There is something profoundly rewarding about discovering isolated spots in Rocky where we can disconnect from our busy lives and find inspiration from the beauty of these natural landscapes.
Finding those places, however, can be a bit of a challenge when you’re in the third busiest National Park.
That’s where the aptly named Shelf Lake and Solitude Lake come in. Located off the main Glacier Gorge Trail, it’s easy to miss these stunningly peaceful alpine lakes tucked away in the shadow of Thatchtop and Arrowhead Peaks.
Our four and a half mile journey begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
Our mother and daughter hiking team, Joan and Michelle arrive just before 5AM in order to find parking and avoid the timed reservation system.
As we follow signs to Alberta Falls, the busy trail is lit up by a line of head lamps making their way up through pines and aspens.
The escalating sound of a powerful waterfall is a sign that we are
approaching Alberta Falls, named after Rocky
Mountain pioneer, Alberta Sprague. Our headlamps briefly paint the 30 foot waterfall as we continue up the trail.
About 1.8 miles from the trailhead we go right at the junction towards
Looking down on Bear Lake Road, lights from approaching cars remind
us how important it is to arrive at the trail early before the crowds.
We only have a brief moment to enjoy the very popular, Mills Lake, named
after the father of Rocky, Enos Mills, and is a favorite spot for fly fishing.
We’ll continue on the trail past Mills Lake and Jewel Lake carefully proceeding on a series of slippery wooden footbridges.
About one mile past Mills Lake, we arrive at the trail junction for the Glacier
Gorge backcountry campsite. We continue on the main trail towards Black Lake for about half a mile until the trail levels out into a clearing with Glacier Creek meandering nearby.
At this point we leave the main trail and go right using a distant waterfall that feeds into Glacier Creek as a landmark to our final destination. While staying to the right or northside of that waterfall, we find the safest way to cross Glacier Creek using a faint path and rock cairns as our guide.
Now the most physically demanding part of our trek begins, a three quarter mile 1,000 foot steep ascent to Shelf and Solitude Lakes.
Good route finding skills including the ability to read a topographic map is essential during this section.
We steadily climb the social trail - Crawling over and under downed trees, scaling over large rocks, small boulderfields and rock walls.
Offering a helping hand is one of the many benefits of hiking in a group.
The higher we climb, the more peaceful and pristine the wilderness becomes, stopping occasionally to catch our breath and to look back at the amazing views of the valley below.
After reaching a clearing almost above treeline, we reach the round and colorful Shelf Lake. At 11,220 feet, this picturesque alpine lake is fed by stunning cascades from nearby Solitude Lake and offers awe-inspiring views of Arrowhead and Thatchtop peaks.
Impressive wildflowers like this Kings Crown with its deep red color decorate the area.
Next, we continue southwest up the left side of cascading Shelf Creek. The views looking down from here are spectacular.
Located 200 feet above Shelf Lake, We find ourselves captivated by the pristine and peaceful Solitude Lake. It’s a powerful feeling knowing that we’ve physically earned these dramatic views in this very special place.
After resting and eating a snack, we begin our slow and careful descent back to Glacier Creek, stopping briefly to film a small waterfall cascading through lush vegetation and colorful wildflowers.
After this hike we feel rejuvenated by the peace and solitude of Shelf and Solitude Lakes.