Blue Lake, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Blue Lake - 11.0 miles
Glacier Gorge Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||11.0 miles (distance may vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,240' - 11,165' (11,210' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,925 net elevation gain (+2,567' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Blue Lake - 11.0 Miles Round-Trip
Blue Lake (11,165') is located 5.5 miles from Glacier Gorge Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's one of three alpine lakes in upper Glacier Gorge accessible by cross-country routes, and arguably the easiest of them to reach.
The hike follows a heavily used trail past Mills and Jewel Lake to Black Lake, where an unmaintained trail continues steeply into open tundra. Basic navigation skills are needed in this open but rugged landscape to reach the lake, which fills a shallow granite bowl along the east valley wall:
The Loch Vale Trail rises steadily through young aspen and pine to Alberta Falls (.85 miles : 9,423'). A moderate climb continues to the North Longs Peak Trail (1.6 miles : 9,768'), where it banks SW and levels through a narrow gorge between Thatchtop Mountain (12,668') and the Glacier Knobs.
The trail drops to Glacier Junction and bears left to Mills Lake (2.1 miles : 9,804'). It turns south, crossing Glacier Creek twice and sections of cairn-marked rock slabs to Mills Lake (2.65 miles : 9,955').
The trail - now variously rugged and undulating - follows the lake's east shore to its marshy juxtaposition with Jewel Lake (3.1 miles : 9,967'). It continues past Jewel through a string of marshes aided by narrow, elevated planks. Thick timber reclaims the trail (3.2 miles), which closely follows Glacier Creek all the way to Black Lake.
Anticipate steep undulations and occasional loss of clarity over the next 1.5 miles; when in doubt, simply hold your line and follow the creek.
You'll pass the Glacier Gorge Backcountry Campsite (3.35 miles : 10,068') and scale newly built stairs. Travel intensifies in a thick forest to a cairn-marked rock slab (3.85 miles : 10,205'), then moderates across a meadow with good views of the upper gorge (4.1 miles).
The Arrowhead (12,387'), Powell Peak (13,208) and McHenrys Peak (13,327') frame the west, while Pagoda Mountain (13,497') and Keyboard of the Winds - a line of pinnacles near the summit of Longs Peak - rise to the east. Chiefs Head Peak (13,579') and The Spearhead (12,575') cap the upper valley.
Uneven travel continues to the base of Ribbon Falls (4.7 miles : 10,540'), which spill from the north shore of Black Lake. The trail twists steeply beside the falls and hops a line of flat boulders across the outlet to Black Lake (4.8 miles : 10,630').
It scales a small knoll to the east shore (4.85 miles), where you'll turn east for a strenuous climb up Black Lake's inlet into the tundra.
The initial climb follows a well-defined path beside the inlet with exceptional views of the cirque below. It reaches an unmarked fork (5.15 miles : 11,980'), at which point you'll ignore both options and turn sharply left off-trail and up the hillside (north).
The informal route negotiates some minor obstacles (rock crevices, talus, willow thickets), but other than a steep pitch, is fairly moderate and intuitive. A handful of cairns prove useful, but needn't be followed precisely. The route crests a small ridge (5.4 miles : 11,210') and drops to Blue Lake (5.5 miles : 11,165').
Blue Lake's shore is mostly open rock slab that's prone to strong wind. The south shore provides good views of Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Mount Chiquita (13,069'), Ypsilon Mountain (13,514'), and Fairchild Mountain (13,502') on the northern horizon.
- N40 18.621 W105 38.419 — Glacier Gorge Trailhead
- N40 18.237 W105 38.289 — .85 miles : Alberta Falls
- N40 17.982 W105 38.391 — 1.6 miles : North Longs Peak Trail junction
- N40 17.842 W105 38.757 — 2.1 miles : Glacier Junction
- N40 17.512 W105 38.597 — 2.65 miles : Mills Lake
- N40 17.222 W105 38.387 — 3.1 miles : Jewel Lake
- N40 16.911 W105 38.354 — 3.35 miles : Glacier Gorge Campground spur
- N40 16.842 W105 38.294 — 3.8 miles : Regain trail after travel over rock slab
- N40 16.223 W105 38.255 — 4.35 miles : Cross footbridge to right
- N40 16.067 W105 38.398 — 4.7 miles : Ribbon Falls
- N40 15.932 W105 38.395 — 4.85 miles : Black Lake - east edge
- N40 15.913 W105 38.078 — 5.15 miles : Fork in trail; bear left up hillside
- N40 15.921 W105 38.049 — 5.2 miles : Blue Lake - cross country mark #1
- N40 15.934 W105 38.004 — 5.25 miles : Blue Lake - cross country mark #2
- N40 16.068 W105 37.953 — 5.5 miles : Blue Lake
- A good map is essential to safe, efficient travel beyond Black Lake. The unmaintained route is ill-defined, sparingly marked and deceptively vast. Cairns provide guidance, but are best used in conjunction with known topographical features and visual cues drawn from maps.
- Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and get below treeline before storms develop. Expect cooler temperatures, strong sun and wind in this completely exposed environment.
- Look for ptarmigan, marmot and elk in the open tundra between Black Lake and Blue Lake. Scan the upper valley walls for Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Glacier Gorge Backcountry Campsite
- There is one designated site located across Glacier Creek in a heavily forested area. A marked sign 3.4 miles from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead leads you over the creek on a footbridge to the site. Use red arrowheads on trees for additional guidance. Camp safely away from dead trees, as near
as possible to the silver metal arrowhead.
Bivouac Sites for Climbers
- The Spearhead (Moon Pillar): 8 climbers
- Chiefs Head Peak - Pagoda Mountain: 4 climbers
- McHenrys Peak: 6 climbers
Rules and Regulations
- Horses are not permitted beyond Glacier Gorge Junction. There is a hitchrack located just beyond this junction where you may dismount.
Directions to Trailhead
Just beyond the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located on the left side of the road and has limited parking. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Bear Lake Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park