Glacier Gorge, Mills Lake and Black Lake
  • Location: Rocky Mt National Park, Colorado, east side
  • Map: Trails Illustrated 1:59K  Rocky Mt National Park (#200) / USGS 1:24K McHenryís Peak
  • Trail: Easy 8-mile roundtrip hike. Start: 9,200í  End: 10,600í  Gain: 1,400í
  • Access: From Interstate 25, take Highway 34 through Loveland and Estes Park to the Beaver Meadows entrance. Just beyond the entrance gate, turn south on Bear Lake Rd and drive ~8.5 miles to Glacier Gorge Junction, or in summer, take a shuttle from the shuttle lot 4 miles up Bear Lake Rd. 
  • Trailhead: UTM NAD83 zone 13 445331e 4462172n
  • Fees (2008): $20 7-day park pass; $35 annual park pass; $80 annual Federal public lands pass 
  • Elevation Trail Map
  • Dogs: not allowed 
  • Weather: Current and recent conditions at Bear Lake; Forecast
  • Webcam: 8 miles northeast in Estes Park, looking west

August 18, 2008

Havenít spent much time at Rocky Mt this year, so we figured it was time to get a hike in before the weather cooled off too much. One thing I always struggle with is that dogs are not allowed to hike in National Parks. I hate that. Four-legged discrimination. I can understand, people want to see wildlife up close and who needs a big dogs chasing it off? In Yellowstone they have big native dogs chasing the elk and it seems to make the herd healthier by culling the sick, small and weak, as well as keep the herd moving so it doesnít overgraze sensitive riparian species, but thatís another story. Still, hiking without the dogs is like eating cake without frosting. It just leaves something to be desired. No human enjoys hiking as much as your average dog, Iím convinced. Makenzie salivates all over herself when we pull into a trailhead parking lot. Frank whines like a little puppy when he feels the car driving over gravel roads. I hate to spend a day without them, but thereís no denying the exceptional beauty of Rocky Mt National Park. Itís a quandary. Most days this year Iíve hiked with them both, 26 hikes in fact, so I feel I can leave them home this one day and hike in the national park. Itís not just that easy, though. Frank has cancer, and his life is winding down. He can no longer hike the big peaks, and even easy walks make him tired. I am torn between hiking with my best bud on short strolls, or hiking without him on the big trails. Iíve tried to balance between the two all summer, and here is one day where I decided to let him have a day of rest, and Iíll take on a nice long hike and tell him about it later on. Heíll smell the full story on my boots when we get back to the house, and wonder why I didnít take him along. 

The day is beautiful, and the weather is nice too, so nice in fact that when Andra, Christine and I arrive at the Glacier Gorge TH, there are no parking spots left. The fair weather has drawn folks from far and wide to this great place, if only for a few hours. I had thought that getting here by 9AM would cinch a spot for us, but no dice. Popular place, this. So, we cruise back down to the shuttle lot, park, and hop on board a jam-packed shuttle to ferry back up the road to the TH. We get off, and immediately start up the trail. Christine and Andra do their girl chat thing while I bring up the rear, in silence, largely unable to contribute to the conversation that seems to center mostly on formal wedding attire. There are lots of people around, most with small children. The crowds are vastly different in the park than what you will see in the wilderness trails just outside the boundary. There are many more kids, and many more flip flops, than you will ever see outside the national park. We cruise smoothly up the trail, beneath aspen trees and through shaded passages of conifers. In short order, we reach and pass Alberta Falls, a boisterous whitewater cascade channeled through a wide cut in the rock. More than half the hikers go no further than this point, so the trail quiets down considerably after we are around the next bend. The day is warm and sunny, a little hazy from smoke drifting in from some western forest fire, but not too bad. We keep a good pace up until we reach Glacier Falls and my camera comes out. From then on Christine and Andra impatiently wait as I stop frequently to photograph Mills Lake, Longs Peak and the impressive rock walls of Glacier Gorge. This is perhaps the most scenic valley in the whole park. Naturally, I want a few pictures of it for posterity. If they come out poorly, no matter, I know Iíll be back again and again. We pass by Mills Lake and into the forested region of the canyon, making our way along the lush riparian zone lining Glacier Creek. We take a break and sit in the shade on a big boulder near the rustling stream to eat the PBJ sandwiches Christine brought for us. Hiking with Christine is great because she always brings awesome snacks. Plus sheís fun to talk with. Further up the trail we encounter a family of elk chilling out in a meadow along the creek. I sneak around to take pictures of them, but they hardly seem to mind when they do see me. They are probably used to such antics by camera-toting tourists. Perhaps they even have a secret union contract with the NPS to spend at least 3 hours a day next to a trail for the benefit of paying customers. The miles tick by and finally, after about 2 hours, we reach Black Lake. The scenery around Black Lake is really impressive. McHenry Peak and Arrowhead Mt frame the western side of the lake with jagged ramparts of rock, and thin streaks of water fall hundreds of feet from unseen fissures and pools high up on inaccessible ledges. We trek around to the east side of the lake, where the heights of Longs Peak can be seen up the sloping meadow. The mosquitoes come out to feed, and we offer up several pints of blood to the little varmints that they might lay eggs to haunt next yearís tourist crop. Weíre all in this together. Maps donít show it, but the trail continues on towards Green Lake, or Blue Lake, maybe both. A magnetic force seems to pull me up the trail, beckoning to go find out what lies up yonder ridge. In the end, I donít. Some trails must be saved for tomorrow. (Or until I finally hike them, 6 years later...)

Ribbon Falls, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National ParkMcHenrys Peak looms ahead, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National ParkGlacier Creek, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk along Glacier Creek, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National ParkMills Lake, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Mills Lake, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Andra and Christine hiking through a wet meadow in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
McHenry's Peak, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Ribbon Falls, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Outlet of Black Lake, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
McHenrys  Peak above Black Lake, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Andra and Sam at Black Lake, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
McHenrys Peak and Black Lake, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
West face of Longs Peak, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
McHenrys Peak, Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

 


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