The Loch (Loch Vale) is a beautiful lake located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. The lake sits at 10,190 feet, making this a great moderate hike. Accessible in all four seasons, this hike features stunning views of the surrounding peaks (Taylor Peak and Thatchtop Mountain).
Difficulty – Intermediate
Distance – 5.7 miles miles round trip (9.17 km)
Height – 10,190 feet (3,105.9 meters)
Elevation gain – 1,040 feet (316.99 meters)
Duration – 3 to 5 hours (book time)
Seasons – Year-round
Trailhead Location – Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead
Need To Know Information
- During a large portion of the year, Rocky Mountain National Park requires permits. Permits can be purchased here along with all other relevant info: https://www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10086910
- Other permit info (You should read this information): https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm
- Dogs are not allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hikers can park at either Glacier Gorge, or Bear Lake as both are great starting options for doing a loop hike.
- Parking fills up, so the shuttle system in the park can be used when it does.
There are two common starting locations for this hike, both are below (Bear Lake Trailhead has two route options):
Glacier Gorge Trailhead | 5.7 Miles| 1,040 Feet Elevation Gain
This is the most common path to head towards Mills Lake. If the parking lot is full, just continue on to Bear Lake Trailhead, park, and begin hiking from there.
Beginning at Glacier Gorge, hikers will travel .25 miles to the first junction of the Glacier Creek Trail, and the trail leading to Bear Lake. Hikers bear left, following the signs to Alberta Falls and Sky Pond.
.8 miles into the hike, hikers will reach Alberta Falls, a beautiful 30 foot waterfall that is extremely popular in summer months. The trails will have less people (but still quite a few) beyond this point.
1.6 miles into the hike, hikers will reach the North Longs Peak Trail Junction where hikers will need to bear right towards Sky Pond.
2 miles in, hikers will reach Mills Junction. To the left is Mills Lake and Black Lake, hikers will stay straight towards Loch Vale. Bearing right would bring hikers towards Sky Pond and Andrew’s Glacier. Hikers will arrive at the lake .8 miles after this junction.
Hikers can continue around the lake if they choose to.
Bear Lake Trailhead | 5.9 Miles | 1,050 Feet Elevation Gain
This route is only slightly different than starting at Glacier Gorge. The only difference is the first .4 miles. Here this trail descends to cross paths with where hikers will have started from Glacier Gorge. This portion of the trail is heavily trafficked year round. This route will add just a tiny bit of elevation gain, and .2 miles to your overall round trip. We recommend starting from Bear Lake if the Glacier Gorge trailhead has no parking.
Bear Lake Trailhead – Dream Lake, and Lake Haiyaha | 3.9 Miles One Way
Hikers can also choose to head towards Loch Vale from Bear Lake by bearing left at Dream Lake. This trail will take you past a spur trail towards Lake Haiyaha. This is a fantastic loop option. Starting from Bear Lake, heading to Lake Haiyaha, and then to Loch Vale is 3.9 miles one way.
If hikers wish to extend the hike to the further lakes and nearby lakes, they should check out, Lake Haiyaha, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Sky Pond or Mills Lake as well.
Hiking Loch Vale in Winter
A frozen over Loch Vale is beautiful. Far fewer hikers are on this trail in winter, though it is still well traveled. Traction is highly recommended (microspikes or snowshoes). Most of the trail is fully manageable without traction, but as always, traction should be brought for caution. Snowshoes may be needed during certain times of year and is defendant upon snowfall.
Both trailheads are open and can be driven to in winter months due to Bear Lake Road being nicely maintained. Check park road closures during snowy times to be sure.
The route from Bear Lake to Dream Lake and Past Lake Haiyaha is far less traveled in winter than the other routes.
Fishing Loch Vale
If you like fly fishing for greenback cutthroat and brookies, this is a great catch and release fishery.
Directions & Parking
These are two large parking lots (bear lake trailhead the biggest), but these are extremely popular areas. Parking fills up extremely quickly on nice days. In many cases, hikers will need to use the National Park shuttle system to get to these trailheads during the busy months. Information on this can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/shuttle_bus_route.htm
To Glacier Gorge Trailhead
To Bear Lake Trailhead
Continue along bear lake road for .9 additional miles and you will reach the trailhead. This is the end of Bear Lake Road.
Current Weather Conditions
Here is a detailed weather forecast:
Snow showers likely before 2am, then snow showers likely and patchy blowing snow between 2am and 4am, then areas of blowing snow and a chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 11. Wind chill values as low as -9. West southwest wind 12 to 26 mph, with gusts as high as 40 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.
Areas of blowing snow and a slight chance of snow showers before noon, then snow showers likely and patchy blowing snow. Partly sunny. High near 23, with temperatures falling to around 21 in the afternoon. Wind chill values as low as -10. West southwest wind 21 to 28 mph, with gusts as high as 41 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than half an inch possible.
Snow likely before 8pm, then snow and patchy blowing snow. Mostly cloudy. Low around 19, with temperatures rising to around 24 overnight. Southwest wind 17 to 22 mph, with gusts as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.
Snow and areas of blowing snow before noon, then snow and blowing snow and a slight chance of thunderstorms. Cloudy, with a high near 27. Southwest wind 21 to 33 mph, with gusts as high as 53 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 4 to 8 inches possible.
A chance of snow and a slight chance of thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 11. West southwest wind 26 to 35 mph, with gusts as high as 55 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.
Snow. Partly sunny, with a high near 21. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of around one inch possible.
A chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 8. Chance of precipitation is 40%. Little or no snow accumulation expected.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about