Looking for the perfect afternoon picnic spot when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park? Or maybe you've already completed a longer hike and want something a little more relaxing planned for later in the day.
One thing I love about Rocky Mountain National Park is that it offers visitors a wide range of hikes for guests of all ability levels.
In this post we'll discuss where to find Lake Irene and whether or not it should be a fit for your Rocky Mountain itinerary.
Have a specific question about visiting Lake Irene? Jump ahead using the table of contents below:
Don't forget that Rocky Mountain National Park is now on the timed entry reservation system during peak season (end of May through early October). If you don't have a reservation be sure to head over to Recreation.gov to lock that in!
If you aren't familiar with that system - do not fear! I've put together a post highlighting how to get through the reservation process along with other useful tips. Check out my National Park Timed Entry Guide here!
Once you're finished reading this guide, be sure to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide I put together over on my YouTube channel. It includes tons of great footage I shot during my visit throughout the park.
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Where is Lake Irene Located?
Lake Irene sits on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park making it one of the locations more easily accessed by visitors coming from the Grand Lake area, as opposed to Estes Park.
From Grand Lake budget about 30 minutes of driving along Trail Ridge Road to reach Lake Irene.
If you're coming from Estes Park your journey will be closer to 45 minutes.
While this stop sits closer to Grand Lake, I'd still recommend staying in Estes Park since that provides easier access to Bear Lake Corridor which is home to many of Rocky Mountain's top attractions.
You can reach about visiting Bear Lake by checking out our full post on the subject here!
What to Expect When Visiting Lake Irene?
After a morning full of driving and hiking our way around the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain, Lake Irene was a welcome wind down to our day.
We visited in the afternoon as we traveled west from Estes Park towards Grand Lake.
Our plan on this particular day was to drive the length of the park, have dinner in Grand Lake (we had never been!) and then head back to Denver to check in to a hotel near the airport before flying out the next morning.
Finding a parking spot was easy, which was a welcome relief after dealing with crowds at the Alpine Visitor Center earlier that day and crowds in the Bear Lake Corridor the prior couple of days.
Visitors will find grills, picnic tables and restroom facilities at the parking lot.
A short stroll (10 minutes, if that) will lead you down from the parking area to the path that wraps around the lake. There were a half dozen or so visitors hanging out near the lake, some having picnics while others were just taking in the beautiful afternoon weather.
If you continue on another 10 minutes you'll reach an overlook that sits over a large grassy field.
We briefly chatted with a park ranger near the parking lot who mentioned this is a popular area for spotting wildlife. The views from the overlook were beautiful but sadly we didn't encounter any wildlife along the way!
Lake Irene Parking
The parking situation at Lake Irene, while limited, shouldn't pose an issue for visitors.
While beautiful in its own right, Lake Irene plays second fiddle to most of Rocky Mountain National Park's other attractions. This means fewer tourists!
Take advantage of this to enjoy some time away from the crowds that you'll find in other areas of the park.
Looking for tips to save on airfare? Check out our full guide on the subject here!
Parking spaces here are limited, but should turn over fairly quickly considering a stroll around the lake and to the overlook should only take about 30 minutes.
Other Things to Know About Lake Irene
Is There Cell Phone Service at Lake Irene?
Like other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park expect cell phone service here to be spotty. The high points of the park (around the Alpine Visitor Center) offer better opportunities to catch a signal in a pinch.
How Much Does Lake Irene Entry Cost?
There isn't a fee specific to accessing Lake Irene. The Rocky Mountain National Park entry pass and timed entry reservation are all you need to access Lake Irene. You can check out current rates at the National Park Service's website.
How Long Does it Take to Visit Lake Irene?
If you're looking to visit Lake Irene from Estes Park you're probably looking at a 45 minute drive. This distance will be shorter for anyone coming from Grand Lake (30 minutes or so).
Once you park I'd budget 30-45 minutes for strolling around the lake to the nearby overlook. The overlook sits above an open field that has a reputation for wildlife sightings. Keep your fingers crossed!
Budget additional time if you plan to stop here for lunch.
Are Pets Allowed at Lake Irene?
Sadly, pets are not allowed at Lake Irene. While your pet is welcome to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, don't expect to take them with you on a stroll along Lake Irene or any of the other trails. Pets are only welcome around parking lots and certain campgrounds.
Are There Bathrooms at Lake Irene?
There are bathrooms at the Lake Irene parking lot.
Should I Bring any Special Hiking Gear for Lake Irene?
Hiking gear isn't necessary for Lake Irene given the short distance. Just don't forget to pack a lunch as Lake Irene makes for a great afternoon picnic stop.
What is the Best Time of Day to Visit Lake Irene?
You can visit Lake Irene at any point during the day since you don't have to fight for a parking spot or be too worried about the weather given the short duration of this trail. Keep in mind it's not uncommon for Rocky Mountain National Park to experience afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months.
Also - don't forget to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide over on my YouTube channel if you haven't already!
Looking for hiking gear recommendations?
Chances are if you're visiting Rocky Mountain National Park you'll be doing some hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear in order to have the best experience possible.
Finding gear that's functional, not overpriced, that also looks good can be a challenge.
For your convenience I've laid out some of my favorite hiking apparel below. All of the gear I link to below are items I personally own and have tested out on the trails. Quick disclaimer, I am an affiliate of several referral programs and I may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Hiking day pack - If you're in the market for a hiking day pack I'd suggest browsing REI's selection. If you've never owned one before you can go into a retail store and they'll ensure you find one that fits properly with any of the bells and whistles you may require!
Water reservoir - I have reservoirs from Platypus and Gregory that I really like. While these come in a variety of sizes I wouldn't bother with those smaller than 3L. You can always just fill up the larger ones part way if you're concerned about weight since they collapse to the same size.
Moisture wicking t-shirts - Patagonia makes really great hiking t-shirts that keep you dry all day long. They also perform well under multiple layers of clothing.
Hiking socks - I absolutely love the FEIDEER brand of hiking socks. I've tried some other hiking sock brands, but I think these take the cake! They make great socks for women and men.
There's nothing worse than missing out on a great hike because you didn't come prepared, don't be that person!
Check Out Our Timed Entry Reservation Guide
There's one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting US National Parks. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring some of Americas most beautiful destinations. If the park you're visiting requires timed entry be sure to check out this guide.
Fortunately - we have put together a guide walking you through that process. We also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.
You can access our Timed Entry Reservation Guide here!