The hike is not overly taxing, and delivers on wildlife and scenery, not to mention the payoff waterfalls. The drive along Bear Lake Road, also scenic and host to abundant wildlife, is a large part of the experience.
The Alberta Falls Download
Highlights: Forested, including Aspen, wildlife and beautiful waterfall.
Travel Time (from Urban Centers to Park/Trailhead): 1 ½ hours from Denver, 1 hour from Boulder.
Nearby Supplies and Gas: Estes Park.
Difficulty: Negligible climb, very family friendly.
Distance: 1.6 miles (out and back).
Entrance Fees: $20 per vehicle (for one week), $10 per individual (walk, bike, etc.), various passes.
Top Elevation: 9,477 feet.
Elevation Gain: 120 feet.
Trailhead Waypoint: 40.310522, -105.640385
Maps: USGS McHenrys Peak or Click Here.
Getting There: From Denver, head north on I-25 and west on US-36 (also from Boulder). From Beaver Meadow entrance to the park, turn left onto Bear Lake Road and travel 8 ½ miles to the parking lot and Glacier Gorge trailhead. During spring, summer and early fall, park and ride the shuttle from just beyond Beaver Meadow.
(NOTE: Clicking on an image will launch a full-size version).
Fair warning: This is not a prototypical wilderness experience. Those craving solitude won’t find any on this hike. That will be clear upon reaching the Glacier Gorge trailhead parking lot. It will be jammed, but don’t let that deter.
Aspen, wildlife, water, mountain views – it is a quintessential Rocky Mountain National Park hike. And just about anyone can do it.
From the parking lot, it’s just a short jaunt to a crossing of Glacier Creek, then a fork where you will bear left to the falls (right takes you to Bear Lake). Another short haul through pine and aspen leads to rock-ledge viewpoint, below to the red-walled canyon carved by the creek and above of local peaks (remember, you’re already Rocky Mountain high at 9,300 feet). Soon Alberta Falls will appear, plunging through a granite chute.
This outing yielded a wildlife jackpot for my wife and me. On the drive in, huge Rocky Mountain elk clomped along the road. While hoofing through the aspen and pine, we were greeted by several, very curious Golden-Mantled Squirrel, which easily could be mistaken for chipmunks. My wife really wanted to see a moose, but we were told they almost never are spotted in this side (east) of the park. Lucky us, we spotted a cow and its calf about 0.4 miles into the hike.
This hike can be upgraded (or downgraded, depending on one’s perspective) from easy to moderate by pushing on to Mills Lake or the Loch. Alternatively, it can be made super easy by taking the shuttle to Bear Lake, which is the hub of many hikes, including the Glacier Gorge trails. From Alberta Falls, head to the Glacier Gorge parking lot and catch the shutter back.
A stop at nearby Bear Lake is worthwhile and trouble-free. The path around it mostly is legitimately wheelchair accessible, and Hallet Peak looms over a glassy alpine body of water. During our visit, I captured the image below, post-sunset, and it has been published in Outdoor Photographer magazine.