Estes Park, Colorado

Hike Above Black Lake to an Alpine Paradise

12.3 Miles Total - 3400 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally added by Crystal Brindle

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.

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Tags

Fitness
Rock Climbing
Camping
Photography
Backpacking
Hiking
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

A must see!

I was shown this place in the late '70's as one of the most beautiful and least visited places in the park. People have since discovered it, but it is still a must see most years I visit.

Exploring the tundra

This is a great continuation of the hike to Black Lake. There are tons of different routes through this alpine area to explore. The views are incredible and you are able to truly experience the ruggedness of Rocky Mountain National Park away from the crowds.

Awesome

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

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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