ALL HIKERS

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
JULY 31, 2005, DAY HIKES

     My wife and I were spending a few days in Estes Park, Colorado, when I decide to do a day hike at Rocky Mountain National Park.  One of the Rangers suggests I hike in the Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake area.  I settle on one large 8.6 mile loop starting at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, going to Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, Lake Hiayaha, Emerald Lake, Dream Lake, Nymph Lake, and finishing at the Bear Lake Trailhead.  While we were checking out the area the day before my hike, we came across this man in a highly modified wheelchair.  Although he had lost both his legs and left arm, he was amazingly agile and fast.  

 

 
 

Disabled bike rider
7-30-2005 @ 9:54

 

     We are up early the next day and drive to the "Park and Ride" location a few miles north of the Glacier Gorge Trailhead to catch the shuttle.  My wife and I are the only people on the shuttle as it leaves at 7:15.  Mary takes my picture at the trailhead and I am off for Alberta Falls around 7:30.

Richard at Glacier Gorge Trailhead
7-31-2005 @ 7:26

Alberta Falls sign
7-31-2005 @ 7:29

     The trail is well maintained, very smooth, and has a minimal uphill grade.  There are numerous ferns and flowers on the way.  The first trail junction sign indicates it is only .6 miles to Alberta Falls, so this part of my hike should not take too long. 

Ferns
7-31-2005 @ 7:33

Flowers
7-31-2005 @ 7:33

Trail junction sign
7-31-2005 @ 7:36

     Much of the trail follows Glacier Creek.  The easy trail and great scenery make this a very pleasant hike.

Glacier Creek
7-31-2005 @ 7.:49

Glacier Creek
7-31-2005 @ 7:49

     In no time at all, I reach Alberta Falls.  A couple takes my picture by the falls.

Richard at Alberta Falls
7-31-2005 @ 7:52

Alberta Falls
7-31-2005 @ 7:54

     The trail is steeper leaving Alberta Falls and not quite as smooth.  In another half hour, I travel .8 of a mile and come to the trail that eventually leads to Mills Lake.

 

 
 

Trail junction sign
7-31-2005 @ 8:22

 

     I turn right and head up that trail.  After passing several girls on this section, I make great time on a downhill stretch and travel the half mile to the Mills Lake trail junction in less than fifteen minutes.

 

 
 

Mills Lake trail junction
7-31-2005@ 8:34

 

     This is another very pretty section of trail.  The Park Service has a railing here to tie up horses, but prohibits their use beyond this point.  In a few more minutes, I come to a footbridge over the creek.  One slip here would result in wet boots.

Footbridge over creek
7-31-2005 @ 8:41

Footbridge over creek
7-31-2005 @ 8:42

     After this a series of steps leads up to some flat-rock formations to cross.  There are numerous cairns to show the way and it would be difficult to get lost.  After one last series of stone hopping, I reach Mills Lake.  The lake is absolutely beautiful.  It is named for Enos Mills, who lived in a cabin in the area for forty years.  He is considered to be the father of Rocky Mountain National Park.  I take a snack break next to a couple from Kansas City. 

Mills Lake
7-31-2005 @ 8:52

Couple from Kansas City
7-31-2005@ 9:03

Mills Lake
7-31-2005 @ 8:53

     I say goodbye to my new friends and head down the trail to continue on the loop to Lake Haiyaha.  At the trail junction, I turn left and see a rabbit sitting right in the middle of the trail.  A sign indicates the trail in not maintained after this.  That is immediately obvious as the trail becomes rough and meanders through the forest, but is easy to follow.  In a few minutes, I come to a very pretty pond with trout in it. 

Pond
7-31-2005 @ 9:35

Pond
7-31-2005 @ 9:37

     The trail seems to end here and I am unclear how to proceed.  I eventually make my way to the east side of the pond and begin a scramble down a cliff face to a creek below.  I pick up a trail again and follow it downhill, crossing the creek several times before eventually meeting up with an improved trail.  I ask a couple if I am close to Lake Haiyaha, but they inform me I am actually near where I started this morning, the Glacier Gorge trailhead.  Well, I knew I got messed up when I lost the trail back at that pond.  I guess I will take the shuttle from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to Bear Lake Trailhead and head up to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake from there.  I am a little tired so I will skip seeing Lake Haiyaha and the extra 2.2 miles of hiking it would take to reach it from this direction.  The trailhead and shuttle bus are absolutely packed with people, quite a contrast to the solitude I had when I started this morning.  I have two Granola bars, finish my first quart of Gatorade, and start up the trail around 10:30.  I cannot believe the hordes of people who are hiking up also.  This is worse than the Bright Angel trail at the Grand Canyon.  While the trail is paved, it is fairly steep.  I reach Nymph Lake in a few minutes.  It is pretty and is covered with lily pads. 

Nymph Lake
7-31-2005 @ 10:47

Nymph Lake
7-31-2005 @ 10:47

     The trail from here to Dream Lake loops around the north side of Nymph lake and then heads westerly again.  The first part of this section of trail is paved and the trail remains relatively easy.  In about twenty minutes, I reach Dream Lake.  Like all the previous lakes I have visited today, Dream Lake is very pretty.  Several people are fishing.

Dream Lake
7-31-2005 @11:07

Dream Lake
7-31-2005 @11:07

   The trail from Dream Lake to Emerald Lake is a little rougher.  Just on the west side of Dream Lake the Park Service has constructed a wooden boardwalk to get over a marshy area.  Not too far after this they built a section of steps to make the last climb to Emerald Lake a little easier. 

Wooden Boardwalk
7-31-2005 @ 11:10

Wooden Boardwalk
7-31-2005 @ 11:10

Steps to Emerald Lake
7-31-2005 @ 11:25

     About twenty minutes after leaving Dream Lake, I reach Emerald Lake.  With its dark green color, it is easy to see how it got its name.  It is quite majestic, but the fifty or so people here detract from its beauty.  Some ducks are bobbing for the food people are throwing into the lake.  A large Steller's Jay has come right up to my feet for some scraps.

Emerald Lake
7-31-2005 @ 11:29
Emerald Lake
7-31-2005 @ 11:30

Ducks bobbing for food
7-31-2005 @ 11:31

Emerald Lake
7-31-2005 @ 11:40

Steller's Jay
7-31-2005 @ 11:44

     After another snack and more Gatorade, I head back down the trail.  These day hikes are a lot of fun when you are not carrying a forty-five pound pack like I usually am at the Grand Canyon.  I continue to be amazed at the masses of people hiking up as I approach the trailhead.  A ten minute ride on the shuttle back to the park and ride location and I reach my parked car.  This was a delightful hike and none of the lakes I visited today will disappoint you.  I have the following recommendations if you are doing one of these hikes:

  • Unless you leave very early, don't expect to find a parking spot at either the Glacier Gorge trailhead or the Bear Lake trailhead.  You will probably be better off to take the free shuttle to the trailhead.

  • The hike to Alberta Falls is short, the trail is smooth and easy, and the views are magnificent.

  • The trail from Alberta Falls to Mills Lake is slightly rougher and a little steeper, but the reward at the end is worth it.

  • If you are hiking up to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, or Emerald Lake, you might want to leave very early.  I was completely turned off by the multitudes of people.  All three of these lakes were pretty with Emerald Lake being a real gem.

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