Arch Rocks Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Along the way to The Pool or Fern Falls, you'll run into this towering waypoint of nature in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Arch Rocks. These are boulders as huge as cottages where the trail passes through. The trail is quite flat and hikers get to enjoy the sound of the running waters of the Big Thompson River. Explore the full Arch Rocks hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more of the details and tips you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Arch Rocks in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Arch Rocks in RMNP

Parking is more limited in this area of Rocky Mountain National Park, and you'll likely have to park at the Park & Ride then take the shuttle to the Fern Lake Trailhead. You'll find driving directions above to The Fern Lake Trailhead (closest to this hike), the Fern Lake Bus Stop Parking area (very limited parking), and for the Park & Ride lot. See the RMNP Shuttle page for dates and times of service. Avoid parking along Fern Lake road as this damages the road side. If you park or are dropped off at the Fern Lake Bus Station, the hike from the station to the trailhead will add and additional .8 mile, one-way, to your hike.

The Hike: Arch Rocks in RMNP

It's a short destination hike along the Big Thomspson river to Arch Rocks. Arch Rocks was actually my very first destination on my very first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2004. I camped at the backcountry site that is just a bit further up the trail, nestled back in the aspens and boulders that are so characteristic in this valley.

At approx 1.5 mile a huge rock, the size of a house, arches over the trail. In centuries past, this rock sheered off from the towering cliffs above and tumbled down to this spot. It's difficult to get a good photo of Arch Rocks and to really capture it's size. If you can get down-trail, and a bit below it, you'll have a better chance.

If you want to make your hike a bit longer, the next destination along the Fern Lake trail is The Pool--just .2 mile further--where Fern Creek and the Big Thompson River collide.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Arch Rocks in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • TIP: It is advisable to arrive early as parking is limited. One may opt to ride a shuttle that drops you off at the trailhead.
  • Bring some food: The rocks near the Big Thompson River can be a great place for picnics.
  • Trail Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Map Link
  • 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 Charlie Stein for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Arch Rocks in RMNP.
  • After the Hike: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park

It's a 1.7 mile hike in to The Pool, a series of turbulent cascades and deep green-blue waters formed by the confluence of the Big Thompson River and Fern Creek. This is another popular and easy hike from the Fern Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a great destination along the Fern Lake Trail. Explore the full hiking trail profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for The Pool in RMNP

Parking is more limited in this area of Rocky Mountain National Park, and you'll likely have to park at the Park & Ride then take the shuttle to the Fern Lake Trailhead. You'll find driving directions above to The Fern Lake Trailhead (closest to this hike), the Fern Lake Bus Stop Parking area (very limited parking), and for the Park & Ride lot. See the RMNP Shuttle page for dates and times of service. Avoid parking along Fern Lake road as this damages the road side. If you park or are dropped off at the Fern Lake Bus Station, the hike from the station to the trailhead will add and additional .8 mile, one-way, to your hike.

The Hike: The Pool in RMNP

The hike to The Pool, and other destinations along this initial stretch of the Fern Creek trail--such as Arch Rocks and Windy Gulch Cascades--follows the Big Thompson River as it courses through a rocky, but verdant, valley. There are great places to stop to fish along the banks of the Big Thompson for trout.

At approx 1.5 mile, you'll encounter a huge rock, split in two segments that bridges over the trail. Arch Rock likely broke off the cliff side above and tumbled down into the valley eons ago. It's a remarkable site.

Another .7 miles further, hikers will arrive at The Pool, an unusual set of cascades formed by the confluence of Fern Creek and the Big Thompson River. Here, the waters collide and swirl, and have carved out a deep pool of chaotic--but beautiful--waters. Don't be fooled by the name, The Pool is not a place to swim. The current is powerful and dangerous; so, stay out of the water and be sure to exercise caution along the slick rock edges of the Pool.

At the Pool, there is a footbridge that crosses the river. It's a great spot to stop and take in the sights.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • TIP: It is advisable to arrive early as parking is limited. Hikers may opt to ride a shuttle that drops you off at the trailhead.
  • Bring A Picnic Lunch: The banks along the Big Thompson River can be a great place for picnics.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • 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 Charlie Stein for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to the Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • After the Hike: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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Solitude Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Solitude Lake is an alpine lake situated in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Solitude is aptly named, as it is hidden from the main trail system, situated high above Glacier Gorge in the shadow of Thatchtop and Arrowhead Peak. Because the hike to Solitude and its twin sister, Shelf Lake, require travel on unmaintained trails, it is best suited for more experienced hikers who are familiar with Rocky Mountain National Park and who are have honed their land navigation skills. Full details can be found in the trail profile for Shelf Lake. Explore the full Solitude Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the tips and resources for this hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Solitude Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Solitude Lake is located about a quarter mile beyond Shelf Lake. Between the Shelf and Solitude are an unusual set of cascades, Shelf Lake Falls. Above the falls, you'll find a beautiful array of alpine wildflowers and breathtaking views of Longs Peak, Keyboard of the Winds, and the broad valley of Glacier Gorge. The hike up to Solitude take hikers past Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, and Shelf Creek Falls.

creek flowing bluebells at mouth of solitude lake

A final reminder: This hike is not on maintained trails, is a long hike, and demanding. Hikers should be familiar with RMNP and developed the skills needed for backcountry travel. A more detailed trail profile for locating the trail and a brief description of its course and hazards are can be found on the Shelf Lake hike profile page. If you are looking for a demanding hike on maintained trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, we would recommend exploring trail profiles for Sky Pond and Black Lake.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking to Solitude Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Andrews Glacier and Tarn in Rocky Mountain National Park

Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier are high up in a more secluded area of Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a strenuous, almost 10 mile hike for those who are up for the challenge. Though it can be demanding, the Andrew's Creek area is one of our favorite trail sections in RMNP. Explore the full Andrew's Tarn and Andrew's Glacier hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Andrews Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Andrew's Tarn and Glacier

The trail to the Andrews Tarn 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 a much smaller lot, 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 down and over 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.

alberta-falls-haiyaha-loop-hike-ben-cash-creative-commons

Alberta Falls - Courtesy of Bert Cash

The Hike to Andrew's Glacier and Andrew's Tarn

Hikers will begin on the trail leading to Glacier Gorge and Loch Vale. The first destination that you'll encounter is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls (photo above). The trail then climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to the Loch is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to another trail junction. At this second junction the trail to the left will take hikers to Glacier Gorge, and the trail to the right takes hikers on a jaunt to Lake Haiyaha. The middle trail leads onto the Loch Vale Trail--this is the trail that will eventually lead into the Andrew's Creek area and to Andrew's Tarn and Andrew's Glacier.

the loch rocky mountain national park header

The Loch in Loch Vale, RMNP

Having hiked about 2.7 miles, you'll arrive at the shores of The Loch, one of the most photographed lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park and a popular destination for hikers and those looking to catch some trout.

After this point, you should see fewer hikers. The trail continues along the northern (right-hand) side of the Loch for about .6 mile where there is a final trail junction. The trail to right will lead to Andrew's Glacier and Andrew's Tarn. The other option leads to Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond.

The next segment may be my favorite in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail weaves through a verdant forest following Andrew's creek. Its clear waters spill over tree roots, rock, and snow as it makes it way through this fairy tale valley. In the early summer of 2004, I camped in the valley just before a snowstorm. Everyone was leaving this part of the park, so I had it all to myself. A cow elk and its calf were my only visitors. The Andrews Creek Backcountry Campsite is the only campsite in this area of the park and must be reserved through the backcountry office.

As the trail ascends it becomes more of a challenge, and hikers may need to pause to locate cairns (stacks of rocks) that indicate the location of the trail as it courses through scree and talus. Snow lingers up in this part of the park, so trekking poles and traction devices can be a great help. After hiking this 1.3 mile segment, the trail terminates at Andrew's Tarn, an emerald meltwater lake that has formed in this bowl high in the Rocky Mountains. It's about another 1/4 mile around the lake to the base of Andrew's Glacier.

While Andrew's Glacier is a used route for accessing the continental divide and peaks such as Taylor, and is used as a route of descent after summiting Flattop and Hallet Peaks, travel on the glacier is both problematic and can be very dangerous. Though it's a small glacier, in the summer, crevasses open in its surface. And sliding down, especially when it's icy, can quickly turn into an out-of-control trip down its surface. Hitting rock on the way down could even be fatal. Please talk with a ranger or call the park service before making travel on Andrew's Glacier a part of your plans.

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8
2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles
3. Andrew's Glacier and Andrew's Tarn - Junction at 3.65 miles - Destination at 4.85 miles
4. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles
5. Lake of Glass -@ 4.2 miles
6. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Andrews Glacier in Glacier Gorge RMNP

  • TIP: If parking at the Glacier Gorge trailhead is full, park in another established parking area. A shuttle bus is also available.
  • Add Timberline Falls to Your Hike: Before or after your trip to Andrew's Tarn and Glacier, hikers can enjoy Timberline Falls--one of the best waterfalls in the park--and located approximately 1/4 mile beyond the Andrews Creek trail junction along the main Loch Vale trail.
  • Trekking Poles in Spring and Winter: Because the snow and ice can settle in until early Summer we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Start early in the morning: Do so on a day with a good weather expected. This is to secure a good parking spot and to avoid thunderstorms.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Ed Ogle for his photograph of Andrew's Tarn and Glacier .
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

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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

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

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Shelf Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

This demanding hike in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you off the beaten path to two high-mountain lakes, and grants views of several waterfalls along the way. This trail profile provides helpful details for making the journey to Shelf Lake, Shelf Lake Falls, and Solitude Lake. Because the hike to Shelf Lake requires travel on unmaintained trails, it is best suited for more experienced hikers who are familiar with Rocky Mountain National Park, and who are have honed their land navigation skills. Explore the full Shelf Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Shelf Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Hike to Shelf Lake RMNP

Shelf Lake sits high above Glacier Gorge, nested in a cirque between Thatchtop and McHenrys Peak. The journey begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. However, the Bear Lake Trailhead--which has more parking--affords access to the Glacier Gorge Trail system, adding approximately .1 mile jaunt. The first scenic point along the trail, Alberta Falls, is found at .8 mile in. The trail leads to Mills Lake (at 2.8 miles). Here you'll gain breathtaking views of Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds. The trail skirts the east side of Mills Lake, and makes its way past Jewel Lake.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park trailhead

Soon, you'll come to a fork in the trail with a sign that reads Glacier Gorge campsite, and Black Lake 1.2 miles. The Glacier Gorge Campsite is probably the best site in the entire park and to reserve it, you will have to call the backcountry office as soon as their season opens for reservations. I've spent several months in the park over the years, and this site is unrivaled. However, the trail up to Shelf Lake requires hikers to continue on the main trail, the one that leads towards Black Lake.

Past the sign, the trails climbs a set of stairs and eventually, after approximately 1/4 mile, emerges into an area that is full of downed trees from what appears to have been an avalanche many years ago. If you keep your ears and eyes peeled, you'll see Shelf Creek Falls spilling out into a couple segments of waterfalls up along the cliffs and trees below Arrowhead (see photo below). The hike up to Shelf Lake will afford more views of these falls.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park arrowhead

The unmaintained social trail is located across glacier creek, to the right (West) and can be difficult to find. After a short buschwack across a marshy area to Glacier Creek, a natural crossing point should come into view. Hikers should find two large, flat rocks (pictured below). This has been named, Helicopter Rock. Other crossing points are not advised as the gap widens and the current of Glacier Creek can be swift and very cold.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park trail crossing

On the other side of the creek, the real work begins. The trail is marked--at times--by cairns, but it's often a route-finding puzzle. My rule of thumb is always to avoid anything steep and/or slippery. There is also a TON of deadfall along the trail, which adds further need for caution and slows progress. About half of the way up, you'll encounter another waterfall, Shelf Creek Falls, as the trail bends again toward Shelf Creek.

The last half mile is demanding, hiking around 1000 vertical feet up to Shelf Lake. Don't forget to stop, breath, and take in the views of Glacier Gorge. At this point, hikers are truly in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park view into glacier gorge

View into Glacier Gorge and Keyboard of the Winds before Reaching Shelf Lake

At Shelf Lake, you'll hear water streaming over the shelves of rock above the lake. In the early days of Summer, the meltwater cuts beautiful formations out of the snow and ice as it cascades from Shelf Creek Falls into Shelf Lake. View the video below to see it.

You've hiked this far, so it would be a shame to miss Solitude Lake which is a short hike further above Shelf Lake. The wildflowers between the two lakes are outstanding!

A final reminder: This hike is not on maintained trails, is a long hike, and demanding. Hikers should be familiar with RMNP and developed the skills needed for backcountry travel. If you are looking for a demanding hike on maintained trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, we would recommend exploring trail profiles for Sky Pond and Black Lake.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking to Shelf Lake 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

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Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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 Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

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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 for Bear Lake Corridor Trails: 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--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.

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jewel lake in rocky mountain national park lake in foreground with morning light breaking onto mountain in middle ground and tall grey craggy mountain in background

Jewel Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Jewel Lake is a 6.4 mile round-trip hike into Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike in RMNP takes you first past stunning Mills Lake. Less than half a mile beyond Mills you'll discover Jewel Lake under the shadow of the jagged eastern ridge known as Keyboard of the Winds. Explore the full Jewel Lake hiking trail profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Jewel Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Jewel Lake RMNP, Colorado

The trail to Jewel 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.

alberta-falls-haiyaha-loop-waterfall

Alberta Falls - Just .8 mile up the trail on your way to Jewel Lake

The Hike to Jewel Lake RMNP

Hiking to Jewel Lake takes you into the Glacier Gorge Trail system with many wonderful destinations including Mills Lake and Ribbon Falls. Be sure to review the different RMNP destinations below to know your options. 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 Jewel 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 Jewel Lake.

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

01-footbridge-jewel-lake-rocky-mountain-national-park-header
Footbridge Across Glacier Creek on the Way to Jewel Lake

At 2.8 miles, hikers will arrive at the edge of Mills Lake. Mills is much larger, and the path to Jewel Lake skirts its eastern shoreline for about 1/2 a mile.

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Mills Lake, Shrouded in the Mists of an Afternoon Rainstorm
Jewel Lake is surrounded by extensive marshes, that have a green beauty of their own. Because the foot traffic dies off quite a bit when past Mills Lake, you'll likely find Jewel a quieter spot for a picnic and a good place to fish for brook trout.

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

  • A Favorite Spot: I've had the chance to spend many weeks backpacking in RMNP, and the Glacier Gorge campsite that is just beyond Jewel Lake is one of the best in the Park. It must be reserved, and only those who call into the backcountry office early in the season get the chance to book it.
  • Parking: As always, go early. 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
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to J. Gempler for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Jewel Lake RMNP.

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reflection of keyboard of the winds in mills lake in rocky mountain national park

Mills Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike up to Mills Lake is a steady, uphill, 5.6 mile trek into the breathtaking Glacier Gorge trail system of Rocky Mountain National Park. You'll be entranced by spectacular views of mountain ridges, rugged peaks, and the color of wildflowers along the trail. Glacier Gorge provides surprises at almost every turn. Explore the full Mills Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Mills Lake RMNP

The trail up to Mills 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.

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Alberta Falls - Courtesy of Bert Cash

The Hike to Mills Lake RMNP

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 climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Mills Lake is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right. This trail ascends for about another half mile to a second major trail junction with three options. The left-hand trail leads into Glacier Gorge and to Mills Lake.

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Mills Lake, Shrouded in the Mists of an Afternoon Rainstorm

Mills Lake is one of the fishable lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is known to contain rainbow trout, brook trout, and Greenback cutthroats. Most of the high mountain lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park are not completely thawed and warmed up until mid-summer. As a result, you may experience--like I have--some pretty lethargic fish at Mills in the early days of summer.

Photographers will find Mills Lake an equally perfect place to make that big catch. The lake, in the early morning hours, can be placid enough to reflect the backdrop of the beautiful east ridge of Glacier Gorge that has been named, the Keyboard of the Winds.

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A Bunch of Columbine Growing Trailside Near Mills Lake

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder

Tips & Resources for Hiking Mills Lake RMNP :

  • Bugs: You might need a bug spray in the summer months when the mosquitos multiply.
  • Parking Tip: 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.
  • 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.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Steve Bratman for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

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Map & Driving Directions


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dream lake at sunrise in rocky mountain national park with mountain face of hallett peak in background

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Dream Lake is one of the popular destination hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park--and for good reason. In the early morning hours, Dream Lake is a vision straight out of a fairy tale. This 2.2-mile, out-and-back hike begins at the Bear Lake trailhead, and passes Nymph Lake along the way. Explore the full Dream Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this Colorado adventure.

Trail Snapshot: Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Dream Lake:

The trail up to Dream Lake begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions).In the event that parking lot 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 trail to Dream Lake is located on your way to Bear Lake, off to the left, just before reaching the shore viewing area of Bear Lake.

The trail to Dream Lake is paved for the first half mile. The path was surfaced to deal with the erosion caused by the heavy foot traffic, and is not considered handicap accessible. After visiting the lily pad-laden Nymph Lake, the trail becomes a dirt path and begins a gentle climb towards Dream Lake. For a short stint the trail becomes more steep and demanding. On the way up, hikers will gain views of a vast landscape featuring the Keyboard of the Winds in Glacier Gorge and Longs Peak looming over everything but the distant sky.

Just before reaching Dream Lake, the trail splits. The trail to the left takes hikers to Lake Haiyaha and the trail to the right leads to Dream Lake. Dream Lake, with the beautiful backdrop of Hallet Peak, is one of the most photographed scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park. At daybreak, light from the east illuminates the stone face and crags of Hallet, and Dream Lake returns the favor by mirroring its image in her waters.

List and Links of Destinations From Bear Lake to Emerald Lake

  1. Bear Lake
  2. Nymph Lake - @ .5 miles
  3. Dream Lake - @ 1.1 miles
  4. Emerald Lake -@ 1.8 miles

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Dream Lake:

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