Running Cub Lake
The trail to Cub Lake starts on a gentle path that traces a wide ridge of rock with long views across the open expanse of Moraine Park. Two large herds of elk lazily fattening up on forbs and grasses for the winter months ahead served as a reminder that this was a special place: Rocky Mountain National Park. Founded in 1915, the coming year will mark 100 years for one of our country's natural crown jewels and I won't take it for granted that I can visit this place on a weekday afternoon in October and find sixty degree weather and empty trails.
From Moraine Park, the trail climbs steadily through beaver meadows to an area burned by fire just a couple short years ago; a fire made notable by the fact that it took place in December, well outside the typical fire season, and the fact that I happened to have been in Estes Park at the time and was evacuated by the Sheriff's office early one morning due to the danger. Among the blackened conifer trunks, aspen trees stood bare, having already shed their golden coats for the season, dropping them to the soil where they lay today, decomposing into the earth and filling the air with the aroma of Autumn. The leaves ruffled underfoot, water gurgled in hollows under glacial rocks and the wind sighed. This segment of trail wound gracefully up to Cub Lake, so natural in its path that it seemingly did not require effort on behalf of human hands, a true credit to those who actually did endure the sweaty toil of making this footpath.
The trail reached over a rise to a meadow at the east end of Cub Lake and the wind, carrying a high mountain rawness as it so often does here, slashed against me and had me wondering if starting this run in only a t-shirt and shorts may have been too optimistic. But I ran into the wind. Cub Lake glimmered gold behind the trees, a colorful beatitude to the warm sun above, while a Steller's Jay flitted from branch to branch in the living trees left unharmed by the recent beetle kill and fire. Above, Stones Mountain glared down from the heart of the park, dark and gray under clouds it had drawn up around it's broad frosty shoulders. Running the burn through this area under the darkening skies and surrounded by the skeletal trees and the bone-white rock felt spooky, perhaps as much from the coming of Halloween, as from the trail conditions themselves. Summoning the courage to descend through this segment of trail brought me to The Pool, a swollen stretch of the Big Thompson River crossed by a rebuilt heavy bridge so new that the sawdust still filled the nooks and crannies of the planks. I paused here to admire the mountain scenery, but only briefly as Stones Mountain had continued piling up it's cloudy cap and tiny sprinkles of rain tickled my backside the whole way down the buffed trail that followed the course of the Big Thompson River. I passed under arched Rocks and on to the Fern Lake Trailhead where less than a mile of easy running on the road returned me to the Cub Lake Trailhead and gave me the unique satisfaction of a tidy loop run rather than an out-and-back. A run like today's makes clear the inadequacy of the written word to justly describe a day in the wild. So I hope you will go. And see. And run into the wind.
To get to the Cub Lake Trailhead, go north on I-25 to exit 243. Travel west on Hwy 66 through Lyons to US 36 into Estes Park and following signs to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park currently has a $20 entrance fee which can be paid at the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station or annual passes can be purchased for $80. Once inside the park take the left turn at Bear Lake Rd and a right onto Moraine Park Rd after 1.25 miles. Follow Moraine Park Rd for .5 miles, then take a left onto Fern Lake to the trailhead on the left after 1.25 miles.
Peak and Plain Extra
An adventure in a place as rugged as Rocky Mountain National Park should be celebrated at a place that is equally as rugged. The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern is just outside the Beaver Meadows entrance and serves up a tasty char-broiled buffalo burger, sweet potato fries, and cold beer on tap. During the fall, try Isolation Ale, a seasonal winter warmer from Odell Brewing company just down the road in Fort Collins.