Black Lake-Rocky Mountain National Park
If ever you wanted to assure you and yours a “sure thing” when it comes to hitting the outdoors and being impressed with your experience, Rocky Mountain National Park (http://www.nps.gov/romo/) is the place for you. RMNP (http://www.nps.gov/romo/) is located roughly an hours drive from Denver (http://www.denver.org/) and is on the outskirts of the well known Estes Park (http://www.estesnet.com/). October is a great month to experience that park, as a lot of the tourist traffic has died down at this point, although there are some Elk rut watchers.
On this crisp morning, my goal is to pass Alberta Falls and get up to The Spearhead and Green Lake. Plan on getting to the trailhead early (before 7:00 a.m.) as this trail is very well trod due to the popularity of Alberta Falls as and end destination. The trail is very well groomed all the way to Alberta Falls and I’d wager to say that even a wheelchair would be able to make it over the trail with some effort. Beyond the falls though, it’s all feet.
Here’s a sign that gives you some idea of the distances for the first part of the march up the Glacier Gorge.
It doesn’t take long to get to Alberta Falls. A pleasant waterfall to be sure, and for many this is their stopping destination. Up to this point you’ll likely find the trail a bit congested, but the deeper in you get you’ll find you have much less company.
Just a few minutes beyond Alberta Falls, the trail begins to look more like a trail than an in-town walking path. This corridor can be exceptionally windy this time of year. Be prepared with the right gear to keep you comfy and out of the misery zone. The cold wind will tear your ears off up here.
After getting through this area you enter a well treed area that is out of the wind and very easy hiking.
You make the choice, but for me it’s Mills and Black Lakes for me!
The incline on the trail to Mills Lake is mostly gradual. You’ll have several opportunities to get a glimpse of the direction you’re headed and the views that you’ll be getting.
There is a marshy area that you will go through when you get closer to Mills Lake where it’s possible, depending on your balance, you could get a bit damp if you visit during a wet time of the year. Wooden rails are put together to form a boardwalk through the area, so you’ll likely do fine but be prepared with a dry pair of socks in your pack. You’ll know you’ve arrived at Mills Lake when you get to the log jam at the outlet of the lake. Lots of old fallen Pine have found their final resting place at the edge of the lake. (Black
In this photo you can see The Spearhead in the distance. It’s the sharp formation that’s being lit up by the sun just right of center.
To continue up to Black Lake, keep to the left side of Mills Lake. You’ll likely lose the trail for just a bit, and then find it again without much trouble. Not far beyond Mills Lake you’ll find this sign and know you’re on the right track.
It’s around this point that the trail becomes a bit more difficult. There is some minor rock scrambling and you will lose the trail now and again. There are some pretty steep areas, but not anything that becomes technical. If you go when there is snow present, be prepared for ice on the rocks. Along that way, there are some very nice open park areas that will allow you to get a little sun on your face in the early morning hours.
Ribbon Falls lie just below Black Lake.
After climbing up some rock stairs, and doing just a bit of scrambling, you find yourself at Black Lake. This is one of my favorite areas in RMNP. Stunning views surround this alpine lake. If you take a lunch, this would be a nice place to take a long break and soak in the views.
Looking down on Black Lake while ascending the very steep hill en route to the area below Spearhead. This is a pretty steep hill, and a bit daunting at first. The views at the top are well worth the effort. Go ahead and keep going, you’ll be glad you did.
Looking to the right while heading up the hill you may see some minor waterfalls coming over this cliff face.
You’ll have to hop over the stream, and some of the negotiating some of the rocks can be a bit tricky. Sometimes when you think you are on solid footing, you’re everything but.
Due to my pansy self having some altitude issues on this day, I couldn’t go any further. My poor soft head was about to fall off due to an altitude headache. Two weeks prior, my friend Lars and I made the same hike but my camera broke down so I had no photos and had to come back. Maybe I can talk him into sharing some of those photos with us so that you can see what the upper lakes look like.
All in all, a great hike that I’d rate as moderate to difficult on the difficulty scale if you decide to go past Mills Lake. The extra push above Black Lake is well worth the effort and you won’t be disappointed.