Loch Vale-Mills Lake

Round-Trip Length: 7.5 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,180 – 10,236′
Net Elevation Gain: +1,056′
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located 8.4 miles from the Meadows Entrance Station on Bear Lake Road. Just past 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.

The second week in a row I decided to go snowshoeing. I decided to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park as it had been a few years since I’ve been up there in the winter. The forecast called for sun and wind. It seems it is always windy up in the park in the winter. I was hoping for a clear day to get some good photos. Although there was blue sky, because the wind was quite strong and gusty, it was blowing snow all around the peaks and those weren’t as clear as I would have liked but it was still a great day to get out.

I arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and got on the trail around 9:55am. A short distance up the trail, I came to a bridge crossing. You can see the depth of snow here. The snow was all the way to the top of the bridge railings.


A short distance further up the trail (about a quarter of mile from the trailhead) I came to the first trail sign junction. I headed off in the direction of Alberta Falls and Loch Vale.


In 0.87 miles from the trailhead, I arrived at Alberta Falls. The waterfall is named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area. Normally the 30-foot waterfall thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek. No falls in the dead of winter.


Here is a comparison photo comparing winter to autumn at Alberta Falls.


I continued on up the trail. At 2.2 miles I came to the Loch Vale – Mills Lake junction. I continued on up towards Loch Vale.



At the junction of the North Longs Peak trail, I did get a little lost. It is much harder to follow a trail in the winter. I ended up going a short distance up the North Longs Peak trail where the tracks just kind of ended. I turned around and eventually found my way back to the Loch Vale trail and continued up. The snow deepened and the climb steepened on the final approach to the lake.





I arrived at the lake where there were quite strong gusts of wind. Here’s a short video to give you an idea (and this was during a calm spell)!


Some shots around the lake.






I did head across the frozen lake and up into the trees a short distance on the other side.




Some parts of the lake had huge snow drifts while other parts the wind had totally blown off the snow exposing shiny ice.


A couple of more shots of the lake.



Here is a comparison shot contrasting Loch Vale today with an autumn shot.


I started back down the steep, snowy section of the trail.


I reached the trail junction with Mills Lake and decided to head the 0.6 miles up to that lake. A view heading up.


The final approach to Mills Lake.



I arrived at Mills Lake and sat for a few minutes taking in the view. It wasn’t quite as windy here as it was at Loch Vale.



Another contrasting shot of Mills Lake in summer compared to today.


I headed back on down the trail. I again lost the trail at the North Longs Peak trail junction. I would follow a set of tracks that would just kind of end. I turned around and headed back up the way I came from searching for the trail. The wind was quite strong blowing over and covering up tracks that were made. I ran into several other people and together we tried to find the right way. After a little searching, I finally got on the correct trail again. Always a little scary when you lose the trail, especially in winter! There was actually a guy who spent the night out just a few days ago in this very area and was found and taken out the next morning. He had hypothermia but was OK otherwise. A good reminder to respect the mountains and weather conditions and always be prepared!

I made it back down to the car around 3:00pm and was ready to call it a day. An overview of my trip. The route is not accurate on the way back from Loch Vale as my phone shut off at Loch Vale because it was too cold. So, it shows a straight shot to car not following the trail nor my detour up to Mills Lake.


4 thoughts on “Loch Vale-Mills Lake

  1. Loved the comparison shots. How scary to lose the trail. I’m so afraid of doing that that I rarely snowshoe. But then, our winters are nothing like yours. 🙂

    • Thanks Janet. I decided I wanted to start doing more comparison shots and re-visiting places in the winter that I normally only go to in the summer. I did get a little nervous about losing the trail – especially since I was out by myself. I can certainly see how easy it would be to get lost out there and lose your bearings.

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