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.

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

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.

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

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.

mills-lake-shrouded-in-mist-rmnp

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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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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jagged rock with green lake of sky pond snow fields and sun behind clouds sky pond hike in rocky mountain national park

Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Situated above Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park are two spectacular lakes. The highest of the two is Sky Pond, and the lower is called The Lake of Glass. This demanding hike begins at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and takes you past at least three waterfalls and a beautiful set of cascades. Rewards await those who hike all the way up to Sky Pond. Explore our Sky Pond trail profile below for trail details, driving directions, maps, and more.

Trail Snapshot: Sky Pond Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond Directions & Trailhead Information

The trail up to Sky Pond 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.

creek below timberline falls

Hike to Sky Pond and Lake of Glass

The first destination that you can't and don't want to miss is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. The trail then climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to the Sky Pond is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to the next trail junction. At this second junction, the middle of the three trails leads onto the Loch Vale Trail, and up to the Loch, Timberline Falls, and eventually beyond to Sky Pond. Pictured Above: Creek between the Loch and Timberline Falls.

At Timberline Falls, the trail up to Lake of Glass and Sky Pond is a steep scramble to the right-side of the waterfall. Be aware, the rock may be slick and this area is very steep. Hikers should have good footwear, and may need to be patient for those who are descending this section of the trail. In most of this segment, there is only room for one hiker at a time to safely negotiate the scramble. Many hikers will find the descent of this short portion of the trail more difficult than the way up.

The first lake, Lake of Glass, is only about a quarter-mile beyond Timberline Falls. Many stop here thinking that it's Sky Pond--but it's not. From this vantage point, it's hard to imagine that there is more. However, approximately another quarter-mile will lead to Sky Pond, which is twice the size of Lake of Glass. There is a waterfall hidden just below the Lake of Glass. See our trail profile for this waterfall for details. Pictured below: The Sharks Tooth at Sky Pond.

sharks tooth and sky pond

Sky Pond is surrounded by fields of columbines and other wildflowers. A small shelf waterfall spills out of Sky Pond (pictured below), and a marsh between the two lakes is the home to a beautiful collection of marsh marigolds. From the southwestern shores of Sky Pond, there are incredible views of Petit Grepon, the Sabre, and Sharkstooth--three prominent peaks that surround this high mountain lake.

cascade between sky and lake of glass

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8

2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles

3. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles

4. Lake of Glass & Waterfall -@ 4.2 miles

5. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

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Tips & Resources for Trail to Sky Pond & Lake of Glass in RMNP :

  • You Might Miss it: Lots of people stop at Lake of Glass and think they have made it to Sky Pond. It's not much further, but it is hidden because of the elevation difference.
  • Get There Early: There are two important reasons to begin your hikes early in the morning in Rocky Mountain National 1)The trail head parking lots fill up early, and 2) in the Summer months, thunderstorms will form in the early afternoon.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • 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.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Steven Bratman for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

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the loch rocky mountain national park header

The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

If lakes are your favorite destination, then the hike to The Loch should be added to your trail list in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a moderately difficult hike on the eastern side of the park where you can hike along the edge of the lake, fish for trout, or come early in the morning to photograph the iconic scenery in Loch Vale. Explore the full trail profile below for driving directions to the trailhead, trail map, and other destinations that can be added to the hike.

The Loch is the Gaelic name given to this lake, the major destination along the Loch Vale trail and the source of Icy Brook, the stream that spills from its eastern edge. Because of it's beauty and the wide variety of vantage points for outstanding scenery, the Loch is popular with photographers. We've found it to be a perfect hike to a tranquil spot to take in the views and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Trail Snapshot: The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information

The trail to the Loch, and the destinations beyond, 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.

the loch alberta falls along trail

The Hike to The Loch

The first destination that you can't and don't want to miss 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, and up to the Loch.

the loch rocky mountain national park

Pictured Above: The Loch as seen from the heights near Timberline Falls. Take care to stay the trail as you explore the Loch. It's a heavily visited area with equally heavy impact. The Loch hosts a variety of trout: brookies, cutbows, cuthroats, and rainbows. Mayflies and Caddis flies are common hatches, and black or chernobyl ants can be a particularly good terrestrial pattern to use at the Loch. The wind can kick up along the lake, especially as the rises and warms the rock walls that surround the lake. Some areas on the southern side provide calmer waters. Photographers will find morning sunrises the best time to photograph the amazing landscape of the lake and mountains.

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8
2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles
3. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles
4. Lake of Glass -@ 4.2 miles
5. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

Tips & Resources for Hiking to the Loch in RMNP:

  • Hike Further: Be sure to hike and additional approx 1.25 mile (one-way) to Timberline Falls to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Get There Early: There are two important reasons to begin your hikes early in the morning in Rocky Mountain National 1)The trail head parking lots fill up early, and 2) in the Summer months, thunderstorms will form in the early afternoon.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • 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.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

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Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Timberline Falls is a demanding 8-mile round-trip waterfall hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail takes you past Alberta Falls up into beautiful Loch Vale. Beyond Timberline Falls hikers will find Lake of Glass, additional falls, and breathtaking Sky Pond.

Glacier Gorge is the home to some of the best hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, and this waterfall hike is one of the best. Be sure to read through the trailhead and parking information below, because, in the busy season, parking fills up fast. Explore our Timberline Falls trail profile below for trail details, driving directions, maps, and more.

Trail Snapshot: Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information

The trail up to Timberline Falls 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.

The Hike to Timberline Falls

The hike up into the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail system takes you past one of Rocky Mountain National Parks' most accessible waterfalls, Alberta Falls.

alberta falls rocky mountain national park

After the waterfall, the trail begins to wind up a series of switchbacks for just shy of a mile until a trail junction with the NorthLong's Peak Trail. The trail into Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale then bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to another trail 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 (fun to say three times fast) but this trip to Timberline Falls takes the middle trail onto the Loch Vale Trail.
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The path follows the path of Icy Brook through a series of longer switchbacks. The brook can be heard gushing and pouring over the rocks below, and one particular switchback there is a great view of its waters casacading through a green canyon (pictured above). At approximately 1 mile after leaving the junction, the trail opens up to more level ground at The Loch. In the distance, beyond the Loch in the west, the cliff face of the Cathedral Wall calls technical climbers to its challenging routes.

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The trail continues along the right side of the Loch until another trail junction beyond its western shores and deep in the the lush forest surrounding Icy Brook. The trail up to Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond is on the left, and the path to the right will take hikers into the Andrew's Creek area, one of my favorite areas of the Park. Here the trail up to Timberline Falls gets more steep, working its way up through subalpine forest of fir and spruce, the ground bejeweled with Columbine flowers. Soon you'll gain views of the falls in the distance.

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A series of stone stairs takes you to the base of the waterfall. In the late Spring and Early Summer, the falls cut through the winter snowpack and creates fantastic shapes out of the snow. For hikers who want to see more, a very steep and slick trail can be found to far right side of the waterfall. This leads up to the Lake of Glass, it's own waterfall, and to Sky Pond.

Video of Timberline Falls in RMNP

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Timberline Falls :

  • More to Explore: Be sure to budget extra time to explore the lakes above Timberline Falls.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead. See details at the the top of this trailprofile
  • Gear: Wear good boots with soles that are good for grabbing the rock if you plan to scramble up the steep trail to Lake of Glass and Sky Pond.
  • Pack a Lunch: This is a long hike and you'll certainly need water, but you'll also most likely need fuel for the journey back. Download our hiking guide for a list of great hiking food and snacks.
  • 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
  • After the Hike: Inkwell & Brew Coffee

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Map & Driving Directions

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