When the 2015 national park visitation statistics came out, one of the parks that saw the largest increase in visitors was Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. More than 4.16 million people visited Rocky Mountain last year. Many of those visitors reported hiking one of the many alpine trails in the park. Rocky is famous for its stunning views and some of the best above-the-tree-line hikes in the park system. One trail ParkChasers recommends on your next visit to Rocky Mountain is the Loch Vale Trail.
Planning Your Visit to the Loch Vale Trail
The Loch Vale Trail is a short distance (roundtrip 5.7 miles), but moderately challenging elevation hike (ending at 10,190 feet). It ends at The Loch, one of the hidden sub-alpine lakes in Rocky Mountain. Nestled among the snow-capped peaks, it’s a great hike to start early in the morning and to pack a picnic lunch to eat at The Loch. The downhill hike back to the trailhead is swift and makes for a solid afternoon on the trail.
The trailhead for The Loch begins at Glacier Gorge Trailhead on the eastern portion of the park. This area can be very busy in the summer months. It’s recommended that you arrive at the trailhead early or take the free shuttle service to the trailhead from one of the visitor’s centers. When you arrive at the trailhead, you’ll be at roughly 9240 feet above sea level, with an ascent of about 1040 feet ahead. Make sure you monitor everyone in your group for altitude-related illness.
Along your hike up to The Loch you will pass Alberta Falls (one of the most popular destinations in the park), as well as trail junctions for Glacier Falls, Mills Lake, and Black Lake. The trails are well-marked, but be sure to pick up a map at the ranger post before you leave. The last portion of the trail can be quite steep, but offers stunning views of Icy Brook, the stream that runs along the trail in this area. Keep trucking up the trail, the views at The Loch are well worth it!
- “Loch” is the Scottish Gaelic and Irish term for a lake.
- Pack plenty of water and food on your trip. We recommend leaving early in the morning and then packing a snack or lunch to eat while sitting on the shore of the lake. Make sure to pack out all of your garbage and beware of chipmunks, birds, and any small animals who may be used to visitors sharing their lunch. As always, don’t ever feed wild animals.
- The area around The Loch is home to some fragile sub-alpine vegetation including lichen and ground covers that are critical to the ecosystem. Several places are marked as restricted and it is encouraged to stay on the trail to avoid damaging the ground cover.
- You can also hike to The Loch from the Bear Lake Trailhead. We recommend choosing one on the ascent and one on the descent and using the shuttle to return to your vehicle.
- The Loch is one of the most widely studied areas in Rocky Mountain National Park and in the Colorado Rockies. Long-term watershed monitoring projects began here in the 1980’s and researchers continue to monitor the area for water quality, air quality and climate change investigations. More information on current projects can be found here: Loch Vale Watershed at Colorado State University.