Mills Lake and Black Lake

      by Gordon S. Novak Jr.

Mills Lake is one of the best hikes in the Park for its distance: only 2.4 miles and not too steep. The hike passes through lovely and varied terrain to arrive at a large, beautiful lake surrounded by breathtaking views of the highest mountains in the Park.

The hike begins at Glacier Gorge trailhead, which has a small parking lot; but unless you arrive very early or have been very good in a previous life, don't plan on finding a space there. Instead, park in the lot halfway up Bear Lake Road (on the right) and catch the bus.

The hike begins with a bridge across a creek and heads gently upward through a lovely forest of mixed aspen and pine with a few small creeks. About .6 mile up the trail, it reaches Glacier Creek and soon comes to Alberta Falls. Be careful at the edge of the drop-off, since many feet have polished the rocks until they are slick.

Above Alberta Falls, the trail rises to a more arid area and passes a trail junction to Longs Peak via Boulder Brook. Then the trail passes along a ridge covered by a barren rock slide, a good place to look and listen for pikas. There is a curve to the right and slightly downhill to another trail junction, this time with trails to The Loch and Lake Haiyaha. A small bridge crosses a stream and the trail heads uphill again. Crossings of large rocks cause a loss of trail, but look for cairns to guide you. There may be several routes, but all are correct: following the valley going up and back down will take you where you should go.

A final log-bridge stream crossing near Glacier Falls means you're almost there. The trail heads right and up some rocks, and soon you are at Mills Lake. The backdrop of Longs Peak and the high mountain cliffs that surround Glacier Gorge is stunning. There are many good rocks right at the edge of the lake, perfect for fishing or just relaxing.
If you still have energy after hiking to Mills Lake, the hike to Black Lake is well worth while. The trail continues on the east side of Mills Lake and the smaller Jewel Lake above it, with single-log boardwalks over some swampy areas. Above this is a "primitive" trail, not as well developed as the regular trails (though there are plans to improve it soon). The trail follows the bottom of the valley up to Black Lake. In early season, some snow traverses may be encountered. At Black Lake a bit of scrambling across rocks at the left leads one across the outlet and to the grassy and forested area on the east shore.

If you started early and still have energy at Black Lake, the challenges of Pagoda, Spearhead, and McHenrys Peak await you!

Time going up: 1:30 to Mills Lake, 2:30 - 3:00 to Black Lake. Time to return: 1:00 from Mills Lake. Water consumed: 1/2 quart per adult for Mills Lake.

Rocky Mountain National Park: The High Peaks