Black Lake, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Black Lake - 9.6 miles

Glacier Gorge Trailhead

Black Lake

Black Lake

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)
Round-Trip Length: 9.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,240' - 10,630' (10,656' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,390' net elevation gain (+1,842' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Black Lake - 9.6 Miles Round-Trip

Black Lake is located 4.8 miles from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. It fills a deep cirque at treeline carved from the base of McHenrys Peak, The Arrowhead, Chiefs Head Peak, and The Spearhead.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

This rugged trail leads deep into a spectacular glacial gorge with access to Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Ribbon Falls along the way:

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 SW 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').

The trail turns south, crossing Glacier Creek twice and sections of cairn-marked rock slabs to Mills Lake (2.65 miles : 9,955'). Here you'll enjoy terrific views of Glacier Gorge and the jagged ridges and peaks that define it.

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 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 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 up to Ribbon Falls (4.7 miles : 10,540'), which spill from the lip 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 the remaining maintained portion turns sharply east and climbs above the lake along its main inlet.

The trail soon fades in open tundra, where unmaintained routes continue on to Blue Lake, Green Lake and Frozen Lake. Continue a short distance up the inlet for a bird's eye view of the cirque basin.

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Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

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  • 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

Worth Noting

  • Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather and get below treeline before storms develop. Note that the gorge's high walls can block your view of approaching weather from the south and west.

  • Jewel Lake's attractive shoreline - especially the west side - affords comparable views but appreciably more solitude than Mills Lake.

  • Snow may linger on the trail well into summer; be patient with route finding and plan travel time accordingly.

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.

Rules and Regulations

  • 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

Black Lake is accessed from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, 8.4 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on Bear Lake Road.

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.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:
970.586.1206

Backcountry Office:
970.586.1242

Campground Reservations:
800.365.2267

Comments

"A different experience than my hike back in March. Very little snow on the trail all the way up to Jewel Lake. After Jewel the trail would have areas covered in snow, and the last mile or so was mostly covered. The snow was slushy and icy. Traction device and walking stick a big help. There were a couple places where you had to climb to get to trail. The creek is running fast from Black Lake all the way down to Jewel. Be careful with the slippery snow. Before I put traction device on I did lose footing and slid about 20 ft down toward creek before stopping about 7 or so ft shy. Trail after Jewel was hard to follow, but good thing with this hike ( and with snow still being on ground) is that you point your way up glacier gorge and you will eventually find the trail again."
Michael Polan  -  Longmont, CO  -  Date Posted: June 15, 2014
"Beautiful and challenging winter snow-shoe hike. A little trouble picking up the trail after leaving Jewel Lake due to several different paths heading out. But take the hint and just keep heading down the creek you will pick up the trail. Worth the effort. When you get to Black Lake, head to Western edge and you might catch some rock/ice climbers on the far end walls."
Michael Polan  -  Longmont Colorado  -  Date Posted: March 10, 2014
"This remains one of the best hikes on the front side of the park. Above Jewel Lake is s stretch of about 1/2 mile with scores of downed trees - in some places more downed than standing - the result of a fall 2011 windstorm. The trail is now 100% passable, and I offer a huge THANK YOU to the trail crews that went in and cleared the downfall. "
 -   -  Date Posted: September 2, 2012
"Would like to secure tent site for the nights of 9/5 & 9/6 for the Glacier Gorge trail below Black Lake and Spearhead. Dan"
Daniel Smilkstein  -  Steamboat Springs, CO  -  Date Posted: August 31, 2012

 

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