If you’ve never been to Rocky Mountain National Park, be advised: The hike to Lake of Glass should not be your introduction. Certainly, more treacherous journeys can be had in the 265,000-acre treasure, such as the ascent up resident fourteener Longs Peak. But there are many other safer bets if you’re unfamiliar with the park or not in the best backcountry shape – options in which you won’t be scrambling up beside a waterfall to the destination.
Rockymountainnationalpark.com, the go-to Web source, calls the final approach to Lake of Glass “one of the park’s better kept secrets – unmarked, inconspicuous, and at first glance, unlikely.” The climb is slippery when the cascade is running and tricky also in winter, as we experienced: We stepped up a vertical snowpack, clutching the footprints of others, finding purchase carefully. You might imagine the descent was also tricky, trickier even. The challenge might entice. And in the park where it can be difficult to escape the crowds, Lake of Glass offers a rare, unforgettable experience above treeline.
If Bear Lake Road is open to traffic, either drive on it to the Glacier Gorge trailhead or to the bigger parking lot at the Bear Lake trailhead, from which you can access the Glacier Gorge trail system leading to the destination. The Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail ascends, at times harshly, through the forest of aspen and pine to the Loch, the high alpine lake framed by soaring, craggy faces.
On this trip, we walked across the Loch’s iced-over, windswept surface. In summer, continue on the trail along the north shore before entering the woods again on the water’s west side. At the Andrew Creek Trail junction, take the path on the left that stretches to Timberline Falls. Here, begin your scramble to Lake of Glass above.
Trip log: 8.2 miles round trip (out and back), 1,822-foot elevation gain, 10,808 feet max
Getting there: From the Beaver Meadows entrance on U.S. 36, head west before turning on Bear Lake Road toward Moraine Park. The Glacier Gorge trailhead is about 9 miles away, and the Bear Lake trailhead is farther.
FYI: $20 day pass per vehicle. Check road conditions: bit.ly/1rpGrTR. If both lots fill during peak season, take the shuttle near the Bierstadt trailhead. No dogs.
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