Hike Above Black Lake to an Alpine Paradise

Colorado Glacier Gorge TH

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Explore a spectacular shelf of alpine tarns and lakes. Hike above the common paths of the Glacier Gorge region to experience grand scenery. Stand beneath the tallest peak in the park and marvel at granite spires in a climber’s paradise. Opt for a sunrise hike to witness alpenglow illuminate jagged peaks. 12.3 miles roundtrip with approximately 3,400 feet of elevation gain.

Begin at the popular Glacier Gorge trailhead along Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Arrive VERY early for parking as the lot typically fills by 7:30 am. For the best photography options - choose to either backpack into the Glacier Gorge campsite (reservations must be made early in the season) or begin at 3:00 am to reach the best views by sunrise. There are many options along this trail for grand scenery. On this trip, we chose to hike to Black Lake and then above to Green Lake.

From the trailhead, follow the signs along a gentle trail to Mills Lake. From here, continue along the well-defined trail that skirts Mills and Jewel Lake and then returns to the dense forest. After five miles of hiking, you will arrive at Black Lake - nestled against sheer granite and crowned by tall peaks. From Black Lake, follow the obvious trail along the eastern side of the lake toward the inlet stream. Walk along the inlet stream due east and climb in elevation along the unmaintained rocky trail. When faced with a large boulder outcropping across the trail, scramble above and over the rock until you reach the trail on the other side. Stick to the trail until it turns south and crosses the stream; here it disintegrates into intermittent cairns and it is best to choose your own path.

Continue following the cairns (if they are present) south until you reach the open shelf that provides expansive views over tarns, krummholz, boulders, and near peaks. Stop to photograph McHenry's and Arrowhead Peaks as they reflect in the many tarns you'll find along your path. Continue south toward the Spearhead (a popular rock climbing summit) and then bear left (east) to reach Green Lake that lies directly below (approximately 1.1 miles from Black Lake). There are many cairns and rock climbing paths in this area that will help you skirt willows and other dense vegetation. Just remember to stay to the side of the Spearhead unless you intend to reach the summit instead of the lakes. Green Lake lies to the east of the Spearhead while Frozen Lake lies to the west.

Pack List

Day trip:
  • Pack
  • Warm layers
  • Gloves
  • Tripod
  • Camera
  • Sturdy boots
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Navigational aids
Overnight:
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stove
  • Water filtration
  • Permit
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How to Get There

7 months ago

Awesome

"Alpine Paradise" is a good way to describe it. There's something really awesome about this area

7 months ago

8 months ago

Beautiful

It's hard to get much better than this area in any season...

8 months ago

Added by Crystal Brindle

I'm Crystal, a park ranger for the National Park Service in the United States and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand - you'll find me floating between hemispheres as the seasons change. I am an avid landscape photographer and wilderness explorer committed to capturing the scenes and moments that inspire me and require dedication to experience. Living in national parks throughout my life, I've developed a deep appreciation for the natural world. This appreciation drives my passion for protecting wild places today. My first job as a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park inspired me to spend my time exploring the depths of the park’s wilderness and instilled a sense of adventure that extends into all areas of my life. I now actively seek backcountry recreation that takes me into remote corners of mountainous regions all over the world. I have had the opportunity to live and work in some of the most intriguing places our world has to offer - from the high places of Colorado, to the South Island of New Zealand, to the rugged Alaska Peninsula, and many locations in between. I feel that the only way to truly get to know a place is to meet it on its own terms and to embrace its challenges through which its beauty is revealed. To me this is the definition of wilderness and the foundation of my photography. Since I began this journey of photography three years ago, I have honed my interests to focus on high-alpine mountain landscapes inaccessible to all except those who travel on foot. These are the landscapes that captivate me. I feel drawn to share their remarkable qualities through the visual narrative of photography and short stories of personal experience. This is a craft that I am refining daily and my photography is only a work-in-progress but I feel that this effort is worthwhile as I strive to let the landscape tell its own story and act as a vector for its message. What's next? After a summer of living with brown bears and climbing mountains under the midnight sun in Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, I'm heading back to New Zealand to further explore the wonders of the South Island and work as a Hut Warden on the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park.

Activities:

Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness, Rock Climbing

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Summer

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

12.3 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3400 Feet

Rating:

Features:

Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers

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