Odessa Lake, Colorado

Location: Rocky Mt National Park, central Colorado 
Maps: 1:59,000 Trails Illustrated Rocky Mt National Park (#200) 
Access: From Interstate 25, take Highway 34 through Loveland and Estes Park to the Beaver meadows entrance, then follow the signs to Bear Lake. 
Bear Lake Trailhead: NAD83 z13 445112e 4462591n  Elevation: 9460'
Fees: $20 week pass/vehicle (or $35 year pass/vehicle/ $50 US Park Pass); $20/trip backcountry pass 
Trail: Bear Lake to Odessa Lake = 5 miles; 1200’ up, 700’ down (net gain=500’) (2-3 hours). The route leads from lodgepole pine/spruce/aspen forest gently uphill into more open woodland and topping out on a rocky trail overlooking Fern Creek before descending gently down to Odessa Lake.
Dogs: Not allowed on trails in RMNP 
Webcam: 8 miles northeast in Estes Park
Weather: Current conditions       Local Forecast

Notchtop Mountain, Rocky Mountain National ParkI started for Odessa Lake not from the parking lot, but from the opposite side of the continental divide at about 5:30 in the morning. Having spent the last 2 days hiking around  the quiet and seldom-visited Hallet Creek and North Inlet Creeks, I was sorry to leave them for the flurry of activity around Bear Lake, undoubtedly the busiest destination in the park. My feet were extremely sore after the long days hike of about 10 miles (up 2800’, down 2500’) so my legs protested bitterly when, at the fork with the Fern Lake Trail, I started back uphill instead of continuing down to Bear Lake. The day was warm and still. The trail was close and shaded with spruce and fir trees. I met several groups of people along the way, all enjoying themselves in this wonderful park of ours. 

I stopped at a trickle of water crossing the trail and filtered water, taking a long rest in the shade and wishing  I were at my destination. The legs ached, the bottoms of my feet burned, my shoulders were tired. Back on the trail in the reddening sun of afternoon, I walked past Two Rivers Lake. Notchtop Mountain stood solidly behind it, its bare rock facets reflecting a thousand hues of steely gray. The trail rounded a corner and turned north, from which point it was all downhill to Odessa Lake. Parts of this trail followed a ledge hewn from the rock of the Fern canyon wall, with the valley below ever-visible. The Little Matterhorn above Odessa Lake made a striking landmark, and the lake itself was largely in view during the descent to its shores. I finally reached it at 3:30, having spent more than 10h traveling 13 miles to get there. I ached and felt only like laying down and napping. I shed my pack in the first campsite I came to, not bothering to examine the other one, and sat on a large boulder and drank water. It was nice. The west side of this little clearing was bounded by a rock wall and several large fir trees. The south and north were bounded by thick trees and shrubs and the entrance that came in from the east was lined with smaller trees that only barely blocked view of Fern Creek down below. I could feel that it was much less humid on this side of the divide, and where the ground had been sodden on the west side, everything was bone dry here. Salt crusted on my brow, and I used a damp handkerchief to clean my face as I sat. I set up the tent, still wet from the heavy dew last night, and set out Fern Creek, Rocky Mountain National Parkother wet clothes to dry in the sun that was striking through the short firs into the east side of camp. Unlike the camp at North Inlet, this one sported an ammo box cabled to a stout tree to act as a bear box. I loaded my diminished food supply into the box and snapped it shut. Fifty paces north of camp sat the latrine, an open-air job consisting of a toilet seat on a metal tube bolted to a plywood platform about 6 x 6 feet. A 4-foot wooden slat fence on one side provided a screen. Otherwise, you were right out there. I preferred this to the foul air that collects in well-sealed outhouses, something we all try to avoid by holding our breath, or breathing through the cloth of our t-shirt. 

With camp set up, I felt reenergized. Instead of napping, I felt the urge to go check out the lake. I treaded the short trail to Fern Creek, filtered water, then walked the short distance south to the bank of Odessa Lake. From the south shore, one looks directly up the valley to Flattop Mt, where I had stood looking down this way hours before. I sat on a log that sat well back from the waters edge and just watched, feeling the sweet-ache of my legs and shoulders. One advantage of stressing one’s muscles in physical exertion is the enhanced awareness of the body that follows. 

Odessa Lake at sunset, Rocky Mountain National ParkBack in camp it neared 6:00 and I started to consider dinner. Being the last night of the trip, my options were limited, so I started boiling water for a package of Lipton pasta something-or-other. It had pesto sauce, and ended up being quite tasty. While I cooked this, a man and woman from North Carolina and more recently from the campsite next door came walking up to visit. We sat around telling tales of our travels for 20 minutes or so. While I was on my final night of backpacking, they were on their first. They related the troubles they had finding the specific fuel their stove required, something I can relate to. I realized then how easy it had been for me to get to this wonderful place that most people have to plan months in advance to see. I had simply shown up with no plan at all at the backcountry office and told them I had 4 days to backpack, then asked what was available. 

After dinner I read more of a silly novel called Total Control, leaning up against the rock on the north side of the campsite clearing. As the sun sank lower, I grabbed my camera and took off for a better look around Odessa Lake. A well-worn trail follows the western shore through thick trees and spits one out on the north side of the lake. The trail continues up to Grace Little Matterhorn at sunrise, Rocky Mountain National ParkFalls, but I was content to go no further. I photographed the lake as it reflected the complex hues of red and blue that changed by the minute as the sun set in the west. The water was smooth as glass. After the sky had darkened almost completely to blue, I made my way back around to the south side of the lake, then to camp into my soft down bag at  8:30. While laying in my tent waiting for sleep to come, my mind wandered on such things as the need to rewax my boots, purchase a few handwarming packs and the need to put all clothes in Ziploc bags for the upcoming trip to Olympic National Park. 

The next morning my alarm went off at 5:45, giving me plenty of time to dress and get set up on the south end of the lake for a sunrise show on the mountains. I was not disappointed as the sun turned the rocks various shades of pink and orange and finally melded into yellow and then the duller, flatter shades of gray that accompany sunlight from a steeper angle. I took another walk around to the north side of the lake, enjoying the changing shadows and colors on the rocks and trees. Back at camp I ate breakfast of Honey Bunches of oats with powdered milk and a blueberry Pop-Tart. Breakfast of champions, that. They sky was perfectly clear as I packed up camp. The groundcloth for the tent had never dried the day before, so I set it in the sun and used it as an excuse to loiter around camp a little longer. I sat in the sun and read my book, looking up frequently to admire the beautiful forest. At 8:30 I was anxious to get a move on, and I left. The hike back was much better than the one in, both because I was feeling refreshed and because the morning sunlight gleamed off everything, creating a crystalline world of color. I went slow, and took many photographs. I arrived back at Bear Lake at 11:00 and hopped almost immediately on a departing shuttle that took my back to my car that still smelled of the dead rodent that had died somewhere in the deep recesses of the engine block. 

Odessa Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Notchtop Mt, Rocky Mountain National Park
The Little Matterhorn, Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake and Hallet Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park

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