Frozen Lake, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Frozen Lake - 12.1 miles
Glacier Gorge Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||12.1 miles (distance may vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,240' - 11,578' (11,614' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,338' net elevation gain (+3,011' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Frozen Lake - 12.1 Miles Round-Trip
Frozen Lake fills a deep rocky bowl beneath The Spearhead, an aptly named rock formation and renowned climbing destination on the valley headwall.
Cross-country travel in open tundra is required to reach Frozen Lake. Cairns offer guidance, but many run off course to climbing routes, improvised campsites or simply nowhere in particular. A good map is essential to safe, efficient travel between Black and Frozen Lake.
Visitors will enjoy magnificent alpine scenery and well-earned solitude on the trek to Frozen Lake:
The Loch Vale Trail rises steadily through young aspen and mixed pine to Alberta Falls (.85 miles : 9,423'). A moderate climb continues to the North Longs Peak Trail split (1.6 miles : 9,768'), where it banks southwest and flattens 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 rock slab to Mills Lake (2.65 miles : 9,955').
The trail - now intermittently rugged, undulating and heavily rooted - follows the lake's east shore to its marshy juxtaposition with Jewel Lake (3.1 miles : 9,967').
It continues past Jewel Lake through a string of marshes aided by narrow, elevated planks. A cluttered forest reclaims the trail (3.2 miles), which closely follows Glacier Creek all the way to Black Lake.
Anticipate steep undulations and spotty 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 spur (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 flattened boulders across the outlet to reach Black Lake (4.8 miles : 10,630'). It scales a small knoll to the east shore (4.85 miles), where you'll turn east and begin a strenuous climb up Black Lake's inlet.
The initial climb follows a well-defined path beside the inlet with views of the cirque below. The trail reaches an unmarked fork at 5.15 miles (11,980'); bear right (south) and cross the stream to regain it.
The trail threads dense willow and large boulders to a second crossing (5.27 miles); once over it twists steeply through a cairn-marked slot and moderates in a vast alpine terrace of rock slabs, meadows, ponds, boulders and streams. The path quickly fades, and you'll now turn southwest for the most direct route to Frozen Lake.
First, identify the Spearhead and steep rock face to its right. No matter the approach, you'll eventually need to scale this wall to reach the lake, located just behind it.
Orient yourself accordingly and look for the clearest path. The seemingly smooth terrain ahead is in fact quite uneven - take no footstep for granted. Favor rock slabs, the tundra's most reliable and eco-sensitive footing.
Head SW toward the Spearhead and rock face at its western base. Select the most favorable pitch up this wall. The most direct route crests at approximately 6.0 miles (11,613') and drops through talus to the NE shore of Frozen Lake (6.05 miles : 11,578').
Frozen Lake's shore is rocky and scrambling can be tedious, but there are many sheltered nooks and high perches worth reaching. Scramble over the south shore for views across the lake and down Glacier Gorge.
- N40 18.621 W105 38.419 — 0.0 miles : 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 Campsite 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 right
- N40 15.832 W105 38.045 — 5.3 miles : Climb through rock slot and level in alpine
- N40 15.715 W105 38.168 — Frozen Lake x-country mark #1
- N40 15.658 W105 38.296 — Frozen Lake x-country mark #2
- N40 15.562 W105 38.423 — Frozen Lake x-country mark #3
- N40 15.509 W105 38.525 — 6.05 miles : Frozen Lake
- The unmaintained route between Black Lake and Frozen Lake is ill-defined through open space. Cairns provide guidance, but are best used in conjunction with known topographical features and visual cues drawn from maps. Proceed cautiously and thoughtfully through the open tundra, avoiding sensitive vegetation, large talus fields and willow thicket-entanglements.
- 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 summering elk in the open tundra between Black Lake and Frozen Lake. Scan the upper valley walls for Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats.
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 3.35 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
- A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years + to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary, however special regulations may exist for each location. It's your responsibility to know and obey them. Regulations may change at anytime. Special restrictions may be put in place above and beyond what's listed here. Contact the Park before your trip for current information.
- No bait or worms are allowed in catch-and-release waters.
- Certain waters in the park with restored native fish populations are open year round during daylight hours, except as indicated. Use barbless hooks only. Any and all fish species taken must be immediately returned to the water unharmed.
- Method of Capture: Each person shall use only one hand-held rod or line. A 'second rod stamp' is not honored in park waters. Only artificial lures or flies with one (single, double, or treble) hook with a common shank may be used. "Artificial flies or lures" means devices made entirely of, or a combination of, materials such as wood, plastic, glass, hair, metal, feathers, or fiber, designed to attract fish.
- This does not include: (a) any hand malleable material designed to attract fish by the sense of taste or smell; (b) any device to which scents or smell attractants have been externally applied; (c) molded plastic devices less than 1.5 inches long; (d) foods; (e) traditional organic baits such as worms, grubs, crickets, leeches, minnows, and fish eggs; and (f) manufactured baits such as imitation fish eggs, dough baits, or stink baits. Fly fishers may utilize a two hook system, where one hook is used as an attractant.
- While in possession of any fishing equipment, bait for fishing (insects, fish eggs, minnows, or other organic matter) or worms is prohibited. Children 12 years of age or under, however, may use worms or preserved fish eggs in all park waters open to fishing except those designated as catch-and release areas.
- Use of lead sinkers (or other lead fishing materials) is strongly discouraged.
Rules and Regulations
- A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
- Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Horses are not permitted beyond Glacier Junction (2.1 miles). 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