Shelf Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park - Day Hikes Near Denver

April 15, 2016 Comments (0) 7-9 miles, Difficult, High Country, hikes near estes park, Lakes, More than 90 Min, Rocky Mountain National Park, Waterfall Hikes, Waterfalls, Wildflowers

Shelf Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

You won’t find the cascades of Shelf Lake Falls on the map. This tiered, shelf waterfall is hidden away in the high country above Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. Shelf Lake Falls flows out of Solitude Lake then into a creek that spills over the rock shelves of the falls, cutting strange formations out of the snow and ice that often remain into late Summer.


Trail Snapshot: Shelf Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Hike Distance: 8.5 miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Duration: Approx 5-7 hrs Round Trip
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Starting Elevation at Glacier Gorge Trailhead: 9240′
  • Elevation Gain: Approx +2350′
  • Seasons: Mid-Summer-September
  • Dogs: Dogs Prohibited in RMNP
  • Hike Trail Map: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map
  • 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
  • Activities: Hiking, photography, fishing
  • Fee: Park Pass Required


The journey to Shelf Lake and Shelf Lake Falls follows an out-of-the-way, unmaintained trail, and is a very demanding hike. The hike is best suited for those who have experience navigating off-trail in the backcountry. Because this is a destination page, it does not include trail details. See the Shelf Lake Trail profile for a more detailed description and photos of this hike into the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park.






Tips & Resources for Hiking to Shelf Lake Falls in Glacier Gorge RMNP

  • Start Very Early: Because this hike is so demanding, and because thunderstorms jet through Glacier Gorge on many summer days, it’s wise to begin the journey early in the morning.
  • 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.
  • Bring Food: My legs were shot after hiking back to the main trail, and my energy was waning. I had packed a few snacks, but wish I had packed more. So, bring something to give you an energy boost for your hike back to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
  • Trekking Poles: Trekking poles proved really helpful, especially in navigating the descent.
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • 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


shelf lake falls rocky mountain national park below

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Estes Park, CO

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions



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