Eastern Waterfall Guide

Southford Falls Falls of the Month, November-December 2000

Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park, Part 2

Timberline Falls This is part two of a series of pages on the waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Unlike other Falls of the Month pages, it covers several waterfalls in the same area of the park. As you may have noticed, this series falls somewhat out of the scope of this page (Colorado is definitely NOT in the eastern United States). However, since I live in Colorado now, I figured I would give you a taste of what it's like out here!

Some general information about falls in Rocky Mountain National Park :

This part of the series concentrates on the waterfalls accessible from Glacier Gorge Junction

Alberta Falls
Ratings : Power - StarStarStarStar Beauty - StarStarStarStar Ease of Access - StarStarStarStarHalf-star
Height : 100 feet, River/Stream : Glacier Creek, Water Levels : moderate-high, Safety Considerations : none, Hike : 1.2 miles round trip, easy terrain

Glacier Falls
Ratings : Power - StarStarHalf-star Beauty - StarStarStarHalf-star Ease of Access - StarStarStar
Height : 12 feet of cascades, River/Stream : Glacier Creek, Water Levels : moderate-low, Safety Considerations : none, Hike : 3.2 miles round trip, moderately sloped terrain

Timberline Falls
Ratings : Power - StarStarHalf-star Beauty - StarStarStarStarStar Ease of Access - StarStar
Height : 30 feet, River/Stream : Icy Brook, Water Levels : moderate-low, Safety Considerations : high altitude, Hike : 8 miles round trip, steep terrain

Unnamed falls near Sky Pond
Ratings : Power - StarStar Beauty - StarStarStarStar Ease of Access - StarStar
Height : 30 feet, River/Stream : Icy Brook, Water Levels : moderate-low, Safety Considerations : high altitude, some rock scrambling, Hike : 9 miles round trip, steep terrain

For many people, this is a REALLY tough hike : 9 miles round trip with a elevation climb of 1500 feet at an altitude in which many visitors get out-of-breath going up the stairs. So, this is not a hike for everyone and it should not be the first hike you attempt in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, it is an extremely rewarding hike if completed to the top. In addition to the four waterfalls, you also visit three crystal clear alpine lakes and pass through beautiful meadows of wildflowers.

To get to all these prizes, however, you must start very early. There are two reasons for this. First, there is very little parking at the Glacier Gorge trailhead. Unless you arrive VERY early (before 7 AM), you run the risk of not getting a parking spot. This is not a disaster because the Bear Lake parking lot is much bigger and a short trail leads down back to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. However, it adds another .5 miles to a hike which is already lengthy. If you arrive very late (after 9:30 AM), the Bear Lake lot may also be full. At this point, your only option is to drive back down to the clearly marked shuttle bus parking lot and take the shuttle bus up to Glacier Gorge. Incidentally, the shuttle bus can also be used by people who have parked at Bear Lake. A good idea is to hike down from Bear Lake to Glacier Gorge and then take the bus back up to Bear Lake after the hike. The second reason to arrive early is that thunderstorms begin rolling into the area around noon and you do not want to be caught at 11,000 feet in a thunderstorm.

The initial part of the hike is pretty easy and is great for anyone who wants to go on a quick hike to a waterfall. The path leads away on the other side of the road from the trailhead and goes through a forest of pines and scarred aspens Eventually, the trail arrives at the edge of Glacier Gorge and begins to follow it upstream. At times, the trail follows the creek closely and at times, it veers away for a little bit. Eventually, though, it comes to the edge of Glacier Creek at Alberta Falls.

Alberta Falls is one of the most spectacular and easily accessible waterfalls in the park. It falls through a granite chute ending in a thundering twenty-five foot cascade. Above the cascade, the chute continues at a steep angle, cascading and sliding down the rock face. In high water, Glacier Creek becomes a rushing torrent of water that crashes dramatically down the falls. In the low water of summer, the falls are less powerful but no less interesting because it is pretty easy to hike up the smooth sloped granite face that travels next to the falls. On a short hike, this falls would be a very good hike to explore fully. The water currents are fast and powerful even in lower water, however, and care should be taken while close to the falls.

Photographs of Alberta Falls :

The trail leads away from the bottom of Alberta Falls and begins to climb. This is possibly the least-interesting portion of the trail although by no means boring. The hike is very open and allows views of most of the Glacier Gorge area, including a view of Bear Lake and the Bear Lake parking lot from above. In addition, the scraggly trees and constant chipmunk and squirrel viewings make it enjoyable. The trail ascends near the sheer cliffs of Glacier Knobs to a T-intersection with North Long Peaks Trail and then descends back into a more lush forest setting to a four-way trail intersection. To reach Glacier Falls, turn left at this intersection and walk a short distance, first crossing Icy Brook and then crossing Glacier Creek. At the crossing of Glacier Creek, look upstream and you will see Glacier Falls. It isn't immensely exciting and probably wouldn't be worth a trip by itself but it's worth the short detour that it takes to view these falls. If you have a few extra minutes and some extra energy, you might want to follow this path all the way to Mills Lake. It's only .5 miles from the trail junction and it is easily one of the most beautiful lakes in the park.

Follow the trail back to the trail intersection and turn left to continue on to Timberline Falls and points beyond. The trail soon begins to climb in earnest once again, switching back and forth as it follows Icy Brook closely. The only real item of interest during this section of trail is Icy Brook itself. It is filled with small and large cascades, including one section that looks like should be named as a waterfall as well. After a few switchbacks, the trail opens up at the Loch. This beautiful lake is a great place to take a moment and rest your weary leg muscles. In the distance, you can see Taylor Peak and Powell Peak, both part of the Continental Divide. Towering over the lake is Cathedral Wall, commonly used by rock climbers. If you have good eyes, you may be able to see Timberline Falls directly above the treeline and the lake.

Getting to Timberline Falls, however, requires hiking the toughest, albeit most beautiful section of the trail. After following the lakeshore to the other side of the Lock, the trail begins to climb again, once more following Icy Brook. After passing by a spur of the trail that goes to Andrews Glacier, the trail begins to climb more steeply through wildflower-filled alpine meadows and boulder fields (and sometimes both at the same time). Finally, the trail breaks above the treeline and climbs up rough-hewn and steep granite steps. With the goal of Timberline Falls in view, be careful of the last few steps as they may be wet.

Timberline Falls itself is fascinating. Its lacy texture and exposed nature seem to be the distilled essence of a waterfall. Fed entirely by snowmelt from Taylor Glacier, it delicately cascades down the sheer rock face in two separate streams. The left flow fans out as it descends the dark granite cliff while the right one cascades in a more gradual fashion. At the base of falls is a small and shallow pool that drains into a sliding cascade. On the other side of this cascade is a permanent snowfield. Looking out from Timberline Falls, it is easy to spot the Loch and Cathedral Wall down below.

Photographs of Timberline Falls :

The route to the final waterfall may not quite clear at first glance. This is because the only route to the top of Timberline Falls is up the right side of the falls. For this reason, this may be a good stopping point for the hike. However, the hike above Timberline isn't particularly long so you may find it worthwhile to continue. Scrambling up the falls isn't extremely difficult unless the water levels are high at which time it may be impassable. However, since the rocks will be wet and the foot and hand holds narrow, please be careful. At the top of the scramble will be the Lake of Glass. Carved out by a glacier millions of years ago, the Lake of Glass is eeriely beautiful with its boulder fields and its wooded sections of dwarf firs. Follow the lake around to the right (counterclockwise), staying as close to the lake shore as you find possible. The trail gets very indeterminate at this point and it is easy to get off track. Near the other side of the lake, the trail becomes clear again and is even deliniated by marker stones as it travels through another meadow of wildflowers. Continue to follow Icy Brook for a few hundred more feet. Eventually, the unnamed waterfall on Icy Brook will show up on your left. Cascading in a step-like manner as it fans out, it immediately becomes a wide stream at the bottom.

At this point, you are only a hundred feet or so from the shores of Sky Pond, a circular lake bounded on three sides by sheer cliffs. Directly above the lake is Taylor Glacier. The trail ends here. The trip back down is interesting and much easier than the trip up. Except for the climb down Timberline Falls, there aren't any real difficult spots although you may feel the descent in your quadricep muscles the next day.

Photograph of waterfall on Icy Brook :

This hike is one of the most difficult waterfall hikes in the entire park and it is also one of the most frequently traveled. Although you may be dead-tired at the end of the hike, it is an experience you will never forget, especially if you make it all the way to Sky Pond.

Other Waterfalls accessible from Bear Lake/Glacier Gorge : Ribbon Falls - on Glacier Creek near Black Lake, accessible from the trail going to Mills Lake (about 9.4 miles round trip to Black Lake), Chaos Canyon Cascades - on Chaos Creek dowstream from Lake Haiyaha, take trail from Bear Lake to Dream Lake and turn left, falls are downstream from the first crossing of Chaos Creek, no distinct trail (about 3 miles round trip)

Complete List of Falls of the Month : Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part IV - February 2001, Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part III - January 2001, Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part II - November/December 2000, Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part I - June through October 2000, Bash Bish Falls - May 2000, Wadsworth Falls - March 2000, Staton's Falls - February 2000, no December or January Falls of Month (I was lazy...), Raymondskill Falls - November 1999, Linville Falls - October 1999, no September 1999 Falls of the Month, Race Brook Falls - August 1999, Blackwater Falls - July 1999, Muddy Creek Falls - June 1999, Whiteoak Canyon - May 1999, Elakala Falls - April 1999, Southford Falls - March 1999

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