I’ve spent a day here and there over a few weekends hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, covering a little over 30 miles of trails, and still not nearly complete with all the trails on the East side of the park. I’ve tried focusing on the Bear Lake area and slowly working my way outwards.
Bear Lake is the main area that connects to many of the trails. The lake itself is only a half mile hike and is extremely easy. It’s a simple loop around the entire lake.
Dream Lake is a 1.1 mile hike from Bear Lake. It’s a much cooler view and I definitely want to see this lake when it’s not frozen over. The hike itself is beautiful.
Continuing another 0.7 miles from Dream Lake takes you to Emerald Lake. This is another one I’d like to see in the summer. The Dream Lake and Emerald Lake trails seem to be more popular than some of the other trails I did, likely because they are easier trails.
Just before you reach Dream Lake, there’s a connecting trail that leads to Lake Haiyaha. I took this trail on my way back. It’s a 1.1 mile trail according to the map, though the trail sign says it’s 1.2 miles. It had recently snowed and the trail seemed a lot less traveled and more difficult than the Dream Lake and Emerald Lake trails. It began as a fairly narrow ledge walking through some spots with much deeper snow. I wish I took my snowshoes with me, as my Yaktraxs did very little to gain extra traction in the loose snow. It’s another beautiful hike. I particularly like the rocky area directly before you reach the lake – very cool view and the trail all but disappears.
It was a very windy day when I hiked up to the Loch. For the past couple of days the Yaktraxs that I was using kept moving around as I was hiking and I’d have to stop to readjust them every 15 to 30 minutes. This got very annoying. So, I went to REI and upgraded to some MICROspikes and, boy, are they awesome. They stayed in place the entire time while hiking up to the Loch, which is 3.1 miles (one way) from the Glacier Gorge trailhead. On a different day, I also stumbled upon an unmarked trail forked off the Mills Lake trail that ended up leading to the Loch. The unmarked trail was a lot harder. In many places I’d break through the snow and my entire leg would disappear.
The views on this trail were spectacular. A good section of the trail is out in the open in a valley between two ridges and it offers great views of the mountains.
Beyond the Loch the trail continues and then eventually forks apart. At this point I had switched to snowshoes because the trail was not as packed down as it was leading up to the Loch. I was also 100% alone. I didn’t see a single other soul for the mile between the Loch and Timberline Falls. It was just me, the wind, and the wilds of winter.
The closer I got to Timberline Falls, the less and less I could see any resemblance of a trail. The snow was getting thicker, the wind was blowing hard, and I kept walking in the direction the trail should have been. I had no idea if I was heading in the right direction or not until I made an intense climb up a very steep, snow packed incline and finally saw a wooden sign indicating I was exactly where I wanted to be. It was a strenuous climb to get there. For reference, Timberline Falls sits above 10,000ft in elevation.
My intent was to continue on all the way to Sky Pond, but the next section of trail meant climbing a very steep, rocky area that was covered in ice and would have required scrambling to make it through. Being that I hadn’t seen a single other person in the area I decided not to continue on because if I fell I’d likely be there for awhile. I did attempt it, but stopped after only 20 ft or so of climbing up.
The hike down was rough. The incline was so steep that instead of hiking I sat in the snow and slid down the incline for as far as I could. Snowshoeing down is a lot harder than snowshoeing up. It was also amazing how quickly the strong wind had almost completely erased my tracks in the snow from my hike up.
Another day, another hike. This time it was hiking up to Bierstadt Lake, roughly a three mile hike, round-trip. I ended up hiking a little more than that to record everything. I’m starting to like video over photos as I feel it captures more of the moment. I liked this hike mostly because I didn’t see any other people until on my way down.
I also hiked up to Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, and attempted some other longer hikes but never made it to where I wanted to go. With all of the snow, the longer and less traveled trails are harder to stay on course and it mostly seemed like a guessing game.