A hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park never feels lonely. Yet despite its popularity, the place is worth every bit of effort. Two trails, both starting off the Bear Lake Road, further prove it.
Last updated: February 22, 2023
How to Hike to Alberta Falls: 2 Popular Trails in the Bear Lake Road Corridor in Rocky Mountain National Park
“The Alberta Falls hike is a must-do activity in Rocky Mountain National Park”. This statement was enough to arouse my curiosity. Not thinking twice I had jotted down the name of the place. Weeks later while driving along the Bear Lake Road Corridor and sharing my itinerary with Roshan (my husband often doesn’t get bothered by any travel plans), I transmitted this interest to him.
Yet unlike yours truly, when it comes to waterfalls, Roshan always wonders if they can compete with all the cascading wonders in Oregon. Although impressive in its own way, the Alberta Falls hike, unfortunately, didn’t quite live up to his expectations.
Meet Alberta Falls
Thundering into Glacier Creek, 30-foot Alberta Falls is not a place you can tramp to in 5 minutes. Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon certainly have greater advantages in this department. Yet the hike to Alberta Falls isn’t way too strenuous either. Furthermore, the gushing water that plunges into a gorge before streaming deeper into the woods is a stunning site to behold.
The first time I came across the Alberta Falls hike, Alberta, a province in Canada, came to my mind. I was wondering if these two places had something in common. As it turned out, they don’t.
Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park was named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague. The man who was one of the first settlers in the Estes Park area put his heart and soul into the development of the region. On top of that, he made history as the first person to pay entrance fee to access Rocky Mountain National Park in 1939.
Alberta Falls Hike: Location and Direction
Alberta Falls nestles in the Glacier Gorge area in the Bear Lake Road Corridor, about 12.6 miles from Estes Park. Upon entering the park at the Beaver Meadows Entrance, drive southwest on US-36 W for 0.2 mile before veering to the left onto the Bear Lake Road. Continue on for approximately 8.4 miles toward the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead.
Alternatively, you can follow the route for additional 1.1 miles before driving into the Bear Lake parking lot.
Alberta Falls Hike from Bear Lake Trailhead
- Distance: 2-mile, road-trip trail
- Elevation Gain: Approximately 200 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 1-2 hours
Alberta Falls Hike Description
Surrounded by other favorite trailheads, the hike to Alberta Falls starts right behind the Bear Lake Ranger Station, a short walk from the popular Bear Lake Loop. A number of trail signs dot the area, making sure you never miss the right path.
After you pass by the ranger station, keep to the left, then choose the left trail at the trail junction. The Alberta Falls hike shares the trailhead with several other stunning trails, such as Nymph, Dream, Emerald Lakes Trail and Lake Haiyaha Trail. While the dirt path to the waterfall swirls downhill, following the left fork, the trail to the alpine lakes veers uphill, to the right.
Thanks to its downhill trajectory, the Alberta Falls hike starts on an easy note. (This section of the trail, however, feels tedious while hiking back to the trailhead). The path runs through a pine forest, meets an aspen grove, crosses a few footbridges, and stumbles upon a number of overlooks along the way.
Several times, it comes across other trail junctions. Properly marked with the length of the new trails included on the signs, these paths allure you to venture deeper into the woods after you complete the Alberta Falls hike.
The last section of the trail consists of rock slabs. Taming the waterfall, these boulders fulfill two functions. First, they direct the water flow, protecting the falls from spilling all over the woods. Second, the rocks invite the hikers to get comfy on their stony surface and eat some lunch while feasting their eyes on the massive stream running downhill.
Complete the Alberta Fall hikes by following the same trail to the Bear Lake parking lot.
Alberta Falls Hike from Glacier Gorge Trailhead
- Distance: 1.6-mile, round-trip trail
- Elevation Gain: 160 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 1-1.5 hours
Alberta Falls Hike Description
Unlike the hike to Alberta Falls from the Bear Lake area, the trail that starts at the Glacier Gorge parking lot runs mostly uphill. The rugged path, however, is not impossible to conquer. In fact, it welcomes the hikers of all abilities. The beginners or less prepared travelers, though, may need extra time to complete the hike.
Although this trail starts from what it looks like the opposite direction from the above-mentioned trail, it shares the same natural landmarks. The aspen grove, pine forest, scenic overlooks, and rock slabs are all present along this path.
Upon reaching Alberta Falls, you can hike back the same way you came from. If time permits, take the Alberta Falls to the Bear Lake area route as an alternative path to get to the parking lot. For more adventures in the woods, explore the trails that lead to the Loch, Mills Lake, or Lake Haiyaha.
Alberta Falls Hike: Map and Direction from Estes Park
When to Hike to Alberta Falls
You can take a hike to Alberta Falls all year round. The trail, however, is the most beautiful in fall, sometime mid-September though mid-October, when the aspens turn yellow. Different, equally impressive vistas adorn the area during other seasons, changing its dominant colors from green to yellow, orange, and white.
The most popular time to hike to Alberta Falls is from May through October. In winter and early spring, the trail is covered with snow and might be somewhat difficult to track through. Snowshoes come in handy at this time of the year.
Things to Know before Hiking to Alberta Falls
No Pets on the Alberta Falls Trail
This also applies to the majority of other popular and secret trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
No Wheelchairs on the Alberta Falls Trail
The Alberta Falls Trail in not wheelchair accessible. The rugged, unpaved trail runs among the trees which massive roots often protrude along the path. This, in its turn, makes the hike to Alberta Falls impossible for handicapped visitors and hikers with strollers.
Wear Good Hiking Shoes
The section of the trail right near the waterfall consists of the rock slabs and may be slippery, especially after it rains. So be sure to wear shoes with good traction while hiking to Alberta Falls.
No Carving on Trees
Unfortunately, some hikers still don’t understand how powerful, yet fragile nature is. Instead of enjoying the beauty around them, they destroy it. Such disrespectful behavior is especially visible in the aspen grove where almost every tree near the trail is carved on.
Although this type of “art” rarely does any serious damage to a tree, it destroys its natural beauty. The “scars” hardly ever go away. But some aesthetic parts of the tree die immediately.
Linger at Alberta Falls Longer
Better yet pack a light lunch and have a small picnic while gazing at the gushing falls. Be sure to pack out all trash afterwards.
Keep a Safe Distance from Wildlife
Don’t chase a wild animal if you happen to see it during your hike to Alberta Falls. Enjoy the wildlife’s company from afar. The wild animals can be dangerous and unpredictable.
Furthermore, never feed the wildlife. Accustomed to human food, the animals may stop hunting or foraging. Often they get killed while trying to attack the hikers in order to snatch some food from them.
READ MORE: How to Protect Yourself from Bears in the Wild: Tips and Myths
Use Free Shuttle
Both the Bear Lake area and the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead are among the most popular regions in Rocky Mountain National Park. Empty parking spots might be impossible to find here. If that’s the case, adhere to Park-and-Ride services. The free shuttle runs between different areas of the park during the busy season, from late May through mid-October.
Horses do “Hike” to Alberta Falls
These domesticated animals clearly are not considered “pets”. So ride them to Alberta Falls if you wish.
No Permit is Needed to Hike to Alberta Falls
The trail is easy and suits people of all walks of life.
Admission and Entrance Fees
Access to the Alberta Falls Trail is free. To enter Rocky Mountain National Park, though, you must pay $35 per car. The ticket is valid for 7 consecutive days. 1-day pass is only $25. If you plan to visit the park multiple times a year, purchase an annual pass, which costs $70.
National parks’ enthusiasts often prefer the America the Beautiful Pass over any annual or seasonal tickets. The former costs $80 and opens the doors to all national parks and monuments in the country for one year from date of purchase.
Note: As of summer 2021, you must have a timed entry permit and an entrance pass to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and hike to Alberta Falls from May through mid-October.
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