From the first time I saw a picture of Alberta Falls, it was on my list of must-visit things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. Bear Lake Road into Glacier Basin is one of the most popular and highly-visited areas in the park, so we saved it for last.
Our final day at Rocky Mountain National Park was supposed to only be a half day. We got up early and hiked around the Alluvial Fan Waterfall, stopped at 3M Curve, and then headed over to the Moraine Park Discovery Center to put together a plan of attack for Bear Lake Road. Unfortunately, we learned that even though it was still early, Bear Lake Road was already closed to vehicles due to crowding.
We really wanted to visit Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, and Alberta Falls, but the only way to get there was on the free park shuttle bus — but we didn’t want to be confined to demands of the shuttle. So we decided to extend our half day into a full day and come back after 3:30 pm when the crowds dissipate and the road reopens to personal vehicles.
It ended up working out great because we ended up having extra time to drive out to the Wild Basin area for a picnic lunch and a hike to Copeland Falls, tour Chapel On A Rock, and hike to the Birch House Ruins in Estes Park. Then we walked the Bear Lake Nature Trail and headed to Alberta Falls.
At 9,400 feet elevation, Alberta Falls is a spectacular, 25 foot waterfall on Glacier Creek that roars through a granite chute and plunges down a small gorge.
The hike to Alberta Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail passes through a forest of pine and aspen trees, past a magnificent rock cliff at Glacier Gorge, and follows along Glacier Creek until you reach the waterfall. Here, Glacier Creek thunders down the rocks to create a beautiful waterfall and the giant rock slabs next to Alberta Falls provide the perfect spot to sit down, relax, enjoy nature, and even have a picnic!
Because Alberta Falls is such a popular destination, the trail and area around the waterfall is often very crowded so please be respectful. During our hike, we saw at least 10 pikas and ground squirrels that definitely weren’t afraid of people, which made the hike (and pika spotting) extra fun for the kids!
Hiking To Alberta Falls
Alberta Falls can be reached from two different trailheads off Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park: Glacier Gorge Junction and Bear Lake.
Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead
Just off Bear Lake Road at 9,240 feet elevation, sits the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead and the start of the Alberta Falls Trail. Alberta Falls Trail is a family-friendly, 0.8 mile, out and back trail that takes you to the gorgeous 25 foot waterfall and totals 1.6 miles round trip.
According to the Rocky Mountain National Park Website, the trail gains only 160 feet in elevation, so it isn’t a very difficult hike. In fact, the hike to Alberta Falls is fairly flat for the first 0.3 mile, then just after crossing Chaos Creek, it merges briefly with the Glacier Creek Trail before it splits, with a left turn heading uphill to the waterfall and a right turn following the Glacier Creek Trail to Bear Lake. The return hike back to the trailhead is all downhill, just the way I like it!
Unfortunately, we didn’t start our hike to Alberta Falls from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. At the recommendation of a park ranger who told us both trails were the same and it didn’t matter where we began our hike, we started at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
Bear Lake Trailhead
At the very end of Bear Lake Road at 9,475 feet elevation, is the Bear Lake Trailhead and Ranger Station and the start of the Glacier Creek Trail.
From the Bear Lake Trailhead, the hike to Alberta Falls is a 0.9 mile, out and back hike, totaling 1.8 miles round trip. Now this may sound the same as the trail from Glacier Gorge Junction, but it’s not. Even the elevations can be misleading with Alberta Falls sitting at 9,400 feet elevation, 75 feet below the trailhead.
Here’s the real story:
When you leave the Bear Lake Trailhead on Glacier Creek Trail, you’re hiking down a very steep hill, dropping about 225 feet in elevation in the first 0.3 miles. Then, after turning right to follow the trail toward Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, and Loch Vale, the next 0.6 miles is all uphill to the waterfall.
It doesn’t sounds like a big deal, but at that elevation it sort of kicks your butt if you’re not used to it. Almost everyone we passed on our not-very-fun return hike back up the steep hill to Bear Lake were huffing and puffing and stopping often to take breaks — including us!
So yes, while the ranger was right about both hikes being about the same length, she totally lied when she told us the difficulty was the same and I cursed her all the way up that steep climb at the end of our hike.
Naming Alberta Falls
Alberta Falls is named for Alberta Sprague, wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original Estes Park area settlers. In 1874, the Sprague’s built a homestead in Moraine Park that grew into a hunting and fishing lodge and dude ranch.
In 1904, they sold the property and moved to Loveland, but missed the mountains so much that in 1908, they purchased land in Glacier Basin and built a small cabin. In 1914, they opened a magnificent lodge named Sprague’s Lodge where the current Sprague Lake parking lot is located.
Know Before You Go
- Alberta Falls is a spectacular, 25 foot waterfall on Glacier Creek that plunges down a small gorge in Bear Lake Summer Trail Guide or the Bear Lake Winter Trail Guide.
- The Bear Lake area is very busy, especially in summer and on fall weekends, which means all parking areas often fill completely by early morning and rangers close access to the road just past the Moraine Park Discovery Center, requiring you to use the free park shuttle buses that run from the Estes Park Visitor Center (outside Rocky Mountain National Park) to various stops along Bear Lake Road.
- There is a ranger station and information kiosk, shuttle bus station, new accessible restrooms, and several picnic tables at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
- After visiting Alberta Falls, if you have time, you can continue on the trail to Mills Lake, Loch Vale, Lake Haiyaha, and Black Lake.