Black Lake


Fall colors in the tundra above Black Lake.

Hiking Details:

  • Mileage: 9.4 miles roundtrip
  • Altitude:10,620 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1,390 feet
  • To get there: In RMNP take the Bear Lake Road to the Glacier Gorge trail head. Leave from there.

I’ve always seen Aspens in the fall, reaching high above my head as they change colors in the cooling air. The beginning of the trail to Black Lake offers gorgeous but typical fall views: waving yellow Aspen leaves, distant hillsides painted yellow and orange with autumn, sheets of leaves covering the trail. But what really surprises and pleases me is what fall looks like above tree line, in our unique Rocky Mountain tundra.

As we get closer to Black Lake, trees are becoming sparse but the land is not lacking in fall colors. Shin-high grasses are a soft orange, bushes are warm crimson or bright yellow. With the sun slanting down on all these colors, we reach the lake.

Black Lake is one in a string of many lakes in an area of RMNP that I think might be my favorite. These lakes sit in a valley on the backside of Long’s Peak. To name a few: Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, Black Lake, Green Lake, Blue Lake, Shelf Lake, Solitude Lake, and Frozen Lake. I’m not sure if it was seeing the back of Long’s on my first visit to Mills Lake or seeing all the lakes from the back of Long’s that made me fall in love with this area.

Either way, it seems strangely enchanting.

We reach Black Lake to see towering gray rock faces to the south and west. We can see Spearhead poking up to the south

Black Lake

and we settle on the rocks facing the lake for a snack. Here, with my Russian friend Eleonora, I learn some colors in Russian before we decide to continue up the trail that is on the east side of the lake.

This trail gets pretty steep pretty quickly as we get higher and higher into the tundra at the back of Long’s. There are strange, freestanding rock formations all around. A calm creek runs down into the lake and tundra fall is evident everywhere we look. Soon enough, we are blazing our own trail in an attempt to reach the nearby (ish) Green Lake. We are tromping over short orange and red bushes, through wet golden grasses and up and over rocks.

We have clear views of Spearhead now, and I can see on the map that Green Lake is right across from Spearhead. For a moment, we contemplate how long it might take to get up Spearhead for an exciting, spontaneous addition to our trip. I am convinced that we are close to Green Lake, but we can’t help but notice nasty dark clouds building around Long’s and further south. Now anxious to get back into the protective trees we go quickly back down to Black Lake, with the storm at our backs. And, sure enough, before we reach the car we are getting snowed on.

Hiking details from “Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park,” by Kent and Donna Dannen.

Fall colors on the tundra above Black Lake.


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  1. Pingback: Columbine Lake « Happily Lost with Cece

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