The Gorge Lakes, Poudre Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The Gorge Lakes - 10.8 miles

Poudre Lake Trailhead

View over the Gorge Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

View over the Gorge Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Round-Trip Length: 10.8 miles (roundtrip distance to Azure Lake)
Start-End Elevation: 10,753' - 11,940' (12,670' max elevation on route)
Elevation Change: +1,917' net elevation gain (+3,150' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

The Gorge Lakes - 10.8 Miles Round-Trip

The Gorge Lakes occupy a rugged, steep-walled valley under Mt Ida (12,889') in Rocky Mountain National Park. Highest Lake, Azure Lake, Inkwell Lake, Doughnut Lake, Arrowhead Lake, Love Lake and Rock Lake drain NE through the gorge into Forest Canyon and the Big Thompson River.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

No trails reach the lakes, however there are several viable routes into the gorge. The most direct follows a short but challenging route off the Mt Ida Trail down the gorge's west wall to Azure Lake.

Details, distance and elevation totals provided here are based on Azure Lake. Though all other lakes are relatively close from ths point, travel through the gorge can take more time than distances might suggest. 

Approximately 80% of the trail and route into the gorge is above treeline and fully exposed. Get an early start, carry versatile layers and manage time wisely.

Note that your view of incoming weather from the west is blocked by gorge walls, and storms can develop with little warning. Time management and weather-reading are essential when heading to the Gorge Lakes, especially for day-hikers.

Climbing back to the Mt Ida Trail is strenuous, and for day-hikers, likely coincides with the arrival of afternoon storms.

While navigation is fairly intuitive with the lakes in sight from high points along the Mt Ida Trail, near-vertical slopes, loose rock and potential snow cover on the off-trail portion require great care. Only experienced hikers should attempt reaching the lakes:

The trail begins on the south side of Poudre Lake where you’ll find signs for Milner Pass and Mt Ida a few steps from the trailhead. It turns sharply uphill to the Milner Pass – Mt Ida Trail split (.6 miles : 11,072’).

The Mt Ida Trail turns south and climbs steadily before moderating through treeline (1.2 miles : 11,392’). Look for bighorn sheep and elk along these big, open slopes.

The trail heads S-SE just west of and below the Divide to a cairn-marked fork (2.8 miles : 12,140’) - keep right (the left fork does rejoin the main trail).

It dips across a saddle with great views north across open alpine bowls (3.4 miles : 12,015’), then steepens and fades in rockier terrain under the summit (3.5 miles :12,037’).

Stay on established paths to about the 4.25 mile mark, where you'll veer off (left) to the gorge rim with a great view over the lakes (4.5 miles : 12,650').

Off-trail travel begins here (GPS point #9).  Avoid cornices in this area. Walk along the rim to find a relatively narrow but serviceable swath of grassy terrain leading down into the gorge (4.8 miles : 12,590' | GPS point #10).

Here you'll drop 510' in just .3 miles to a sandy flat (5.1 miles : 12,080'). Pick your way through talus and arc around a tarn to Azure Lake (5.4 miles : 11,940').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 25.220 W105 48.683 — 0.0 miles : Poudre Lake Trailhead
  • N40 25.080 W105 48.489 — .6 miles : Milner Pass - Mt Ida Trail split
  • N40 24.741 W105 48.529 — 1.2 miles : Clear treeline
  • N40 24.289 W105 47.939 — 2.0 miles : Look for sheep and elk on grassy slopes
  • N40 23.736 W105 47.538 — 2.8 miles : Cairn marked split - bear right
  • N40 23.242 W105 47.468 — 3.4 miles : Low point of saddle
  • N40 23.056 W105 47.298 — 3.75 miles : Trail fades on approach to summit
  • N40 22.841 W105 47.216 — 4.0 miles : Trail fades on approach to summit
  • N40 22.594 W105 46.855 — 4.5 miles : Ledge on ridge overlooking lakes
  • N40 22.715 W105 46.620 — 4.8 miles : Drop off ridge down gorge wall
  • N40 22.648 W105 46.612 — 4.95 miles : Steep drop down gorge wall
  • N40 22.591 W105 46.517 — 5.1 miles : Level out on small sandy flat
  • N40 22.386 W105 46.376 — 5.4 miles : Azure Lake

Worth Noting

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • A permit is required for all backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Permits may be obtained from the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center Backcountry Office, or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake. Day-of-trip permits may be obtained in-person, year round.
  • There's a $26 fee to backcountry camp in Rocky Mountain National Park (May 1 - October 31). This administrative fee covers each party (defined as an individual or group) for the duration of the trip. Note that park entrance fees are applied separately and in full.
  • There is an established campsite at Little Rock Lake at the bottom of the gorge. It's the only backcountry campsite in RMNP without a trail leading to it. Zone camping is permitted at the Gorge Lakes. Contact the backcountry office for details and permits.

Fishing Information

A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary; however, special regulations exist. It's your responsibility to know and obey them. 

Due to the dynamic nature of fisheries management, fishing regulations can change at anytime. Special closures may be put in place above and beyond what is listed here. Contact the park before heading out for current information.

  • Barbless hooks only. Any and all fish species taken must be immediately returned to the water unharmed. No bait is permitted by any age angler in catch-and-release areas.
  • Method of Capture: Each person shall use only one hand-held rod or line. A 'second rod stamp' is not honored in park waters. Only artificial lures or flies with one (single, double, or treble) hook with a common shank may be used. "Artificial flies or lures" means devices made entirely of, or a combination of, materials such as wood, plastic, glass, hair, metal, feathers, or fiber, designed to attract fish. This does not include: (a) any hand malleable material designed to attract fish by the sense of taste or smell; (b) any device to which scents or smell attractants have been externally applied; (c) molded plastic devices less than one and one-half inch in length; (d) foods; (e) traditional organic baits such as worms, grubs, crickets, leeches, minnows, and fish eggs; and (f) manufactured baits such as imitation fish eggs, dough baits, or stink baits. Fly fishers may utilize a two hook system, where one hook is used as an attractant.
  • While in possession of any fishing equipment, bait for fishing (insects, fish eggs, minnows, or other organic matter) or worms is prohibited. Children 12 years of age or under, however, may use worms or preserved fish eggs in all park waters open to fishing except those designated as catch-and release areas.
  • No bait or worms are allowed in catch-and-release waters.
  • Use of lead sinkers (or other lead fishing materials) is strongly discouraged.

Rules and Regulations

  • A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
  • Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Directions to Trailhead

The Poudre Lake Trailhead is located 25 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance on Trail Ridge Road. The parking area is located just south of Poudre Lake on the east side of the road.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:

Backcountry Office:

Campground Reservations:

Emergency Dispatch:

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


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