Trail Snapshot: Ribbon Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hike Distance: 9.6 mile Round Trip
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Duration: Approx 5-6 hrs Round Trip
- Trail Type: Out and Back
- Starting Elevation: 9240′ at Trailhead
- Elevation Gain: +1400′
- Seasons: May-September
- Dogs: Prohibited in RMNP
- Hike Trail Map: Click for a Map of Ribbon Falls 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: Waterfall, wildlife: elk, deer, marmots; meadows, lakes, streams, wildflowers, aspen trees
- Activities: Hiking, photography
- Fee: Park Pass Required
Parking & Trailhead Information for Ribbon Falls RMNP, Colorado
The trail to Ribbon Fall 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 Ribbon Falls, RMNP
Hiking to Ribbon Falls takes you into the Glacier Gorge Trail system with many wonderful destinations including Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, and further to Black Lake. Review the different waypoints and destinations below so that you don’t miss any of the sites. The first destination is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. After Alberta Falls, the trail ascends toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Ribbon Falls 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 up to Ribbon Falls.
List and Links of Destinations From Glacier Gorge Trailhead to Black Lake
At Mills Lake, the trail skirts its eastern shore for about half 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 gorge and ever closer to Keyboard of the Winds, the jagged rock formation ever present against the eastern sky.
Ribbon Falls is located just below Black Lake, on the right-hand side of the trail. It’s classified as a slide waterfall. This is just like it sounds: glacier creek flows over a long stretch of orange and pink granite, creating a splash of sound that beckons hikers to stop and take in the view. While it’s not the most impressive of waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park, it feels like discovering a treasure hidden up in these heights where fewer people choose to go.
From here, you can sit and take in the views, or continue up the trail .2 mile to Black Lake. It may require some careful bouldering to make it over the fortress of rock that holds this high mountain lake. Above Black Lake is another small lake, Frozen Lake, that is hidden from view. In the early weeks of Summer and after rains, a waterfall spills out of Frozen Lake, cascading over the grey rock in a tiered waterfall and eventually making its way into Black Lake.
Tips & Resources for Hiking Ribbon Falls in Glacier Gorge RMNP :
- Start Early: The hike to Ribbon Falls 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 for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
- 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.
- Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
- Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
- Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Thomas Mangan for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.
- After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee
Map & Driving Directions
Click for Driving Directions