Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park - Day Hikes Near Denver

April 14, 2016 Comments (0) 9+ Miles, Creek or Brooks, Deer, Difficult, Elk, Fishing, hikes near estes park, Lake Hikes, Lakes, Meadows, More than 90 Min, Rocky Mountain National Park, Wildflowers

Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

black lake rocky mountain national park header

Black Lake is among the most spectacular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The journey to Black Lake is a strenuous, 10 mile, round-trip hike with significant elevation gain–but both the destination of Black Lake and the several waterfalls along the way make it more than worth the effort. Explore the full Black Lake hiking trail profile for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Hike Distance: 10 mile Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Duration: Approx 6 hrs Round Trip
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Starting Elevation: 9240′ at Trailhead
  • Elevation Gain: +1430′
  • Seasons: May-September
  • Dogs: Prohibited in RMNP
  • Hike Trail Map: Click for a Map of Black Lake in Glacier Gorge
  • Denver Drive Time: 2 hr
  • Driving Directions to Glacier Gorge Trailhead: Click for Google Map
  • Town Nearest Hike: Estes Park, Colorado
  • Beauty: Waterfalls, wildlife: elk, deer, marmots; meadows, lakes, streams, wildflowers, aspen trees
  • Activities: Hiking, photography, fishing
  • Fee: Park Pass Required

Parking & Trailhead Information for Black Lake RMNP, Colorado

The trail to Black Lake begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has more limited parking, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you’ll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you’ll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

The Hike to Black Lake RMNP

Hiking to Black Lake takes you into the Glacier Gorge Trail system with many wonderful destinations including Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, and Ribbon Falls. Be sure to review the different waypoints and destinations below so that you don’t miss any of the sites. The first destination–and one you can’t miss because it’s right along the trail–is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. After the waterfall, the trail ascends toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Black Lake is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right. This trail climbs steadily for about another half mile until arriving at a second major trail junction with three options. The left-hand trail leads into Glacier Gorge and eventually to Mills Lake.

mills lake rocky mountain national park steve bratman creative commons

Morning Light at Mills Lake in the Early Spring – Courtesy of Steven Bratman

List and Links of Destinations From Glacier Gorge Trailhead to Black Lake

1. Glacier Gorge Trailhead
2. Alberta Falls – @ .8 mile
3. Mills Lake – @ 2.8 miles
4. Jewel Lake – @ 3.2 miles
5. Ribbon Falls – @ 4.8 miles
6. Black Lake – @ 5 miles

At Mills Lake, the trail follows its eastern shore for about 1/2 a mile until arriving at Jewel Lake, a much smaller body of water surrounded by lush green marshes. The next segment of the trail is my favorite, a challenging stretch of approximately 2 miles that leads hikers across bogs, and through verdant forest where the snow hangs on well into the summer months. In fact, this stretch may prove very difficult in the spring and early weeks of June depending on that year’s weather. The trail continues to follow Glacier Creek up into the higher reaches of the park and ever closer to Keyboard of the Winds, the jagged rock formation ever present against the eastern sky.

Keyboard of the Winds is named for the sounds that flow from it’s sharp edges as high winds whistle and roar across its peaks. Be sure to stop and listen for the music. It can be a mesmerizing experience.

If snow is still on the ground, then the last bit of the trail may require some basic route finding. The established trail skirts the left/east side of Black Lake, but can at times be hard to find. Stay close to the creek and you should be okay. Soon, hikers will encounter Ribbon Falls, a beautiful slide waterfall. Black Lake is just .2 mile further up the trail. This final segment is steep and requires negotiating some rocks and boulders before coming over the rise to gain breathtaking views of Black Lake.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Black Lake in Glacier Gorge RMNP :

  • Start Early: The hike to Black Lake is challenging and hikers will want to begin early to avoid being in this exposed area when afternoon thunderstorms often tear through the area in Summer.
  • Trekking Poles in Spring and Winter: Because the trail is high in the mountains, the snow and ice can hang around into late Spring and even early Summer, then pick up again in the Fall. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail when the trail conditions are such.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map: Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Rain Gear Recommended: On every occasion I’ve been into Glacier Gorge, it’s been gorgeous weather–and it rained. So, bring Rain gear. In the summer months, thunderstorms can form quickly in this area, especially in the afternoon–just another reason to begin your hike early.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Erik Page for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.


Estes Park, CO
66% humidity
wind: 18mph W
H 62 • L 33

Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *