Above: A rock wall along the Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park's Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge trailheads are some of the most popular in the park. The reason is that you can pick your distance - as little as a half mile, as much as 12 miles, and see amazing waterfalls and lakes on each route. This hike past Alberta Falls and Mills Lake to Jewel Lake is about 3.2 miles one way.
If you are visiting the park in the heavy season and the shuttles are running, you can start this hike at Bear Lake and return at Glacier Gorge. For a short distance at the beginning and end, you will enjoy gradual downhill coming and going. Off-season, most people start and end at Glacier Gorge.
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Alberta Falls at 0.8 miles
In less than a mile you'll come across Alberta Falls, named after Abner Sprague's wife, an early local resident. The trail winds through aspen forest, where there are many sunny outlooks and vantage points of the gorge. The waterfall leaps 25 feet, crashing into boulders below. During autumn, glowing aspens line the trail and creek, creating a golden canopy.
Mills Lake at 2.8 miles
It's another 2 miles to Mills Lake but the trail is beautiful. There are many log bridges to cross the creek, and rocky overlooks with expansive views. Mills Lake is a very long lake with outcroppings of flat rock that are easily to walk on and feel like you're in the middle of the water. Look closely at the photo above and you will see people picnicking on the rocks. Do likewise and pack a lunch to enjoy while gazing at the mountains in the background.
Jewel Lake at 3.2 miles
Jewel Lake is just a hop and a skip farther. The map says 0.4 miles but the great majority of that is walking along side Mills Lake. If you're feeling adventurous, you can take an unofficial trail along the top of the lake to reach the large rock seen at the upper right of the above photo. Atop is another great picnic spot or a place to take a nap before heading back down the trail.
Want to Go Farther?
Black Lake is another 2.2 miles down the trail.