Skip to content

Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge Loop Trail, RMNP, July 18, 2010

June 5, 2011


(Note – Yes, it’s 2011, but I’m still posting about some hikes I did in 2010.  But, I’ve also started posting about hikes in 2011.  You’ll just have to scan down to see them.)

And it came to pass that one weekend I felt like doing “something different”.  Yeah.  Like, umm, not driving up Poudre Canyon again.  For a while.  And, no, I really didn’t want to drive up to Laramie, WY and points west.  Well, that really only left one area close by.  Yes, RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park).  So, I got up fairly early, since, well, it IS tourist season so parking is a little tricky in some areas, and headed to RMNP.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (and there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself.  A Google Earth map can be found here. You will need to use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a map that shows the loop I took (care of the National Park Service). Please note that all links open a new browser window.


This was one of my “I don’t really know where I’m going to go hiking so I’ll just drive and eventually get there” kind of decision of which trail to end up at.  Which is what I did.

It was a very nice day and I got up into the park, and,

“….hmmmm, turn here and go right towards Trail Ridge?”

“No, guess I’ll turn left.  Yes, left feels good.”

“Lets see, should I stop here?  Nah, I’ll just keep driving till the road ends.”

“Oh look.  Imagine that.  The Bear Lake parking area.  Guess I’m supposed to park and hike here.”

And, since it was before 8 am, there was still some open parking (its actually quite a large parking area, but it does fill up quickly in summer time).  Of course, the Glacier Gorge parking area had already been full, or I would have parked there.  Oh well.  Fate.

(Note – RMNP has a great shuttle bus system.  So, if you get up too late to find a parking space, enquire about the available shuttle buses (some of which can be caught right at the visitor’s center) and let someone else do the driving.)

I wandered over to the trail head, still not sure where I was headed, and took a look at the map.

“Yesssss.  Well, nah, don’t feel like going up Flattop mountain, thank you very much.  Glacier Gorge?  Hmmm.  The Lock?  Hmmm.  Geee.  I’ve never been to a lot of those areas.”

And, it came to me that most of the hiking around Bear Lake I had never done.  Which, as I have been living in the area for approximately 237 years, you would have thought I’d hiked most of RMNP by now.  But then, as I looked around the trail head, I could understand why much of it I had still left to hike.  It was, to make a slight understatement, crowded.  Well, I’d just act like a tourist then.  And, since I’d never been to a lot of the areas, I’d do a loop.  And that’s what I did.  A very nice loop that let me get introduced to the area.  And, to my surprise, I liked it.  I plan on going back (although, maybe not in the middle of the summer : )


In addition to the Google map link above, please see a Microsoft Live map below. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from my home in Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (and move the map around) to get more detail. Just make sure you don’t close the Microsoft “My Places” editor that pops up with map. If you close the editor (it is small and you can use/scroll/zoom the map without the editor getting too much in the way) without first saving the new location, the location button will disappear. If that happens, just close the map and click on it again on my web page.

Map picture


If you go to this link, you’ll find a very nice map of RMNP that you can zoom in on and scroll around.  And the loop I did was the following (and easy to see on the map);

Start at Bear Lake, head down the trail to the Glacier Gorge trailhead, take the trail from there to Alberta Falls.  After Alberta falls I acted like I was heading to the Lock.  But, after a while I hit an intersection and took the trail to Lake Haiyaha (but, I took the primitive trail option; more on that later).  Then I just kept on the trail to Dream lake, past Nymph lake, and ended back at Bear Lake.

How far was that?  Well, around 6 miles.  I think.  But, it gave me a great view of the country and all the other trails that I could come back and do some other time.  Like, in the Fall : )

Okay.  Enough of all that.  On to the hike.  The loop started off in the forest.  It was very green and quiet.  I remember lots of ferns.  Elves flitting through the leaves.  Okay, maybe not the elves (although, there might have been elves).  This section of trail heading towards Glacier Gorge trailhead sorta parallels the road, but there are only a few times that you can see the road through the trees and I don’t remember hearing any car noises.



Once past the Glacier Gorge trailhead, you begin gaining altitude fairly rapidly.  This provides for some very nice views.  Which means you should stop and enjoy the views (while attempting to find some oxygen to breathe : )


Zoom.  Pretty sure that’s looking up Glacier Gorge.  But, I could be wrong.  Anyway, that’s one area in the future I want to hike to.


Part of the time you are hiking along, or traversing, a stream lined with aspens.  Yes, well then, this is a good time to reflect on the crowds.  So, even though the trail, in general, particularly up to Alberta Falls, had people in it that were coming and going (not as bad as a supermarket, but definitely not a wilderness experience : ), you could stop at any point, move off the trail a few feet, sit down, and relax.  And feel like you were, almost, by yourself (as long as you didn’t turn around and look at the trail).


And then I got to Alberta Falls and took a LOT of photos.


It was really a nice area.  Quite a bit of water coming down.  A couple of weeks prior to this and I’m sure it would have been even more “roaring” than it was today.  Towards the end of summer it might quiet down a bit.  But, today it was a bit of a spectacle.  Not Niagara, but fun to see.

Closer look.


Here I tried to do a “special effects” photo by slowing the shutter speed.  Makes it kinda different.  Of course, these all look a lot better on my main photo web gallery at


After Alberta Falls the crowds thinned out some and you began to feel like you were entering the high country.


I want to go over that way sometime also.


Then you reached an intersection of trails.  You take off from here to either Glacier Gorge (Mills Lake), The Loch, or Lake Haiyaha.  I went to Lake Haiyaha.


Except, instead of taking the “main” trail to Lake Haiyaha, I took the “back way”.  Well, of course I did.  I had to.  It called to me. These things happen to me.  And, as it turned out, it was one of the true hidden gems of a trail.  Apologize about the darkness of the sign for the “unimproved trail”, but you will spot it right after turning on the main trail that heads to Lake Haiyaha (on your right).


I could tell almost immediately that the decision had been, as it was put in one movie, “a wise decision”.


After a short hike, the “primitive” trail passed a little lake.  I spent my “lunch break” there and enjoyed the sunshine and the view.  During my time there I saw no people (a couple did show up just as I was leaving) which is fairly incredible for being so close to Bear Lake.  This could be because the trail does not go directly to the lake, but passes it off to one side.  So, keep a little bit of a look out so that you don’t walk right past it.


Well, I saw no one except a very strange character.  He didn’t seem to be a threat, but I didn’t like the way he was eye balling my bottle of G2.


After leaving the lake, the trail wound back towards the main trail, and Lake Haiyaha, giving an occasional view of the surrounding mountains.  Such as this one of Longs Peak.


Not sure what stream this is, but it was pretty.


Once back on the main trail, you get a glimpse of the valley that contains Lake Haiyaha.  This is just a small pond.  You need to hike up a short side trail to get to the actual lake itself.


Another view of Longs Peak.  This was on part of the trail between Lake Haiyaha and Dream Lake.  I began to see a lot more people in this section of the trail.  Once past Dream Lake, and all the way back to Bear Lake itself, the trail was relatively crowded with families.  But, as they all seemed to be having a good time, it didn’t upset me too much that I didn’t have the trail all to myself.


View of Hallett Peak from the trail.




As it turned out, it was a great little loop.  Of course, the awesome weather helped.  Hope to get back into Glacier Gorge some Fall day when the aspens are golden (and the people have thinned out a little).  Of course, there are a lot of great trails to take at that time of the year.  So, could be a while before I return.  But, I guess it’s not going anywhere : )

– Geoff Weatherford

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 23, 2011 7:17 pm

    Your photos where great, makes me wish I was there now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: