Autumn hike at Loch Vale offers a glimpse of winter – Estes Park Trail-Gazette


While it still looks a lot like fall in Estes Park, hiking the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park is a great adventure that gives a little taste of the season ahead. At 10,190 feet above sea level, Loch Vale is already obscured in winter.

My friends and I left before dawn and parked at the Glacier Gorge trailhead on Bear Lake Road. Equipped with headlamps, trekking poles and spikes, we started the first part of the trail towards Alberta Falls.

This part of the trail is a nice hike that takes you over a wooded trail and across bridges over mountain streams. When we got to Alberta Falls at about 0.08 mile it was partially frozen… surprisingly. This is one of the easiest waterfalls to reach in the RMNP. The effort is always worth it, no matter the season.

At the falls the trail takes a sharp right turn and gets rockier as you go up between Glacier Creek and Glacial Knobs.

The cliffs along this part of the trail are beautiful. The views in all directions were changing every minute as the sun rose and painted the sky.

This is the same trail that takes you to Mills Lake. Instead of going left at this point, you go straight ahead towards Loch Vale which is higher than Mills Lake. At this point you hike a few major switchbacks to take you. Icy Brook cascades down into the valley below.

The first glimpse of Loch Vale is breathtaking. When we arrived the lake was a partially frozen beauty surrounded by rugged mountains. I was surprised and in love with the small island in the middle.

The mountains you see around the lake include Taylor Peak, Thatchtop, and Sharkstooth.

The day we were there it was very windy and we were only able to stay by the lake for a short time. We chose to take a break and have our snack on the way back.

The round trip hike to Loch Vale is 5.7 miles and is rated as moderate. It begins at an altitude of 9,175 ‘with the highest point at 10,208’ for a total elevation gain of 1,081 ‘.

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