Rocky Mountain National Park Lake Tour

September 22nd, 2012

We decided to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park to see if the Aspens were turning color.  We weren't sure exactly which hike we wanted to do, but we didn't think we'd be doing that long of a hike, so we packed just a few snacks and 3 small water bottles and drove up to Estes Park.  Since the Bear Lake Road is under construction we had to get there before 9:00 or the road would be closed.  We were able to get there before 9:00, but by the time we got there the Bear Lake parking lot was full, so we had to catch the shuttle bus from the park and ride. 

We took the shuttle to Glacier Gorge and started hiking towards Alberta Falls.  This is a nice hike if you want to see some Aspen.  The leaves were definitely changing.  It was a short hike to the falls and we stopped there just to grab a few pictures.  I probably have more pictures of Alberta Falls that anywhere else in the park, but I still feel the need to take one every time we pass by.

Alberta Falls

We decided we would continue on past Alberta Falls to one of my favorite lakes in the park, Mills Lake.  I credit Mills Lake with my love of hiking.  I first hiked Mills Lake in the summer of 1999 when I was living in Fort Collins while interning at HP.  Growing up we went to lots of state and national parks, but my family just didn't do any hikes that were over about a mile in length.  Mills Lake was suggested to me as a good hike to try, but I didn't think I'd be able to do it because it was 5 miles round trip.  I decided to just try it and it was fantastic.  It has some really good views of Long's Peak and is just a beautiful lake to see.  Ever since then, I've been an avid hiker.

It is about 2 miles to Mills Lake from Alberta Falls.  The weather was nice and we made great progress.  Tyler was really going fast compared to his usual pace.  We arrived to find hardly anyone at the lake and were able to get a spot all to ourselves on some nice rocks.  We sat down and grabbed a snack and took some pictures.  Unfortunately, it was pretty hazy as there was some smoke from some wildfires hanging in the mountains.

Views from Mills Lake

It was absolutely calm as well, which is very rare, so I was able to get some nice reflection shots.

Perfectly still water at Mills Lake

We took some family photos.  Even Tyler took his turn taking pictures.

Family Photos

At this point, we had originally planned to head back to the trail head and the shuttle bus, but I decided we should try something new.  I've never hiked from the Glacier Gorge trail to Lake Haiyaha.  There's a little sign on the trail that says there's an unimproved trail that will take you to the lake.  Erin and I had been to Lake Haiyaha once before about 6 years ago, but from a different route.  We thought it would be fun to try this route and the weather was absolutely perfect, so we decided to give it a go.  We stopped along the way to grab a few pictures of the Aspen trees.  Most of them are in full color right now and they are quite beautiful to see.

Aspens along the trail

Lake Haiyaha is surrounded by some really big boulders.  Tyler really enjoyed climbing over and around them to get to the lake.

Boulders on the lake shore

We grabbed some pictures and took a few minutes to rest.

Lake Haiyaha

Erin and Tyler relaxing at Lake Haiyaha

After a short break, we started back to the shuttle via Dream, Nymph and Bear Lakes.  There was a pretty cool old tree right near the lake.

Gnarled old tree

The trail from Lake Haiyaha to Dream Lake was much shorter than from Mills to Haiyaha, so we made quick work of it.  It was also mostly downhill which helped.  I took a picture of Long's Peak to show how hazy it was.

Long's Peak

There is also a nice viewpoint along the way where you can see Bear and Nymph Lakes.

Looking out over the valley

We descended to Dream Lake and finished off the rest of our snacks and almost all of our water.  We definitely hadn't packed for this long of a hike.

Dream Lake

There was a nice little blue bird flying around the Dream Lake area, so I tried to grab a couple of shots.

Blue bird

From Dream Lake back the Bear Lake and the trail head is a little over a mile.  There are a lot of nice things to see along the way, but we were all getting thirsty, so we pretty much just hiked it back at full speed.  I did take a few pictures along the way.

More Aspens

Nymph Lake

In about 20 minutes, we made it back to Bear Lake.  Just a quick stop for photos and then it was time to catch the shuttle bus.

Bear Lake

We ended up hiking for just under 8 miles and saw a really nice waterfall and 5 lakes.  What a wonderful hike on a beautiful fall day.  After the hike we went back to Estes Park and grabbed some lunch at our favorite Mexican place in town and drove back home to relax.

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