake they shaved off parts of the mountain tops. Hallett Peak (see last image on this page) comes into perfect view from one side of the lake with its sheered off side. The debris from the glacial scrape landed around the lake in various rock formations – some of these boulders are huge. The trees grow straight out of the rocks in some places. The scent of pine pierces the air every time a breeze blows. There’s a slight incline to get to the 1 mile trail around the lake, but the lake trail itself is mostly level with a places to sit – both in shade and in the sun – placed about 100 feet. This is a trail almost anyone can successfully traverse… the fit, the unfit, children, elderly.
The light is constantly shifting as it moves through low clouds. Throughout the day, views of the lake and trees seem like they’re being viewed through a subtle kaleidoscope. The pine bark beetle has destroyed many of the trees. Their ghostly, nude presence shows like grey brushstrokes dotted throughout the greens of the forest. But as the light shifts, their greyness develops tinges of lavender and pink and blue.
The silence is striking. There are few places in the world where you can hear utter silence. Bear Lake is like that – silent. Silent when it’s not interrupted by songbirds, or a voice from a fellow traveler from across the lake …. or the wind … the wind…. I’ve never heard wind like that.
The wind is swirling and bouncing off a bowl mountain peaks above. At first it sounds like trucks on a distant highway, but you know it can’t be that because of the location. You hear it in the east. Then in the west. The tones gets louder and pitched at different frequencies. If you listen closely, it almost sounds like a voice speaking inside that swirling madness. And all of this is happening above you. The air against your skin is still. Then as the wildness above subsides, the calm breezes descend, the trees rustle, and the scent of pine flows throughout the forest.
This landscape is old. It knows itself. It has a mighty peace.
STEPPING OUT OF ONESELF
Once you settle yourself, noticing the details around you, the mind and spirit start to churn, and with a bit of focus, you can discover wisdom, hear answers, set priorities, and feel overwhelming gratitude. Mental clarity overcomes you at Bear Lake.
That mental clarity makes it easy to sense things that are normally crowded out of our minds in day-to-day life. I took a few notes on what came to me as I sat a few minutes by the lake and noticed the details of the landscape around me …
- The unimportance of the buzzing blackberry in my backpack
- how short life is
- the sadness of children who never get to see landscapes devoid of concrete asphalt, iron, steel and brick
- how much I love and miss my husband, travel partner and best friend. I know he’d love it here.
- Most of my dreams have already come true.
- I’d love to share this landscape with my children.
- I wish I could see my grandchildren run down this trail noticing every little miracle nature has to offer.
- I have so much more I want to accomplish, but feel like I’m running out of time.
- how insignificant my goals are, and how small I am in relation to the universe
- how all of us who are images in this landscape are dwarfed by the grandeur and timelessness of these surroundings
- The mountains, the trees and the stones hold the memories of this place … if only we could connect to those who have gone before us in this same spot. What would we talk about?
What’s the value of an experience like a visit to Bear Lake? How much would someone pay for a tour with this description?
An afternoon in an ancient landscape where you’ll be surrounded by mountains and able to freely walk around a lake created by glaciers. You will be able to hear the silence and walk along a easy trail passing views seldom seen by most of the world’s population – a mountain lake 10,000 feet above the sea, couched by old faithful stones that harbor a million years of memories. The scent of pine will be thick in some places, and the wind will rush and swirl above you madly, but never disturb you. If you listen carefully you may hear a voice inside it. The very setting will settle you, and allow you to imagine – if only for an afternoon – your life at its best – what matters, and what is still yet to be done.
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