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Rocky Mountain National Park: Glacier Gorge to Black Lake

Waterfalls, alpine lakes, and mind-blowing scenery. It’s all included on this 9.1-mile out-and-back hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rating

This hike follows the Mills Lake Trail along the forested floor from the Glacier Gorge trailhead. The well-traveled path crosses pristine creeks winding through thick pine and fir. After the thundering cascade of Alberta Falls (mile 0.6), the crowds thin and the trail climbs around wind-scoured boulders to a rocky point high above Glacier Creek. Look north for craggy mountain peaks guarding Glacier Gorge and Loch Vale.

Continue downhill before turning left toward Mills and Black lakes: a sharp ridge rises east to Longs Peak (the tallest peak in the park at 14,259 ft.). Above is Thatchtop rising to 12,668 feet. Near mile 2.4, you’ll skirt the eastern shores of Mills Lake—one of the park’s most scenic year-round dayhike destinations—to a marsh on its far side before continuing through shady subalpine fir for another mile.

Climb the moraine below wind-whipped Black Lake and if you’re not being blown from the shores, stop to take in the full panorama: the pointy Spearhead pierces the sky from the opposite shore; 13,579-foot Cheifs Head Peak looms behind; 13,327-foot McHenrys Peak rises to the southwest and the sentinel of the Arrowhead stands to the far right.

Note on winter hiking: The ice floes on the southwestern shore make Black Lake a worthwhile winter trip, but it’s a tough snowshoe and 50 mph winds (or more) can tear across alpine lakes. Plan snack breaks in sheltered areas below moraines, and stay alert about navigation: wind can quickly cover new tracks with snow.

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations accepted ($20 administrative fee for permits during peak season). nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcntry_guide.htm

CONTACT Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1206; nps.gov/romo

-Mapped by Jenn Fields

To Trailhead

From the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on US 36, continue west through the park entrance and make an immediate right onto Bear Lake Rd. Continue 3.3 miles to Glacier Gorge trailhead.

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