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Ypsilon Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Ypsilon Lake is a 9-mile round-trip journey along a heavily forested trail in the Mummy Range of Rocky Mountain National Park. Ypsilon Lake sits in a wooded basin along the eastern slopes of Ypsilon Mountain and Mount Chiquita. On this hike, you'll enjoy views of rugged mountains and Roaring River, a waterfall, and the two lakes found at the end of the trail. Explore the full Ypsilon Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Ypsilon Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Ypsilon Lake

The hike to Ypsilon Lake begins at the Lawn Lake Trailhead. Several other destinations in this lesser visited section of RMNP known as the Mummy Range, can be accessed from the Lawn Lake Trailhead, including Ypsilon Falls, Lawn Lake, Chipmunk Lake, and the Spectacle Lakes. The parking area is located on Old Fall River Road, just north of the intersection of Old Fall River Road and Highway 34.

The Hike: Ypsilon Lake Trail in RMNP

The hike begins on a 1.4 mile stretch of the Lawn Lake trail before the intersection with the Ypsilon Lake Trail. This initial segment climbs a series of switchbacks. While it may be tempting to cut the switchbacks, they are there for a couple important purposes: to control erosion and to preserve your energy. Because this area of the park has been severely damaged by floods, it's all the more important to stay the trail. There are areas of unstable terrain.

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Ypsilon Lake Trail - Courtesy of Marco Becerra

At 1.4 mile, the Ypsilon Lake trail junction will emerge on the left-hand side of the Lawn Lake trail. Here, the trail crosses the Roaring River--but the bridge has been washed out by a flood in the Spring of 2013. At the time of writing this trail profile (June 2016) the bridge has not been replaced. However, the river can be crossed at low water. It's easy to underestimate the hydraulic force of a river, so exercise care in crossing. If you're planning to hike to Ypsilon Lake, it's important to have a back plan, just in case you run into high water levels at the ford. Typically, the water levels are low, but both snowmelt and heavy rains can change levels quickly.

Approximately 0.5 mile after crossing the Roaring River (@ 2 miles), the trail begins a sustained climb along the ridge of a moraine. This longest segment of the hike leads through thick timber, then crests at 3.8 miles before descending to Chipmunk Lake @ 4.0 miles. The mountain peak reflections in Chipmunk Lake make this worth stopping for a photo.

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Chipmunk Lake in RMNP - Courtesy of Brendan Bombaci.

There is a backcountry camping area with two individual sites just past Chimpmunk Lake at 10,640'. Camping permits can be obtained through the RMNP Wilderness offices. The trail from Chipmunk Lake to Ypsilon lake is just 0.5 mile, arriving at Ypsilon's western shore. Hikers who pause to listen may hear the sounds of Ypsilon Falls. This segmented and tiered cascade can be accessed by crossing a small footbridge, then hiking toward the sounds of the falls along Ypsilon's northwestern shore.

The return hike follows the same route back to the Lawn Lake trailhead, making this a 9-mile, round-trip journey.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking to Ypsilon Lake in RMNP

  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Bridge Out: Due to the damage caused by a flood in September 2013, the bridge over Roaring River is missing. Cross only during low water, and see the RMNP flood closures page for updates.
  • Get there early: Parking may be somewhat limited as with many hikes in RMNP area and can get full even early in the morning.
  • Recommended Trail Map: We recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map which indicates the location of the Upper Chipmunk Backcountry Camping Site, and provides topo information.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Roger Dellinger for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Ypsilon Lake in RMNP.
  • After the Hike: Mountain Home Café

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Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking the Flattop Mountain Trail and reaching its summit offers 360 degrees of stunning panoramas in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead and traces its way through a varied alpine landscape. The hike to Flattop Mountain also provides access to both Hallett Peak and Otis Peak. Explore the full Flattop Mountain 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: Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Flattop Mountain in RMNP

The hike up Flattop Mountain in RMNP begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions) 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: Flattop Mountain in RMNP

Beginning at the Bear Lake trailhead, a paved trail will run along the eastern shore of the lake. Look for signs for the trail leading towards Flattop Mountain. This .4 mile connector trail leads through stands of quaking aspens to the first trail junction. The right-hand trail leads to the Bierstadt Moraine and Lake Bierstadt. The left-hand trail leads toward Flattop Mountain and Odessa Gorge.

After hiking .5 mile on this second trail segment, the trail will fork again. The trail to the left, leads up to Flattop Mountain and the trail to the right leads down into the Odessa Gorge area. This third and final segment is the longest, 3.2 miles. Here, the Flattop Mountain trail begins a series of switchbacks through Spruce Forest. Soon, hikers will come to the Dream Lake overlook with breathtaking views of Hallett Peak and the sheer north face of Longs Peak. Further up the trail, a second overlook reveals Emerald Lake deep in the bottom of Tyndall Gorge.

Near the Emerald Lake overlook, the trees begin to change shape, into what's called Krummholz forest. It's a German term meaning "crooked" or "twisted wood". These windswept pines look like they've been sculpted by a master bonsai artist. The trail gets a bit more steep as it climbs above treeline, running through rock and tundra, with cairns (stacked-rock markers) noting the trail where it might become difficult to discern.

At the top, it will make sense how Flattop Mountain got it's name. It's less of a peak and more of a broad field of tundra and rock. But the effort to get to the top is worth the views. Hikers can see the Mummy Range to the North as well as Lumpy Ridge. To the Southeast lay peak after jagged peak, with Longs Peak's leaden north face set against the sky.

From the top of Flattop Mountain, hikers can follow a trail through the tundra to the true peak of Hallett, which is approximately .4 mile away to the south with another approximately 400' in elevation gain. Be sure to read the tips section below for making this hike up Flattop Mountain as there are a few important aspects to this more demanding hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Flattop Mountain in RMNP

  • Start early in the morning: Afternoon thunderstorms appear suddenly during the summer hiking season. For this reason, hikers are urged to start early enough to be down off the mountain by early afternoon. Many people have ignored this and been caught in really nasty, weather up on this trail. There have been weather-related fatalities here.
  • Take it Easy: It's a demanding walk up Flattop, and should not be approached as a sprint to the summit. Be sure to pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
  • Layer: It gets colder as you hike toward the top of Flattop. Be sure to have warm clothing. Hikers are also very exposed to the sunlight and risk sunburn, so be sure to wear sunscreen.
  • Food & Water: It probably goes without saying, but be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water to fuel your body for this demanding hike.
  • Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • 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 Dick Rochester for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Flattop Mountain in RMNP.
  • After the Hike: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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Grace Falls Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to view Grace Falls, high in the rock cliffs and ledges of Odessa Gorge, is one of several waterfalls and scenic waypoints along the Fern Lake Trail. Grace Falls drops nearly a hundred feet from Notchtop Mountain, tumbling over a series of ledges, eventually making its way into Fern Creek. Explore the full Grace Falls 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: Grace Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Grace Falls 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: Grace Falls in RMNP

The journey up to view Grace in Falls Rocky Mountain National Park takes hikers past or near 5 different waterfalls and several other scenic sites. Refer to the sites and waypoints list below for the full set. Because the last stretch of trail from the western shore of Odessa lake to Grace Falls is unmaintained and difficult to discern, the falls are best viewed from the stretch of trail between Odessa and Lake Helene (more detailed directions are below).

Grace falls freezes over in the winter, attracting ice climbers to the area. The size of the falls and volume depends very much on the melting snowpack from Ptarmigan Glacier. The best time of year to view the falls is in the Spring-Early Summer. The area near the base of Grace Falls is prone to avalanches--especially during this time of year--which is another good reason to elect to view Grace Falls from the Fern Lake trail, rather than attempting the difficult hike and scramble to its base.

The best place to view Grace Falls is about .8 mile beyond the Odessa Lake junction where the trail begins to climb toward the top of Odessa Gorge making its way toward Lake Helene. This brings the journey to approximately the 6 mile point, or 12 miles round trip. An alternative and very scenic return route is to continue on the trail until it joins up with the Flattop Trail connector which leads east and down into the Bear Lake Trailhead. This makes for a 9.6 mile total hike. At the Bear Lake Trailhead, a shuttle system can transport hikers back to the Fern Lake bus stop. If you are considering this option, be sure to check the shuttle times and details. At the time of this writing, a shuttle transfer at the park-n-ride will be necessary to get back to the Fern Lake bus stop.

Sights & Waypoints Along the Fern Lake Trail:

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Tips & Resources for Hiking to Grace Falls Viewpoint in RMNP

  • TIP: It is advisable to arrive early at the Fern Lake Trailhead as parking is limited. If the lot is full, the best option is to use the park-n-ride shuttle that drops you off at the bus stop near the Fern Lake trailhead.
  • Begin Early: As with all longer hikes in the Colorado Mountains, it's important to start very early in the morning to avoid the thunderstorms that form in the early afternoon.
  • Trekking Poles & Traction Devices or Snowshoes are Necessary in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail. Snow it thick above Fern Lake until Mid-Summer, because of this snowshoes are also recommended.
  • Recommended Trail Map with Location of Grace Falls: 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
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Stacey Bender for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Grace Falls in RMNP.
  • After the Hike: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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Marguerite Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Marguerite Falls is a set of casacades with upper and lower leaps, just below Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. After the 3.9 mile hike up to Fern Lake, a social trail leads into the woods along Fern Creek to the falls. Explore the full Marguerite Falls 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: Marguerite Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Marguerite Falls 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: Marguerite Falls in RMNP

After hiking the 3.9 miles up to Fern Lake from the Fern Lake Trailhead--see the full Fern Lake Trail Profile--a social trail can be found just before the bridge that crosses over where Fern Creek pours out of Fern Lake.

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The social trail down to Marguerite Falls is just to the left before crossing the footbridge.

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The social trail is steep at first, then weaves through a tangle of trees along Fern creek. Hikers should exercise caution, especially when the meltwater is high and the creek is swift. The trail may quickly become difficult to discern and hikers may need to navigate their way alongside the creek until the the cascades come into site.

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Marguerite Falls has two sets of cascades, the first, upper leaps, are located about 1/10th of a mile downstream from the lake. The second are approximately 1/10th of a mile further downstream.

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The best route back is to trace the creek back up to the mouth of Fern Lake where it meets up with the main Fern Lake Trail.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking to Marguerite Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • TIP: Parking fills up fast. To avoid having to take the shuttle, we advise arriving at the Fern Lake Trailhead before 7:30 AM
  • Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Bring a snack or picnic lunch: The rocks near the Big Thompson River and the shores of Fern Lake can be a great place for picnics. Plus, you're going to need some fuel for this hike.
  • 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: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

A hike up to Fern Lake begins at the Fern Lake Trailhead on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the Fern Lake Trail, hikers pass through Arch Rocks, over a bridge at The Pool, and by three cascade waterfalls. Near the, you'll gain spectacular views of The Gable, Knobtop Mountain, Notchtop Mountain, and Little Matterhorn from its northern shore. Explore the full Fern Lake 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: Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Fern Lake 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 the road as this damages the roadside, and vehicles will be ticketed. 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: Fern Lake in RMNP

The hike up to the lake is a moderate one. The only demanding aspect is the round-trip distance of 7.8 miles. In the late-Spring and early-Summer, snow may still be on the ground, adding some difficulty to navigating the trail. However, most of the summer months, this is a pleasant hike with a significant amount of shade. The first trailside sight is a cascade tucked away in a gulch above the tail, Windy Gulch Cascades, which can be seen to the North (right) about 1/2 mile in.

The trail continues, following the Big Thompson River. At 1.5 Miles in, the trail weaves through several house-size boulders at Arch Rocks (pictured below).

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Just a bit further at 1.7 miles in, a bridge crosses the Big Thompson River near the spot of its confluence with both Spruce and Fern Creeks. This area is know as The Pool. After crossing the bridge at The Pool, there is a trail junction. The trail up to the lake splits off to the right.

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Just about 1/10th of a mile past The Pool, an unnamed set of cascades can be heard and seen to the right of the trail (pictured below).

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The next mile of trail continues up a set of switchbacks that make a steady climb through the forest to Fern Falls (pictured below).

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After Fern Falls, there is just 1.1 mile left to the Lake. This is the segment that may still be packed with snow. At the Lake, hikers will find a panorama of sights. From here, a social trail can be traced down to Marguerite Falls, a small set of hidden cascades along Fern Creek and just below the Lake.

Fern Lake can be a jumping off point for several other destinations:

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Tips & Resources for Hiking to Fern Lake 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.
  • Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Bring Snack or Picnic Lunch: You'll need fuel for this hike. There are a lot of great spots along the shores of the Lake to sit down and enjoy a picnic lunch.
  • 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: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs

Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs is a 35 foot waterfall requiring only a short walk from the parking area. For a longer and more demanding hike, visitors can take the 4 mile Columbine Trail from the bottom of Cheyenne Canyon to Helen Hunt Falls. This strenuous option affords and experience of the rich ecosystem of this canyon at the base of Pikes Peak. Explore the full Helen Hunt Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this waterfall in Colorado Springs.

Trail Snapshot: Helen Hunt Falls

Parking & Trailhead Information for Helen Hunt Falls

Helen Hunt Falls is located in the upper reaches of North Cheyenne Canyon in Colorado Springs. The driving directions and map in the trail snapshot (above) direct hikers to the small parking area nearest to the waterfall. However, this lot is often full, so visitors will need to drive further up into the canyon to additional parking. The Helen Hunt Falls area is a trailhead to several hikes in the canyon, so the parking areas do fill quickly on weekends and during the busy vacation season. Go early to park close. In case you or a friend are unable to make the short hike to the falls, they are visible along the road from your vehicle. Drive with care through the canyon as there are many cyclists on this stretch of road.

The longer hike begins near the Strasmore Visitor Center at the entrance to Cheyenne Canyon. Click for Driving Directions.

The Hike: Helen Hunt Falls

Helen Hunt Falls is a 35 foot waterfall that cascades over the rock in North Cheyenne Creek. The falls are most beautiful when Cheyenne Canyon's water volume is at it's peak in the late Spring to early Summer, or after a good rain. It's not much of a hike to Helen Hunt Falls because the base of the falls can be accessed just a few steps from the Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center. The visitor center is open only in the Summer and has snacks and gifts for sale. The waterfall access is open year-round and there is no fee.

In the winter, the frozen falls have a beauty of their own, but be advised that the trails can be very slick and icy.

There is short, but more strenuous trail just after the bridge and to the left. The trail has a set of stairs built into the side of the canyon that lead to an overlook and another perspective on the waterfall.

If you prefer a longer, creekside hike to the Falls, then park at the Strasmore Visitor Center at the entrance to the Canyon. Near the visitor center, you can locate the Lower Columbine Trailhead. This creekside trail weaves through Cheyenne Canyon all the way up to Helen Hunt Falls. It's 4 miles one-way to the Upper Columbine Trailhead near the falls, and about 1000+ feet of elevation gain. Because the trail follows the creek and over a lot of rocky surface, be prepared for slick surfaces, and be sure to wear a solid pair of hiking boots. Trekking poles will be exceptionally helpful on this stretch of trail. About midway up the Columbine Trail, it abandons the creek, crosses the road, and begins a significant climb that includes a set of demanding switchbacks. Eventually, the trail nears Tunnel #2 along Gold Camp Road, then terminates at the Helen Hunt Falls area.

Helen Hunt Falls is named for reformer, activist, and writer, Helen Hunt Jackson, who fought for Native American Rights in the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Helen Hunt Falls

  • Explore More: Hike further to Silver Cascade Falls to take in a second waterfall. It's less than 1/2 mile from Helen Hunt Falls with an elevation gain of approximately 250 feet.
  • Pack a Picnic Lunch: Helen Hunt Falls and Cheyenne Creek are great places to enjoy a picnic lunch.
  • Bear and Mtn Lion Activity: Like many areas along the Front Range of Colorado, Bear and Mtn. Lions live in Cheyenne Canyon and the surrounding countryside. Dispose of food in the proper containers. Be alert. And keep together as a group. It's best that children don't run ahead, but stay with your group. Dogs should be leashed at all times.
  • Trail Map for North Cheyenne Canyon: 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: Urban Steam Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Mike Sinko for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.

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Shelf Creek Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Shelf Creek Falls is a waterfall hidden within the races of Shelf Creek in Rocky Mountain National Park. This waterfall is not marked on maps, but can be found along the hike up to Shelf Lake, a demanding hike on an unmaintained trail in Glacier Gorge. Because this hike is off-the-beaten-path, it is recommended only for those who have a familiarity with Rocky Mountain National Park and who have honed their skills in backcountry travel. See the full trail profile for Shelf Lake for details.

Trail Snapshot: Shelf Creek Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Shelf Creek Falls can be seen in the distance from the trail along Glacier Creek, after leaving Jewel Lake, at approximately 1/4 mile past the Glacier Gorge Campsite/Black Lake signpost. Different segments of the falls, like on the one pictured below, can be seen along the unmaintained trail that leads up to Shelf Lake and Shelf Falls. For a more detailed description of the hike to this area, see the trail profile for Shelf Lake.

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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.

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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.

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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.

elk bedded down in tall grasses of moraine park in rocky mountain national park hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

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


bear lake with hallett peak in background in rocky mountain national park along 4 lakes and waterfall loop hike

Four Lakes and Waterfall Loop in Rocky Mountain National Park

This loop hike in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you to four beautiful, subalpine lakes and Alberta Falls, one of the parks most visited and photographed waterfalls. It's a moderate, 6.4 mile hike that will give you a great taste for the breathtaking scenery found in this treasure of our National Parks system. Explore the full 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: Alberta Falls + Lake Haiyaha Loop in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Alberta Falls - Lake Haiyaha Loop

This loop hike 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.

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List and Waypoints on the Alberta Falls - Lake Haiyaha Loop Hike

As with any loop, this can be hiked clockwise or counter clockwise. We prefer hiking it clockwise with the following waypoints.

  1. Beginning at Bear Lake
  2. Alberta Falls - @ .8 miles
  3. Glacier Gorge Junction - @ 1.7 miles
  4. Loch Vale/Haiyaha Junction - @ 2.2 miles
  5. Lake Haiyaha - @ 4.3 miles
  6. Dream Lake - @ 5.4 miles
  7. Nymph Lake - @ 5.9 miles
  8. Back at Bear Lake - @ 6.4 miles

At less than one mile in, the first destination is Alberta Falls. For more information, visit our Alberta Falls Hike page.

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

After Alberta Falls, hikers will continue towards Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale until they encounter the first significant trail junction. The correct trail, the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail, bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to a second trail junction. At this second junction, you will have traveled about 2.2 miles. One trail leads up into Loch Vale and to such destinations as Timberline Falls. However, this loop hikes takes a different path, and hikers will want to follow the trail leading to Lake Haiyaha. The journey to Lake Haiyaha (pictured below) is 2.1 miles from this junction. You can explore a more detailed trail profile on Lake Haiyaha here.

lake haiyaha rocky mountain national park header

When you near Haiyaha, a trail sign will point the way left, down a short spur to the lake. After visiting Lake Haiyaha, the spur trail will take you back down the to the main trail. The trail to Dream, Nymph, and Bear Lake goes to the left (north. The trail meanders for about 1 mile--mostly downhill--to the next trail junction (pictured below). On this segment hikers will gain views down into the valley that contains Nymph and Bear Lakes.

lake haiyaha trailhead

On the other side of the post pictured above, is a sign indicating that Dream lake is to the left (west), and only .1 mile away. Dream Lake won't disappoint (pictured below). See our full trail profile for Dream Lake.

dream lake rocky mountain national park header

After your trip to Dream Lake, double-back to head toward Nymph Lake by following signs to Bear Lake. In about .5 mile, hikers will arrive at their fourth destination, Nymph Lake. It's known for the pond lilies that bloom yellow in the summer months. You can explore more trail info on Nymph lake at here.
nymph-lake-in-rmnp

Finally, after almost six and a half miles of hiking, hikers will return to Bear lake and the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Alberta Falls - Lake Haiyaha Loop, Colorado

  • TIP: Trekking Poles in Spring and Winter Because the trail is often in shade, the snow and ice can remain into the early summer months. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Poppy's Pizza
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to several fantastic photographers whose work is featured in this post: Ben Grey, Bear Lake; Miguel Vieira, Lake Haiyaha, Marco Becarra, Dream Lake; Pete Sheffield, Nymph Lake; Bert Cash, Alberta Falls.

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waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado