Green Lake, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Green Lake - 12.3 miles
Glacier Gorge Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||12.3 miles (distance may vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,240' - 11,555' (11,580' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,315' net elevation gain (+2,979' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Green Lake - 12.3 Miles Round-Trip
Green Lake lies at the base of Pagoda Mountain in the southeast corner of Glacier Gorge. A popular trail leads 4.8 miles to Black Lake, past which a rugged x-country route continues 1.3 miles in a spectacular alpine landscape to Green Lake.
Anticipate steep, ill-defined conditions past Black Lake, where basic navigation skills are required. Carry a good map for the most efficient route. Incoming weather can be difficult to see over the walls of Glacier Gorge until it's right on top of you. Anticipate full exposure at high altitude, and get an early start to avoid afternoon storms:
The trail rises steadily through young aspen and mixed pine to Alberta Falls (.85 miles : 9,423'). A moderate climb continues to the North Longs Peak Trail split (1.6 miles : 9,768'), where it banks SW and flattens through a narrow slot between Thatchtop Mountain (12,668') and the Glacier Knobs.
The trail drops to Glacier Junction and bears left to Mills Lake (2.1 miles : 9,804').
The trail turns south, crossing Glacier Creek twice and sections of cairn-marked rock slabs to Mills Lake (2.65 miles : 9,955'). Here you'll enjoy terrific views of Glacier Gorge and the jagged ridges and peaks that define it.
The trail - now intermittently rugged, undulating and heavily rooted - follows the lake's east shore to its marshy juxtaposition with Jewel Lake (3.1 miles : 9,967').
It continues past Jewel Lake through a string of marshes aided by narrow, elevated planks. A cluttered forest reclaims the trail (3.2 miles), which closely follows Glacier Creek all the way to Black Lake.
Anticipate steep undulations and occasional loss of clarity over the next 1.5 miles; when in doubt, simply hold your line and follow the creek. You'll pass the Glacier Gorge Backcountry Campsite spur (3.35 miles : 10,068') and scale newly built stairs.
Travel intensifies in a thick forest to a cairn-marked rock slab (3.85 miles : 10,205'), then moderates across a meadow with good views of the upper gorge (4.1 miles).
The Arrowhead (12,387'), Powell Peak (13,208) and McHenrys Peak (13,327') frame the west, while Pagoda Mountain (13,497') and Keyboard of the Winds - a line of pinnacles near the summit of Longs Peak - rise to the east. Chiefs Head Peak (13,579') and The Spearhead (12,575') cap the upper valley.
Uneven travel continues to the base of Ribbon Falls (4.7 miles : 10,540'), which spill from the north shore of Black Lake. The trail twists steeply beside the falls and hops a line of flat boulders across the outlet to Black Lake (4.8 miles : 10,630').
It scales a small knoll to the east shore (4.85 miles), where you'll turn east and begin a strenuous climb up Black Lake's inlet into the tundra. The initial climb follows a well-defined path beside the inlet with exceptional views of the cirque below.
It reaches an unmarked fork at 5.15 miles (11,980'), where some map depictions of a clear path east of this stream belie the actual landscape before you.
Though you'll trace this stream all the way to Green Lake, you'll necessarily favor its west side, as the east side is generally unsuitable for efficient travel.
Bear right at this fork and cross the stream to regain the trail. It threads dense willow and large boulders to a second, more precarious stream crossing (5.27 miles); once through it levels in a sprawling alpine terrace of rock slabs, meadow, ponds, boulder fields and streams.
The on-off again trail is gradually absorbed by it, leaving navigation to a good map, eye and intuitive read of the landscape. Cairns offer guidance, but note that many run off to climbing routes, improvised campsites or simply nowhere in particular.
The trail follows the stream into the valley's southeast corner, its origin - and your destination - increasingly clear. The final approach crosses a perennial snowfield and squeezes through a narrow chute that levels on the rocky shore of Green Lake (6.15 miles : 11,555'). A relatively mild climb leads above Green Lake to a small tarn at the foot of Pagoda Mountain.
- N40 18.621 W105 38.419 — Glacier Gorge Trailhead
- N40 18.237 W105 38.289 — .85 miles : Alberta Falls
- N40 17.982 W105 38.391 — 1.6 miles : North Longs Peak Trail junction
- N40 17.842 W105 38.757 — 2.1 miles : Glacier Junction
- N40 17.512 W105 38.597 — 2.65 miles : Mills Lake
- N40 17.222 W105 38.387 — 3.1 miles : Jewel Lake
- N40 16.911 W105 38.354 — 3.35 miles : Glacier Gorge Campground spur
- N40 16.842 W105 38.294 — 3.8 miles : Regain trail after travel over rock slab
- N40 16.223 W105 38.255 — 4.35 miles : Cross footbridge to right
- N40 16.067 W105 38.398 — 4.7 miles : Ribbon Falls
- N40 15.932 W105 38.395 — 4.85 miles : Black Lake - east edge
- N40 15.913 W105 38.078 — 5.15 miles : Bear left at fork
- N40 15.498 W105 37.954 — 5.6 miles: Green Lake cross-country mark #1
- N40 15.310 W105 37.966 — 6.15 miles : Green Lake
- The unmaintained route is ill-defined, sparingly marked and deceptively vast. Cairns provide guidance, but are best used in conjunction with known topographical features and visual cues drawn from maps.
- Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and get below treeline before storms develop. Expect cooler temperatures, strong sun and wind in this completely exposed environment.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Glacier Gorge Backcountry Campsite
- There is one designated site located across Glacier Creek in a heavily forested area. A marked sign 3.4 miles from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead leads you over the creek on a footbridge to the site. Use red arrowheads on trees for additional guidance. Camp safely away from dead trees, as near
as possible to the silver metal arrowhead.
Bivouac Sites for Climbers
- The Spearhead (Moon Pillar): 8 climbers
- Chiefs Head Peak - Pagoda Mountain: 4 climbers
- McHenrys Peak: 6 climbers
Rules and Regulations
- A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
- Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Horses are not permitted beyond Glacier Junction (2.1 miles). There is a hitchrack located just beyond this junction where you may dismount.
Directions to Trailhead
Just beyond the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located on the left side of the road and has limited parking. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Bear Lake Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park