Hiking to Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Black Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Updated: Aug 25
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, you will have plenty of choices of trails to take. The park is big, with 265,461 acres (414.78 square miles) to explore. As I mentioned before, this is one of the most visited national parks (ranked third) in the United States, so it can be crowded at times. But there is still a way to get away from the crowds, if you wish to. We come here at least once or twice a year to hike. Some of the best alpine lakes in Colorado are found here. The longer the trail, the more lakes you can discover. One of the best trails in the park with several lakes that you can hike to (if you are an average hiker) is the Black Lake Trail. This trail offers several lakes and waterfalls.
- GLACIER GORGE TRAILHEAD -
When hiking to Black Lake, we start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. To get to the trailhead from Beaver Meadows Entrance Station is about 8.6 miles. From Highway 36, turn left and follow the Bear Lake Road all the way - the same road going to Bear Lake. Unless you are really early, as in arriving at dawn, the parking area here is almost always full. Your best bet is to park at the Park & Ride located along the Lake Road and take the free shuttle bus to the trailhead. It will save you time when you find the Glacier Gorge parking full and have to turn around.
MILLS LAKE TO JEWEL LAKE TO BLACK Lake – 11 miles round-trip
This hike starts easy enough but soon becomes more moderate. One thing about taking this trail is that you can hike as far as you wish, depending on your stamina and hiking skills. Make sure to take a map with you, trails in RMNP are interconnected, and you don’t want to end up farther away than you originally planned. This trail will take you first to Alberta Falls then on to Mills Lake and Jewel Lake before you reach Black Lake. The trail goes beyond Black Lake, but this is where we stopped.
The trail to Alberta Falls, named after Alberta Sprague, wife of Abner Sprague, who homesteaded in Moraine Park in 1874, is where you will find a crowd. The close proximity of the falls to the trailhead and easy access makes Alberta Falls popular for most visitors to the park.
Alberta Falls is less than a mile and the beautiful waterfall is enough to keep most of the tourists here. It is indeed a beautiful waterfall, pretty spectacular in early summer when the water is gushing down from snowmelt above.
We especially love this first stretch of the trail in Autumn when the Aspen leaves turn into gold. Past the falls the trail gets steeper, but the crowd gets thinner. Above the falls, there are more aspen groves on both sides of the trail. Combine this with the landscape and you will get a spectacular view, in addition to the view that you will find from the lakes. This is anything but a boring trail with plenty of photo ops along the way.
Part of the trail above Alberta Falls follows alongside Glacier Creek. You can hear the water flowing down toward the falls below as you hike. Don't rush to your destination, take time to look around and you will find interesting spots along the trail.
About a mile from Alberta Falls is a junction leading to three different trails, make sure to read the sign going to Mills Lake, on the left. The other trails lead to The Loch and Sky Pond and to Lake Haiyaha. From the junction to Mills Lake is about half a mile.
Mills Lake alone is enough to end your hike here. The lake is beautiful with a stunning view of the mountains. We stop here for some energy boost before continuing on and enjoy the view at the same time.
From Mills Lake to Jewel Lake is just a short hike. Jewel Lake is smaller than Mills Lake, some hikers probably think it's part of Mills Lake. Hikers who are in a hurry to reach Black Lake will probably skip it. But Hermann and I take our time when hiking.
RIBBON FALLS & BLACK LAKE
From Jewell Lake to Black Lake is about 1.5 miles. But before you reach the lake, you will pass by Ribbon Falls, The trail passes alongside this falls. This is a beautiful spot, as you can see from the photo below, where you can admire the cascading water and the mountain peaks above.
From above the falls it is a short hike to Black Lake. Here, you will get a closer look at the surrounding mountain peaks, such as Pagoda Mountain (13,497 feet), Chiefs Head Peak (13,579 feet) and McHenry's Peak (13,327 feet).
For an even tougher hike, you can extend your hike to Frozen Lake, Green Lake and Blue Lake. This is for, as our friend says, "hardcore hikers". My husband went as far as Blue Lake before on a solo hike, but to Black Lake is enough of a hike for me. I admit I climbed a fourteener and hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand, but those were one-time hikes which I was willing to take just for the unique experience.