There are Blue Lakes all over the state of Colorado, including Rocky Mountain National Park. However, Blue Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park is a challenge because the lake is 5.25 miles into the backcountry and there’s no trail in the final quarter mile or so to the lake.
Blue Lake is in the Glacier Gorge valley above Black Lake. Hikers can start at Bear Lake trailhead, or Glacier Gorge trailhead, but I recommend Glacier Gorge. While it’s only 0.1 miles shorter, it has less of an elevation drop in the beginning and less elevation gain on the way out.
The parking lot at Glacier Gorge is often full by 7 a.m. on a weekend, so I recommend taking the shuttle bus. The Glacier Gorge trailhead (directions below) has a bathroom, some benches and a trail information sign.
The hike starts with a few steps down and soon crosses a bridge over a roaring creek. At the first trail split, don’t turn left. That trail goes to Sprague Lake and Glacier Basin. Instead, go a short distance until you see the sign directing you to turn left for Alberta Falls, Mills Lake and Loch Vale. Here the trail levels out as it winds through the trees and across a stream.
As hikers approach the canyon of Glacier Creek Gorge, they hear the water before they see it. Look over the edge (just don’t get too close) and into the colorful canyon carved out by the river. Continue hiking up the now rockier trail to Alberta Falls.
The 25-foot waterfall at Alberta Falls is a treat in all seasons. Come in the winter and you’ll find it mostly frozen. Come in the spring to see it gushing strong with snow melt. Come in the summer to enjoy the refreshing spray. Come in the fall for a picture of the falls with the turning leaves.
From Alberta Falls, it’s almost 2 miles to Mills Lake. Here the trail gets rockier and steeper. The trail is moderate so many families enjoy this hike. There are several stream crossings along the way with wood bridges. At each stream crossing, look upstream and downstream to see the various cascades. While not large, the cascades make for pretty pictures.
As hikers approach Mills Lake, many are watching their feet so they don’t trip on the rocks. But that first view of the mountains surrounding the lake is wonderful. That mountain range not only features the 14,000-foot peak that’s on the Colorado quarter, Longs Peak. The mountain range also has several other peaks over 13,000 feet high. Some say the mountain range is called Keyboard of the Winds because of the sound the wind makes as it moves between the peaks.
After a photo stop at Mills Lake, follow the trail on the east side of the lake. This is a flat trail most of the way to Jewel Lake with one short, steep section that goes up, then back down to Jewel Lake. Many visitors turn around at Mills Lake so Jewel is a quieter, less crowded spot.
The trail between Jewel Lake and Black Lake has several boardwalks over marshy areas. The trail also gets steeper. There’s even a section where you’ll hike through hundreds of big, downed trees. A microburst hit this area in late 2011 creating a mess. Workers have cut enough of the trees so hikers can get through this area on the trail without any problems.
It’s about two miles from Mills Lake to Black Lake with about 700 feet of elevation gain. The last section is steep and rocky, but the cascade created by the outflow of the lake is a treat. Pause here for a photo of the cascade with the mountain peak (Thatchtop) to the west. Then crest the ridge to the basin holding Black Lake.
Black Lake is a high alpine lake in a rocky bowl. Depending on when you visit, you’ll likely see several cascades on the walls, feeding Black Lake. There are no bad pictures of Black Lake. You’ll likely be tempted to walk part of the shoreline to see this lake from different angles.
When you’re done exploring, you should see a trail on the east side of the lake. Cross the outflow of the lake and take the trail into the forest. You’ll only be in the trees for a short distance before you’ll start climbing up the valley above Black Lake. This is a steep, rocky, skinny trail next to a beautiful cascade. Take your time as you climb here. The trail gains about 400 feet in the next 0.4 miles.
At the top of the cascade, I read there was an unmarked fork/trail split. Go left for Blue Lake, go right for Green and Frozen. I never saw that trail split.
Basically, when it appears the “main” trail is start veering right and heading for the big valley north of you, you need to continue straight ahead and start veering slightly left. Blue Lake is on a shelf to your southeast.
While I had five people with me looking for the trail and while we encountered a couple others coming back from Blue Lake, no one saw a trail. You need to just veer slightly left as you hike up the drainage from Black Lake and continue hiking up another 200 feet or so in elevation from the “main trail” to find Blue Lake.
The hikers we encountered said to climb up the rock slope, hike down and up a second ridge to see Blue Lake. We hiked up the rocky slope and saw Blue Lake on a shelf, so we just went there.
After hiking 5.25 miles and nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain, we were pretty happy to sit on the rocks overlooking the lake. If you have the energy, I highly recommend walking to the shoreline and seeing the views from around the lake.
When you’re done exploring, the views of the upper Glacier Gorge valley to your north are impressive and so is Black Lake on the hike back down. If you have the energy, the hike to Frozen Lake from Blue is about 1.3 miles depending on how straight a route you’re able to take.
Details: The hike to Blue Lake and back is about 10.5 miles with 2200 feet of elevation gain, depending on how much exploring you do.
In the area, don’t miss the Loch, Sky Pond, Bluebird Lake and Thunder Lake. Find more Rocky Mountain National Park hikes and hikes across the state in this list of 400+ Colorado hiking trails. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the bottom of this article and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Denver take U.S. 36 through Boulder and Lyons to Estes Park. In Estes Park, turn left on Elkhorn Avenue (still U.S. 36). Drive through part of town. Watch for the signs that says U.S. 34 straight ahead and U.S. 36 turns left (Moraine Avenue) and turn left. Follow Moraine Avenue to the park’s entrance. Just past the entrance station, turn left on Bear Lake Road. I recommend taking Bear Lake Road to the shuttle parking lot and riding the shuttle to Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Glacier Gorge Trailhead is the first trailhead to fill up each morning.