Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Alberta Falls, Mills Lake and Jewel Lake

August 16, 2014
Glacier Basin Campground
Rocky Mountain National Park



It must seem like all we do here in Rocky Mountain National park is hike to falls and lakes.  I guess that’s pretty true since we aren’t 14,000 foot peak baggers or even 12,000 feet  But today we did make it up to nearly 10,000 at Jewel Lake.



We’re up at 5:00 and to the Glacier Basin Trailhead parking lot at 5:45. The lot is 3/4 full when we arrive  and a van of hikers drives up as we get out of the car.  It’s a Saturday in August but really – before sunrise???

Like other trail heads, this one has several hikes which start out here so we set out and hope for the best.

In the trees, it’s fairly dark.  The moon is still out. 









It is light enough to see so on we go.  Looks like we go THIS way.  Duh!






As usual when we are hiking to a falls, we follow a singing creek all the way up.  This is one of the blessings of hiking here.  Today it is Glacier Creek and like the others it is a beautiful mountain stream.   It seems to feed from one lake to another from the top of the mountain down.  We’re only going two lakes up.








It’s only 8/10ths of a mile to Alberta Falls and the light is hitting the mountains as we arrive.  Albert Sprague, one of the first pioneers of this area, named the falls for his wife.  






As usual, we have to climb all around and see it from every possible angle before we head on our way UP.  I had no idea when I put my rain jacket over my waist pack that I’d look like I was 5 months pregnant in the pictures.  I know I’ve gained some weight despite the exercise but not THAT much.  Too funny!



The falls plunge over a ledge gouged out by Glaciers.  All along the trail are tell tail signs of glaciers: boulders, gravel, light colored clay and bare bedrock smoothed by the moving ice.



I just love to see and hear that powerful water falling over the top and dropping down.



And then it goes on its way.  And so do we.



It’s 2 miles UP to Mills Lake.  We were quite excited to see a Rocky Mountain lake named after Bill & Nancy until we found out it was named for Enos Mills, the father of Rocky Mountain National Park whom I mentioned in the first blog I posted on our move here.   But that’s OK, we’re still going to think of it as Nancy & Bill’s Lake.   They’ve sure got a rocky path to it.  Hey you two get over here and clean this up.  I’m really surprised Bill would leave anything this messy.






On our way, we catch a glimpse through the trees of Glacier Falls which looks larger than Alberta.  As far as we can tell on the best trail map we could find, there is no “authorized trail” going there.  The trail we are on goes closer to it than any other.  At first I think too bad, it looks really interesting with that dark rock jutting out between the falls of water.  But then I think, how nice.  It will remain wild and free and its trees will not have their roots compacted or initials drawn on their bark.   I’m happy to view it from a distance but it certainly does look lovely.  






We have great views out the other direction as well.



Still following Glacier Creek.  These pink stones remind me of the Cadillac Granite in Acadia National park.  I love this picture.



Notice the glacial erratics in both of these pictures.  Huge rocks just dumped on top of even bigger ones.    This always amazes me at how huge these rocks are and the glaciers must have been.  Over 1000 feet deep here.




We do get a few sort of flat spells before we start another up up.




On our way guess who shows up again.   Hmmm fleas???





Horses are allowed on most of the trails in Rocky Mountain National park and at several points on this trail I’m wondering where would we go to get off the trail if they came along?  This spot goes straight up on the right and straight down on the left.




We come to a point where we must cross the creek on a typical one slab bridge with a single rail.  Very practical.  I wonder to myself if they are all lodgepole pine.








Yes, yes, it’s that creek again.   These are only a FEW of the pictures I have of its beauty.







We arrive at Mills Lake and it is another of the wonderful mountain lakes in this park.   Of course, again, we investigate it from every angle possible.  Doesn’t look like we can circumnavigate though.







We can cross the wetlands on one side


Where they can, trails run right along the lake.




We were told to watch for potholes gouged by the glaciers and here is one filled with water from a recent rain.




Bill, Nancy and Enos have themselves a very lovely mountain lake.








Time to head on our way up to Jewel Lake, another 1/2 mile through what looks to be muddier and wetter conditions.





Once again, we cross the creek but this time you have to have good balance.  No hand rail.  At this point the river is broader and more flat.






After mostly wet meadows, we arrive at jewel and it is one.  And it’s 9967’ in elevation.  That’s pretty thin air for these easterners.










Just the spot for a picnic lunch.







Such a wonderful place for contemplation and  look how clear and shallow the water is, if I had on shorts I could probably walk across through it. Instead I’ll hang out with the glacial erratics.







The hikes up to these mountain lakes are always beautiful, steep and tiring at least for me.  But being here is so special that it is worth it.  It’s always hard to leave but when the later morning folks start arriving that makes it easier.


Looking back from a distance we know Jewel is there but we can barely see her.









When we arrive back at Alberta Falls it is 12:40pm, just after noon, and this is what we find.  Looks like a Disneyworld scene doesn’t it?   Sure glad we were on the trail by sunrise and got to really see this lovely spot and listen to it in silence.





Just as we are approaching the trail head who should pop up her head but the ptarmigan.



Can you see her furry feet??





She has a few youngsters with her but they are all in the tall grasses and bushes so this is the best I could do for a picture.  But it was great seeing her at the end of another wonderful Rocky Mountain hike.





I my spare time I’m  working on future planning which includes Arches and Canyonlands in September.  Does anyone have a recommendation for where to stay?? 


  1. Oh my goodness, all total Bill and I have spent six weeks (three weeks twice) in RMNP and I have NEVER seen that many people on a trail in one spot. So thankful for our wonderful RMNP solitude in late May/early June. You've cured me of any desire to be there in the summer even if that does mean I'll miss wildflower season. I'll just hold out till Bill retires and we can head there in late September to see the Aspens! Have hiked to Loch Vale from the Glacier Basin trailhead, but haven't seen Mills or Jewel. Thanks for showing them to me.

  2. Perfect! You figured out how to beat the crowds. You won't be so lucky at Arches and Canyonlands in September. That route between the two is filled with mountain bikers using up every available bit of camping space. I won't stay there again during that time of year. I think Mark at Box Canyon Blog might have a boondocking idea for you, however, drop him a note. Also, personally? I would go a bit west to Capitol Reef instead, and camp in the BLM land just off the Burr Trail. Every bit as gorgeous and way fewer crowds. Then again, if you have not seen Arches, I suppose you need to go there. It is magnificent, just crowded. The trails for your soul are off the No-Tom road on the east side of Capitol Reef. Canyon trails no people. It is a dirt road however, and washboardy. Keep in mind that even the big BLM campgrounds around Arches are full of mountain bikers and jeepers all doing fun stuff. It is a rowdy group....just look at Mark! :)

  3. Another option that is pretty cool. Just south of Torrey, Utah...west of Capitol Reef on highway 12 south is Boulder Mountain. 10,000 feet high with aspen and fir. There is a really nice no hookup but beautiful forest service campground there that has served me well as a jumping off point for explorations of what I call my "magic circle". You might try that one if you decide to go a bit west to Capitol Reef. If I had to choose between Capitol Reef and Arches or Canyonlands it would be without a doubt Capitol Reef. If you have time to do both, then by all means do so.

  4. It can be 85 degrees in late September or it can be pouring rain and very cold. I have experienced both, so be ready. I used to spend two weeks in that area every year in late September after the monsoons ended before I knew Mo, back in the 90's and early 2000's.

  5. That was an especially beautiful hike, between the waterfalls, lakes and meadows. You lost me on that beam across the river. I have no balance and wouldn't have attempted to walk across. I liked the other one with the handrail just fine.

    1. I'm with ya Karen. I would not try the beam but the views on the other side were so pretty I might try it! Pictures are beautiful Sherry.

  6. Great pictures of the hike! I would have been a bit worried about bumping into a bear at that early start:)

  7. Poor David. . .you dragged him out at that hour? But oh, what a reward!

    We had our grandaughter with us when we hiked to Alberta Falls. . .and we started at Bear Lake, so we were fortunate to make it that far. . .perhaps someday we'll return and hike further up. . .just beautiful.

    So glad you went, and shared. . .thanks!

  8. We stayed at a Passport America in Moab called
    Spanish Trail. Very nice for the price.

    Spectacular photos!

  9. I would be heartbroken to arrive at the Falls and see all those people there. I think that's why I try to not travel in summer. As far as what you would do if a horse came along, you would be required to go back down the trail until you reached a place to pull over. Horses always have the right of way on trails, I think.

    The sight and sound and power of water is fascinating and does something for the soul!

  10. We get up early but rarely leave the RV before 9am...you guys are amazing (especially David!) for getting out so early. But I can totally understand why you had to do it after seeing those crowds...yuck! Amazing scenery though, looks like it was worth the effort!

    This must be the final summer push for families...yesterday we hiked to the beach and saw dozens of people there for weekend camping on the beach. Labor Day is just around the corner!

  11. Absolutely gorgeous photos! As for the crowds, I could not stand it. And with John being a very late riser....we'd never get to see anything. We are here in Iowa and have an entire campground to ourselves....with that, I am a happy camper.

  12. All of the photos were fantastic. However, my LOL favorite was the one of you 5 months pregnant;o)))) I hope you were just playing dress-up!!!

    All I can say it is fun to know we have a lake and now we have every reason to come visit:o)) However, we may get escorted out if Bill insist on cleaning up after Mother Nature;o))

    Keep having fun and sharing it with us...we are truly enjoying your adventures!!!

  13. All that beauty was worth the shortness in breath! Even at five months pregnant... :cD

  14. You are just getting better and better with the camera, Sherry.

  15. What an outstanding hike- thanks for taking us!

  16. We do take early hikes and should learn from you to get out earlier especially in summer. Your reflection photos are just fantastic, I can feel the serenity of the place.
    Another wonderful hike and thanks for taking us with you!

  17. I wish I was more of an early bird. So much better for all kinds of things. George is definitely one :) Beautiful pictures again!

  18. You're in the perfect "neighborhood" when your destination is "...two lakes up..."! It would have been hard for me to leave Jewel but would have been so grateful for the solitude even it was short-lived. I think David was inspired by your early morning hike pictures and ready for one himself :-). Love the second photo of the moonlit trail.....very other-worldly. Every lake, creek, critter and vista is spectacular - thank you so much for sharing the beauty.

  19. Gorgeous water and views. Good idea to start it as a night hike. Love the light on the mountains and the glassy clearness of the lakes. Definitely rocky glacier mountains. You climbed high-quite a magnificent place! All the streams are marvelous. Glad you got to enjoy most of in it in solitude (plus Dad ;)).

  20. Beautiful ... have had the same "crowd" experience in so many places ... pays to be an early bird.

  21. I've seen a lot of gorgeousness but but not being a hiker person… I've missed so much! blast my laziness

    Gorgeous gorgeous pictures and area… our National Parks are preserved for very good reasons…

    ptarmigan? wow … another lovely hike ~ it was beautiful going along with you two ;)

  22. Amazing chronicle, beautifully done! I suspect this required the patience of Job to do, adding to my amazement. ;) Great hike enhanced by all the water.

  23. You inspire me to be more of a morning person when getting out into the beautiful natural world. And what beautiful sights along this trail filled with the sound, and energy, of water.
    Going to find a stark contrast in Arches and Canyonlands.

  24. Crazy! Before sunrise must be a record. I can't believe how many think like you:) But it is good to avoid the crowds. The Alberta falls looked like that when we came back through at the beginning of June!! Thanks goodness that is as far as most go:) Gorgeous photos! Love the lakes and the reflections:)

  25. Did my comment run away and hide?? Anyway, I recommend Slickrock Campground for private camping very close to Arches, but the best spots are along Hwy 128 on the Colorado River. BLM - here's the link.

  26. We went around the 3rd week of September and there were a few mountain bikers here and there but nothing to spoil any of our fun.


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!