Alberta Falls

Rocky Mountain National Park / Estes Park, Colorado, USA

About Alberta Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.8 miles round-trip (from Glacier Gorge Trailhead)
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2020-07-27
Date last visited: 2020-07-27

Waterfall Latitude: 40.30362
Waterfall Longitude: -105.63806

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Alberta Falls is a very popular waterfall near both Bear Lake and the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.

Flowing on the rushing Glacier Creek, it drained a variety of alpine lakes that were each hiking destinations in their own right.

RMNP_048_07272020 - Alberta Falls
Alberta Falls

As you can see in the photo above, this waterfall had a modest size (about 30ft over its main drop) followed by additional cascades rushing past large boulders.

During our late July 2020 visit, we wondered why this part of Rocky Mountain National Park was so crowded even with COVID-19 restrictions that limited visitor numbers in the reserve.

After all, this waterfall may be pretty in its own right, but we figured that it certainly wasn’t the sole reason for this area’s popularity.

Even the nearby Bear Lake was scenic and very easy to visit (taking only a half-mile to go around the lake), but it too, couldn’t be the reason why this area was so busy, could it?

RMNP_123_07272020 - Bear Lake was easily combined with Alberta Falls and was a very scenic introduction to the lakes in this part of Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake was easily combined with Alberta Falls and was a very scenic introduction to the lakes in this part of Rocky Mountain National Park

Well, it turned out that in addition to the waterfall and the scenic Bear Lake, this area was also the starting point for a variety of alpine lake hikes of varying difficulty and length.

As a result, it offered a variety of options from the short 1.6-to-2.2-mile hike encompassing Bear Lake and Alberta Falls that I’m describing on this page to the much longer ones right up to and beyond the Continental Divide.

Among the popular destinations include Mills Lake (5.6 miles RT), Black Lake (10 miles RT), The Loch (6 miles RT), Sky Pond (9.8 miles RT), Emerald Lake (3.6 miles RT), and others right up to and beyond the Continental Divide..

Logistical Gymnastics in the Busy Season

Due to the popularity of this area when we visited this waterfall in late July 2020, we had to do some logistical gymnastics.

RMNP_002_07272020 - The Glacier Gorge Trailhead
The Glacier Gorge Trailhead

What we ended up doing was letting my wife drop me off at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and then we’d re-unite at Bear Lake.

I figured that with the time it would take to do this hike and reach the Bear Lake shuttle stop, both my wife and daughter ought to make it there via the park and ride by the time I was finished.

But alas, the line at the park and ride shuttle was so long that they didn’t even make it to Bear Lake until 90 minutes after my start at Glacier Gorge Trailhead.

That should give you an idea of how crazy busy this part of Rocky Mountain National Park can get!

RMNP_163_07272020 - The long Disneyland-esque line at the Park and Ride for Bear Lake within Rocky Mountain National Park
The long Disneyland-esque line at the Park and Ride for Bear Lake within Rocky Mountain National Park

There were a handful of rangers at the entrance to the parking lot at Bear Lake making sure that any drivers testing their luck would have to turn around there (even prohibiting drop-offs).

However, it appeared that drop-offs at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead were tolerated on the weekday that we visited.

Nevertheless, after chatting with the ranger working at that trailhead, he told me that this parking lot was full before 7am, which meant that we would have had to start before sunrise from Boulder (about 1.5 hours drive) to park here.

Alberta Falls Trail Description

From the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, I followed a well-developed 0.4-mile stretch of trail that briefly descended then crossed Chaos Creek then ascended to a pair of trail junctions.

RMNP_004_07272020 - Looking towards the knobs flanking what I believe to be the Glacier Gorge while on the initial stretch of trail between the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and the bridge over Chaos Creek
Looking towards the knobs flanking what I believe to be the Glacier Gorge while on the initial stretch of trail between the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and the bridge over Chaos Creek

The first trail junction was for the Glacier Creek Trail and the other one was for the Glacier Gorge Trail, which I followed going east towards Alberta Falls.

The Glacier Gorge Trail pretty much had a gentle climb as it made its way about 0.3-mile towards Glacier Creek where I can finally hear the sounds of rushing water beneath the outcrop there.

Then, the trail veered to the right and pretty much followed Glacier Creek upstream for the remaining quarter-mile before reaching the signposted Alberta Falls.

The best viewing spot that I found was from the banks of the rushing creek just below the sign, but I also managed to scramble closer to the brink of the falls for a scenic downstream view across the forest towards mountains rising above the trees.

RMNP_077_07272020 - Context of the informal lookout area for Alberta Falls alongside Glacier Creek
Context of the informal lookout area for Alberta Falls alongside Glacier Creek

This was my turnaround point as the continuation of the Glacier Gorge Trail climbed more steeply from here.

Had I continued, I had the option of following the Glacier Gorge Trail to Glacier Falls and Mills Lake or even Ribon falls and Black Lake.

I also could have gone in a different direction towards Loch Lake, Sky Pond, or even the Andrews Glacier.

Moreover, I could have made a loop hike out of this by reaching Lake Haiyaha before returning via Nymph Lake and ultimately ending at Bear Lake.

Hiking from Alberta Falls to Bear Lake

RMNP_071_07272020 - Looking down at the context of some hikers climbing up alongside Alberta Falls while I was making my way back down
Looking down at the context of some hikers climbing up alongside Alberta Falls while I was making my way back down

After having my fill of Alberta Falls, I decided to go back the way I came, then continue towards Bear Lake.

This 1.2-mile hike descended back towards the junction with the Glacier Gorge Trailhead spur trail before climbing towards the trail junctions near Bear Lake.

It was only about a 400-500ft walk between the Bear Lake Shuttle Stop to the first lookout across Bear Lake, which was already very nice as it featured reflections of knobby mountains as well as the short loop trail around the lake.

Because it seemed like most of the Park and Ride passengers disembarked at the Bear Lake Shuttle Stop, it was noticeably busier here than it was throughout the Alberta Falls hike (which was saying something).

RMNP_110_07272020 - The Bear Lake Shuttle Stop, which was the end point of my short hike encompassing Alberta Falls and Bear Lake
The Bear Lake Shuttle Stop, which was the end point of my short hike encompassing Alberta Falls and Bear Lake

It seemed like many of the people either went towards Emerald Lake or at least Lake Haiyaha, or did the hike that I did in reverse towards Alberta Falls.

Authorities

Alberta Falls resides in the Rocky Mountain National Park near the city of Estes Park in Larimer County, Colorado. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

RMNP_001_07272020 - The signs at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead
RMNP_003_07272020 - The start of the trail from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead offered some shade against the intensifying morning sun
RMNP_005_07272020 - After the initial descent, Glacier Gorge Trail then started to climb
RMNP_006_07272020 - Beyond the bridge over Chaos Creek, the Glacier Gorge Trail continued to gently climb
RMNP_010_07272020 - This was the signed trail junction with the Glacier Creek Trail
RMNP_014_07272020 - This was the signed trail junction where I went eastwards towards the morning sun to continue the Glacier Gorge Trail in pursuit of Alberta Falls
RMNP_018_07272020 - Getting a morning start to this hike was a good idea because the longer shadows provided some degree of shade along the Glacier Gorge Trail
RMNP_019_07272020 - Traversing some temporary stream along the Glacier Gorge Trail towards Alberta Falls
RMNP_021_07272020 - The Glacier Gorge Trail continued to climb on its way towards Alberta Falls
RMNP_023_07272020 - Even though it was somewhat quiet when I did my morning hike to Alberta Falls, there were still quite a few people sharing the trail. The volume of people intensified rapidly later on in the morning
RMNP_085_07272020 - Looking down at the rushing Glacier Creek from an outcrop just as the Glacier Gorge Trail veered and followed along this creek towards Alberta Falls
RMNP_063_07272020 - There were lots of aggressive squirrels encouraged by getting handouts from visitors unaware of the damage they were doing to them by feeding them
RMNP_024_07272020 - Looking towards a twisting part of Glacier Creek while getting closer to Alberta Falls
RMNP_025_07272020 - Finally approaching Alberta Falls where lots of people were already gathered around to check it out
RMNP_028_07272020 - This was the trail side view of Alberta Falls, but in order to get a cleaner look, I would have to scramble closer to Glacier Creek
RMNP_038_07272020 - This was as frontal of a view of Alberta Falls as I would get in long exposure
RMNP_040_07272020 - More contextual fast exposure look at the Alberta Falls from the banks of Glacier Creek
RMNP_051_07272020 - Another look at Alberta Falls from the banks of Glacier Creek
RMNP_057_07272020 - This was the sign for Alberta Falls. As you can see, the trail side view of the waterfall wasn't very satisfying due to the obstructions
RMNP_059_07272020 - Looking across the top of Alberta Falls
RMNP_060_07272020 - Looking back across the forest floor from the top of Alberta Falls
RMNP_065_07272020 - Checking out another one of the many aggressive squirrels munching on what looked like another handout given by visitors unaware of the damage (and danger) they were causing by feeding them
RMNP_069_07272020 - Looking back at the context of one of the shuttle buses making its way from the Bear Lake Shuttle stop to the Glacier Gorge Shuttle Stop as seen from the top of Alberta Falls
RMNP_072_07272020 - Descending the less defined trail from the top of Alberta Falls to the gathering of people and the more established Glacier Gorge Trail
RMNP_083_07272020 - Returning along the Glacier Gorge Trail as I had my fill of Alberta Falls and was now pursuing Bear Lake
RMNP_098_07272020 - While hiking towards Bear Lake, I noticed that there were still vehicles trying their luck and getting turned back for the Bear Lake Parking Lot
RMNP_100_07272020 - The trail ascended after going past the junction for the Glacier Creek Trail and was now headed towards Bear Lake
RMNP_103_07272020 - The number of people on the trails near Bear Lake were a lot more here than they were around Alberta Falls. I suspected this was the case due to the fact that most people got off the shuttle at the Bear Lake stop
RMNP_113_07272020 - With the park and ride restrictions at the Bear Lake Shuttle Stop, it was actually rather quiet until a bus would show up and drop off passengers, then it got quiet again after people started walking
RMNP_129_07272020 - Finally making it to Bear Lake
RMNP_133_07272020 - Another look across the reflections on Bear Lake
RMNP_149_07272020 - While taking the shuttle back from Bear Lake, I noticed this view from the road of what I believe to be Alberta Falls
RMNP_151_07272020 - Finally making it to the Park and Ride at the end of the Bear Lake Shuttle Route

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Alberta Falls is best accessed from either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead or the Bear Lake Shuttle Stop. Given the Park and Ride system in place during the busy season for this section of Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s pretty easy to start in one trailhead and finish at the other.

That said, in order to reach the Park and Ride (or either of these trailheads if you get a very early start), you first have to reach Estes Park, which is the gateway town to the main entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.

RMNP_156_07272020 - The Park and Ride for the Bear Lake Shuttle
The Park and Ride for the Bear Lake Shuttle

Note that while it’s also possible to drive across the Continental Divide over the Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake, they’ve instituted a reservation system where you won’t be able to enter without a pre-booking.

Thus, I’ve only chosen to describe the driving directions from Estes Park given the COVID-19 measures that have taken place here.

As for reaching Estes Park from any of the foothill or basin cities further to the east like Fort Collins, Loveland, Boulder, and even Denver, it’s pretty straightforward to use your favorite routing app or software to get from city to city.

Once in Estes Park, we then followed the signs, which took us on the US36 through downtown Estes Park and ultimately another 4 miles to the Beaver Meaders Entrance Station.

RMNP_157_07272020 - Just to give you an idea of how long the lines can get, the entire shelter was packed with people.  Yes, social distancing was a challenge here
Just to give you an idea of how long the lines can get, the entire shelter was packed with people. Yes, social distancing was a challenge here

This was where they checked for reservations along with entrance fees or passes.

Beyond the entrance station, we then continued another quarter-mile before turning left onto Bear Lake Road.

We then drove another 5 miles towards the signed turnoff for the Park and Ride across from the Glacier Basin Campground.

This was where it made sense to leave the car and queue up for the shuttle to go the rest of the way to Bear Lake or the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.

RMNP_112_07272020 - Looking back at the parking lot at Bear Lake, where rangers stood at the entrance of this lot to turn away private vehicles while also preventing drop-offs
Looking back at the parking lot at Bear Lake, where rangers stood at the entrance of this lot to turn away private vehicles while also preventing drop-offs

If you choose to continue driving past the Park and Ride turnoff, it was a little over 3 miles to reach the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and over another mile to reach the Bear Lake Trailhead.

The drive between Estes Park and the Bear Lake Trailhead would take around 30 minutes though it would likely take longer than that due to traffic in Estes Park as well as entrance station queues.

For context, Estes Park was about 37 miles (about an hour drive without delays) northwest of Boulder, 41 miles (over an hour drive) west of Fort Collins, 47 miles (about 90 minutes drive with tolls required) northeast of Grand Lake, 65 miles (about 1.5 hours drive without delays) northwest of Denver, and 173 miles (under 2 hours drive) southwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

More deliberate downstream to upstream sweep of Alberta Falls and the rapids below it


Sweep from the top of the falls to the bottom and the view as seen from somewhere on the slope just down from the top


Nearly 360 degree sweep from the top of the falls while repositioning to see as much of the rest of its drop from here

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Tagged with: estes park, colorado, rocky mountain national park, larimer county, bear lake, glacier gorge, glacier creek



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.