May 27th, 3am, we arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park for the long awaited opening day. Rocky Mountain National Park had been closed for several months due to Covid-19. The long wait was over, well almost. The park didn’t wind up opening until a little after 6am, so much for a nice sunrise hike.
We entered Rocky Mountain National Park and headed right for Bear Lake trailhead. On the drive in we saw a bunch of elk by the roads as they were not shy, as they haven’t seen a swarm of cars come through the park in quite some time.
Check out this video I made of our Rocky Mountain National Park opening day hike below, filmed with the GoPro 7 and 8, with some video clips taken with the Nikon D780
Bear Lake Trailhead
One of the first cars at Bear Lake trailhead we were, and of course we parked right next to the bathrooms. VIP parking at Bear Lake. Donned the micro-spikes immediately as there was patches of snow right at the beginning. Although it was pretty soft and slushy, the spikes were kind of helpful though.
Being one of the first to break in a trail spring time in Rocky Mountain National Park was amazing. After hiking for about a mile we broke off trail to get closer down to Glacier Creek. Photography time.
Took some slow shutter speed photos of the creek and a few videos with the Nikon D780, and then proceeded to head up to Alberta Falls. It was just a short hike from here so I left the camera mounted to my tripod for the short trek.
Alberta Falls was Roaring
When we got to the water fall we had it to ourselves. Once again I got down by the mouth of the waterfall and took several pictures, along with some video clips.
After playing around at the waterfall for 20 minutes or so we were off hiking to our next destination: Mills Lake. The hike from Alberta Falls to the Mills Lake trail junction takes you through the forest, then along the top of a valley that overlooks the creek. This part of the trail is very dry and the views are spectacular.
Once you hit the trail junction you are less than a mile away to Mills Lake. You will cross the creek a few times and optional overlook with some pretty cool views.
Mills Lake – Not Used to Seeing it Thawed Out
Once we made it to Mills Lake there were a few people that beat us there, but we still pretty much had it all to ourselves. It was fully thawed out. I made it to the lake before about 4 times and it was frozen enough to walk on every time. It was kind of sad not being able to walk straight across the lake, but also nice seeing it for the first time not frozen.
Only stopped at Mills Lake for a brief moment, and chatted with some other people that said they were going for Black Lake as well.
Left Mills Lake and right before Jewel Lake we decided to don snowshoes. Probably not the best idea as it was dry right after the big patches of 2-3 ft of snow. Regardless, we kept them on and kept our hike going past Jewel Lake.
Bushwhacking and Post-holing Everywhere
Spring time on the Glacier Gorge trail brings all sorts of conditions. We managed to find all the steps and all of the bridges, but we got off trail several times due to fallen limbs, trees, and other obstacles blocking the trail.
We ran into two other hikers that were also en route to Black Lake. Chatted with them for a bit on route finding and then went separate ways. Met up with them again about 15 minutes later, the path they took was no more fun then ours. This was repeated 2 or 3 times.
We would find the trail, then have to break it, sink in snow, hop over dead trees, and then we would get back on trail again. This was way more complicated compared to when we hiked to Black Lake back in November.
Lots of bushwhacking, getting off-route, post-holing in snow, then getting excited when we got back on the actual trail, only to get off it again.
When we got to the big time elevation gain of the trail, there was a steep slope of snow. This was the obvious way to go although it hadn’t been broken into yet. The slope, at the time we were there, 100% needed an ice axe to get up. There were other ways around this, although they were very sketchy. Deep crevasses of snow everywhere that dropped into the creek, super sketchy.
Took the slope up with just an ice axe, to encounter the other steep part of the hike right before Ribbon Falls. We didn’t really have the right equipment to safely do this so we called it a hike fail. If we had some actual crampons this would have been a breeze.
Hike Fail to Black Lake on RMNP Opening Day
The snow slopes were angled between 30-60 degrees as well, which is prime avalanche terrain but never felt like there were any soft spots. Running behind and seeing dark clouds in the sky we headed back.
Hiking back to Mills Lake seemed much easier, as we were more close to being on the actual trail. Only had to hop over 10 trees or so on the way back. The views on the Glacier Gorge trail are amazing though throughout the entire hike.
Overall the hiking experience on the opening day of Rocky Mountain National Park was amazing. Post-holing several hundred times in unpacked snow trails builds a ton of character. I’m sure as I’m writing this the conditions are much better with a more defined trail. Looking back at our route we were so close…
We will be returning in the near future to get Black Lake again, and hopefully have time to get the others, Green and Blue Lakes.
- Bear Lake Trailhead Elevation: 9,240ft
- Mills Lake Elevation: 9,967ft
- Our Hike fail Elevation: 10,303ft
- Our Hike Distance RT: 9.5 Miles
Have you been to Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park during the spring? Or any other time? Please leave a comment below!
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