Glacier Gorge Trail to Black Lake in RMNP 

A great day hike through some spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery to Mills, Jewel and Black Lakes

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Author: yankindixie
Date: 15 Sep 2009 7:30:00 AM
Activity: Hiking
State: Colorado (CO)
Distance: 4.15 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 1363 ft
Total Loss: 0 ft
Net Change: 1363 ft
Difficulty: 4 / 10
Tags: Black Lake, Colorado, Estes Park, Glacier Creek, Glacier Gorge Trail, Jewel Lake, Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountains
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

    Since Jen Fields has already posted this hike, I will not repeat the information she gives there. I recommend that her posting be checked also by anyone interested in this hike.
    We did this hike on the 15th of September and though it was somewhat overcast, there was some breaks of sun making it a nice autumn day. The aspen were not at peak yet, but they had changed enough to lend some of their classic gold color to the landscape. We arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead on Bear Lake Road around 7:45 am to find the parking lot already half full. This parking lot fills up fast, so if you find it full, you can also park at the Bear Lake parking area at the end of Bear Lake Road. From there, you can shuttle to the Glacier Gorge trailhead, or you can start the hike there which will add about a mile to the round trip hike.
    For those taking photographs of the hike, I found that the afternoon and early evening hours gave the best light for doing so. The problem that this presents however is that the afternoon hours in the mountains are when thunderstorm activity is more likely and you do not want to be caught in an exposed area during a thunderstorm, and this hike brings you through some open, rocky areas with little cover. When we did this hike, we reached Black Lake around 1 pm and we had three short hail storms and there was a fair amount of thunder and lightening in the area during our hike back down to Mills Lake.
    The elevation profile for this hike shows that the farther you go up the gorge, the steeper the grade. While there are more steps to climb as you get closer to Black Lake, there are plenty of relatively level or lower grade inclines in between the stairs so that you are not climbing hard for any particular stretch. As the trail gets closer to treeline, there is a greater frequency of places where it crosses bare rock where it is sometimes difficult to determine which way the trail goes. There are some cairns in these areas to help guide you across the rock face but there are still places where it is difficult to tell where to go to stay on the trail. That being said, we did not have any serious difficulty finding our way and there were enough people on the trail (who seemed to know where the trail was) so that it was not too hard to follow.
    From Glacier Gorge Trailhead, the trail is relatively easy to Alberta Falls. This part of the trail goes through some beautiful aspen groves which are spectacular when the foliage is at peak. We happened upon the trail in 2006 when it was just spectacular (the photos I posted of the aspen grove and of the falls were from that hike). Once you pass Alberta Falls, the hike continues to be a relatively gradual climb out of the aspens into more open areas where there are nice views of Glacier Gorge.  Eventually you climb into forest areas made up more of pine and fir trees and the aspens disappear altogether. Mills Lake offers a spectacular view of the upper Glacier Gorge and is about half way to Black Lake. The trail along the east shore of Mills Lake stays relatively close to shore offering some lovely views of the lake. After passing Mills Lake, the trail skirts around Jewel Lake and across some marshy areas that are crossed on raised wooden walkways. From there you proceed past some beautiful alpine meadows and up closer to tree line where there are more open rock face interspersed with pine and fir groves. The final ascent to Black Lake is probably the steepest part of the climb but even that is broken up by some lower grade sections. Black Lake is about at treeline with part of the shore covered in fir trees but the greater part of the shore is brush and open rock. When we were there the shore was fairly easy to navigate around if you are good at rock hopping.  The water was crystal clear and smooth as glass....except when the hail came! This is, in my opinion, a spectacular hike.
   Please note that some of the photo positions are approximate, but they give a good idea the kind of scenery that is encountered on this hike.

TO TRAILHEAD: Glacier Gorge Trailhead is on the left side of Bear Lake Road.

Position Format: Datum:

Track 1

Distance: 4.15 mi Points: 286
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest

Glacier Gorge Trailhead Parking

Location: 40.308265, -105.643330
Parking Lot fills early. If full park at Bear Lake Parking and take shuttle to Glacier Gorge Trailhead, or start hike at Bear Lake parking to add another mile to round trip hike.

Trail junction sign

Location: 40.307627, -105.643458

Aspen pano.jpg

Location: 40.305974, -105.639038

Alberta Falls

Location: 40.303880, -105.638437

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.301851, -105.638609
looking south

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.301131, -105.638652
looking north

Trail Junction sign

Location: 40.297367, -105.646033

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.295697, -105.647020

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.294224, -105.646205
Bridge over Glacier Creek

Glacier Creek

Location: 40.294028, -105.645947
looking downstream from bridge

Cascade below Mills Lake

Location: 40.292195, -105.643458

Mills Lake

Location: 40.291704, -105.642900
looking south from north end

Mills Lake

Location: 40.291442, -105.642600
looking north toward outlet

Bull Elk

Location: 40.286073, -105.639167
on the west shore of Jewel Lake

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.278707, -105.637493
There are a number of 'boardwalks' to help with crossing the marshy areas above Jewel Lake

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.274811, -105.636849
many of the steeper grades have steps like this or made of rock.

Alpine Meadow

Location: 40.270194, -105.637450
I could see this little meadow beyond the trees looking east from the trail and did a little rock hopping to get this shot.

Glacier Gorge Trail

Location: 40.268819, -105.638137

Upper Ribbon Falls

Location: 40.266461, -105.640283
Ribbon Falls is actually a long cascade of which this is just the beginning. Downstream from this point, it can be seen through the trees cascading over a relatively smooth rock face just west of the trail.

Black Lake

Location: 40.265773, -105.640390
There was no wind or rain at this point so the water was as smooth as glass.

Black Lake

Location: 40.266183, -105.640604
Looking west across the outlet

Black Lake Hail Storm

Location: 40.266101, -105.640562
We saw three short hail storms pass in the short time we were at Black Lake. Minutes later a thunderstorm passed just west of us.

Black Lake

Location: 40.266101, -105.640326

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