RMNP – Loch Lake with the Boulder Hiker Chicks

Hike to Loch Lake with the BHC in Winter

This past week I went on one of my favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) with the Boulder Hiker Chicks (BHC), a local women’s hiking group.

The thing I love most about the BHC (other than the hikes we do) is the sense of community we have. It’s always so much fun to enjoy the trail together while catching up and discussing various topics along the way.

The Hike

The hike itself was the same as when my husband and I went in April of last year and posted about it, but the conditions this time were quite different.

From Glacier Gorge Trailhead you hike up along Glacier Gorge Trail until you reach a junction at mile 2.0 and continue straight onto the Loch Vale Trail for another mile. My tracker recorded the hike as 5.66 miles, but RMNP signs and guidebooks say the hike is more like 6 miles out-and-back.

With the new snow, it would have been possible to use snowshoes, but microspikes were sufficient throughout the hike.

Starting Out

We arrived at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead around 8:30 am on a Tuesday. There was still plenty of space in the parking lot. I’m not sure if that is just because it is the winter season and we were there during the week, or if those factors compounded with the snowy forecast, keeping more people at home.

The parking lot here is usually quite windy in winter from my experience. We took advantage of being inside warm cars to put on gaiters and microspikes before congregating as a group to start the hike.

Alberta Falls

The trail climbs at a moderate angle up from the trailhead. Soon after the parking lot the trail is sheltered by trees and it’s not as cold/windy.

0.8 miles from the trailhead you pass by Alberta Falls. Of course, in winter it is completely frozen and snowed over –

Alberta Falls RMNP snow

If you’re interested in what the falls look like in summer, see this post from my hike to Sky Pond back in September.

Hiking Up Glacier Gorge Trail

It was snowing before we arrived, and it continued snowing as we were hiking. There were several inches of new snow, and we had to break trail. Luckily we had a member of the group who was very familiar with the trail and was able to lead the way.

Glacier Gorge Trail RMNP

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

The trail was gorgeous, and the powdery snow on the trees added to feeling like we were in a winter wonderland.

Glacier Gorge Trail RMNP

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

Glacier Gorge

About 1.7 miles into the trail you reach Glacier Gorge, where the trail opens up from the forest for a while. We were exposed to sharp winds again here.

Glacier Gorge Rocky Mountain National Park

In clear conditions, Glacier Gorge is a wonder to see. On this day the snow somewhat obscured the views of the mountains, but was magical in its own way –

Glacier Gorge Rocky Mountain National Park

After a few minutes of hiking in the open, the trail heads back into the forest –

Glacier Gorge Trail Rocky Mountain National Park

At mile 2.0 you reach a junction. To go to Loch Lake, you head straight ahead (you turn left for Mills Lake and right for Lake Haiyaha).

Loch Vale Trail

From the junction the trail steepens. Over the next mile up to the lake you climb about 450 ft. Most of the trail is narrow, through forest.

The winter trail is different from the summer trail. The summer trail goes off the the right and follows a couple switchbacks uphill. In winter, you follow the gorge uphill. Depending on where you walk, you could be walking just above the stream and waterfall, so you have to be careful where you step.

Loch Vale Trail Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

This portion of the trail had thicker snow than the rest of the trail and it took us some time to hike up the steep hill.

Loch Vale Trail Rocky Mountain National Park

Loch Lake

After ascending the hill, we were met with blizzard-like conditions up at the lake. At first we first huddled behind some trees to re-group before deciding to head out to the lake for a group photo. The wind and snow were so fierce, at one point I was met with a white-out and could not see anyone or anything in front of me. I had to stop for a moment until the wind and snow died down a bit before I could move ahead again.

Pro tip – wearing ski goggles is the best bet in this type of weather. I was wearing sunglasses and they kept getting fogged up because I had to wear a Buff to protect my face. The steam rising from my breathing under the Buff further diminished my vision.

Winter conditions Loch Lake RMNP

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

Unfortunately, due to the conditions, the mountains and views of the towering mountain called “The Cathedral” were close to non-existent.

Loch Lake in winter Rocky Mountain National Park

My favorite picture from the hike, showing the freezing conditions as we try to pose for a picture –

Boulder Hiker Chicks Loch Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

And after the wind died down for a moment –

Boulder Hiker Chicks Loch Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

Return Journey

After snapping the pictures, we all quickly made our way back to the trees, which provided some shelter for the wind, and then headed back down the way we came –

Loch Vale Trail Boulder Hiker Chicks RMNP

Photo credit – Karen Jacot (IG @yeahkaren)

Loch Vale Trail Boulder Hiker Chicks RMNP

Photo credit – Kari Armstrong (IG @kariarmstrong)

By the time we got back to Glacier Gorge, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds, enhancing the beautiful scenery –

Glacier Gorge Rocky Mountain National Park winter

And by the time we were past Glacier Gorge and closer to Alberta Falls, the snow had stopped completely –

Glacier Gorge Trail winter aspens

Recommended as a Moderate to Difficult Winter Hike

The 6 mile hike to Loch Lake is considered moderate in the summer, but it’s more of a difficult hike in winter, due to the snow, and especially the final steep ascent up to the lake along the frozen gorge.

Although some of the most striking scenery that I’ve seen before on these trails was not fully visible on this hike due to snowy conditions, the hike retained its charm as a beautiful winter hike. It was made all the better with great company – the Boulder Hiker Chicks!

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