• Michael O'Keeffe

Two Days, Two Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park: Part I - Glacier Gorge

For access to big mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park provides the easiest access from our house. An hours drive to the entrance it is amazing to be so close to one of the most popular national parks in the country. However, that's just it, Rocky Mountain is busy, very very busy. In summer, millions of visitors swarm the park making it a less than desirable place to explore when compared to the many other non national park wildlands nearby that see a fraction of the traffic. Regardless, there is a reason Rocky Mountain is a national park. In a state full of stunning mountain ranges this spot gained the highest level of protection. For that reason it's worth checking out!

One thing that is true in most national parks is that after a few miles on the trail the crowds will thin out pretty quickly. Rocky Mountain is no exception. With 265,769 acres to explore it is amazing that the majority of visitors will only hit the same 5-6 trails leaving the rest wild and open. A permit system put in place last year during COVID has also thinned out crowds a bit in the most congested spots. With all this in mind I decided to brave the crowds and snag a last minute day permit.

My goal was Black Lake, a dark round lake set in a deep bowl surrounded by soaring granite peaks at the end of Glacier Gorge. However, I had to start at the park's most popular trailhead. The first two miles of trail were jammed packed with throngs of people. Just an endless train of humans in both directions. Quite anxiety inducing to be quite honest. However, once I hit the junction for the Glacier Gorge trail the crowds thinned and by the last mile of the trail I saw more elk than humans. The lake was truly exceptional. Waterfalls poured off the smooth granite into the lake with emerald green grasses gracing the calm shore. I scrambled up above the lake into the higher basin (one that deserves further exploration) and sat to enjoy the wonderful view of the lake and surrounding peaks. I have been to Rocky Mountain quite a few times before and after visiting many other national parks (28) I never regarded the park too highly, maybe it was the crowds. However, after spending a few hours in this basin I quickly realized how wrong I was.

The massive craggy peaks that rise 3,000 feet above the lake with elk grazing all around and the sound of waterfalls echoing through the cirque it was just stunning! This spot in particular joined the ranks of places that I previously thought were untouchable (Glacier in MT, the French Alps, the Minarets in CA). A truly magnificent mountain wilderness! So without further ado here are the photos from my adventure.


Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
The clear calm waters of Mill Lake, the first of three lakes along the trail.
McHenrys Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
In the upper basin, the views of McHenrys Peak and the Arrowhead are dramatic.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Above Black Lake in the upper reaches of Glacier Gorge.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
McHenrys Peak above Black Lake.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
The scale of this place is huge! It is impossible to convey in a photo.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
The Arrowhead towers above the enchanted shore of Black Lake.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
McHenrys Peak rises 3,000 feet above Black Lake.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Black Lake sits in a deep granite bowl.
McHenrys Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Close-up of McHenrys Peak.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and emerald green grasses line Black Lake.
Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
McHenrys again with a large cascade sliding over the granite.
Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
The outlet of Black Lake looking towards the entrance to Glacier Gorge.
Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Back down into Glacier Gorge.
Ribbon Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Ribbon Falls near the outlet to Black Lake.
Ribbon Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
An impressive cascade beneath the mighty peaks.
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
One of many elk I saw along the trail.
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
"Hey! What are you doing?" - actual quote from the elk
Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
I love this shot! The dark forest giving way to just gnarly peaks with waterfalls tumbling off high cliffs. Incredible!
Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
More of the same!
Jewel Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Jewel Lake looking back towards the upper gorge.
Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Mill Lake in the evening light.
Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
That Limber pine at the edge of the water was a perfect tree.
Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
An old gnarled tree at Mill Lake.
Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Clear calm water at Mill Lake.
Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Serene reflections in Mill Lake.
Mill Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Pretty sunset on the hike out.

You will want to stick around for Part II of this series as I encountered a stunning sunset in another part of RMNP. To stay fully up to date be sure to subscribe below to keep up with my latest adventures! Cheers!

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