Colorado, Colorado Hikes, Rocky Mountain National Park, US National Parks

Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: Lake Haiyaha

Up until June 2022, Lake Haiyaha looked like this.

Image source

On June 28, 2022, there was a rockslide on the mountainside above Lake Haiyaha. On this peaceful, sunny morning, a large section of the landscape broke free and began to tumble down Chaos Canyon. Rocks ranging in size from small pebbles to apartment-sized boulders began to bounce and roll downhill while an enormous cloud of dust engulfed upper Chaos Canyon. Frighteningly, a handful of people were bouldering and rock climbing in the upper canyon at the time. Fortunately, all escaped without injury.

(not my video)

With the help of rain and snow melt, newly formed silt from the slide – often called ‘rock flour’ or ‘glacial flour’ – began to make its way down upper Chaos Canyon and into Lake Haiyaha. When rock flour enters a lake, it tends to remain suspended in the water – temporarily, at least – rather than sinking to the bottom, giving the water a milky appearance. Rock flour also reflects blue and green wavelengths of light, thus turning the lake a shade of blue-green. This is now the case with Lake Haiyaha. Geologists are estimating that the color may remain for the next few months before the silt settles and the lake returns to its previous clear blue color.

Even though I’ve been to Lake Haiyaha before – twice – I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to see it in its new turquoise glory. So this past September, Pat and I met up with Chelsea for a quick morning hike to Lake Haiyaha.

Full moon over Rocky
Fog hung low over Moraine Park as we drove by

This is a relatively short and easy hike, clocking in at just 4.25 miles (6.8 km) with 950 feet (290 m) of elevation gain. It only took us about 2 hours, including time spent at the lake. We began our hike at Bear Lake Trailhead, though you can also reach Haiyaha via a slightly longer hike that starts at Glacier Gorge. From Bear Lake, follow signs left to Nymph and Dream Lakes. Just before Dream Lake is the trail split for Lake Haiyaha; turn left and begin to ascend the hill south of Dream Lake. The trail zigzags up and then curves around the hillside, bringing you into Chaos Canyon.

It’s worth the 2 minute jaunt up the trail for a quick stop at Dream Lake as well.
Looking down at Nymph and Bear Lakes (just left of center)

Chaos Canyon is aptly named. Both Lake Haiyaha and Chaos Creek are surrounded by a jumble of boulders. In fact, ‘Haiyaha’ means ‘rock’ or ‘boulder’ in the Arapaho language. Fortunately, the trail avoids the boulders until the final approach to the lake.

The trail dumped us out on the south shore of the lake, where we caught our first glimpse of its new turquoise color. I admit, I was initially a little skeptical that it would really be as turquoise as the photos I’d seen on social media. But it was.

I was able to capture the color from this vantage point, but the sun was low in the sky making for long shadows

After a few minutes, we made our way over to the east shore, which is where the best views are found, in my opinion. It wasn’t easy to find our way around; it involved a lot of scrambling and a few reroutes when we found ourselves facing rocks we couldn’t safely navigate. But eventually we made it.

Chaos Creek flows out of Lake Haiyaha
The light gray area on the hillside, just right of center, is where the rockslide occurred

I’m really interested to see how much longer the lake retains its color, especially as it’s now frozen solid for the winter. I suppose it all depends on how long it takes for the hillside to stabilize so rock flour stops draining into the lake. I’m also interested to see if the lake ever goes back to the color it was before, or if it will have a slightly different hue even after the rock flour settles.

Isn’t it amazing that a lake can so abruptly change color like this? Geology is neat!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: this hike departs from the Bear Lake Trailhead at the end of Bear Lake Road; consider leaving your car at the park-n-ride in the summer and taking the free shuttle to the trailhead
  • Fees and passes: there is a $25/car daily or $35/car weekly entrance fee to RMNP; interagency annual passes are accepted. From May-Oct, if you arrive after 5:00am you will also need a timed entry permit to access this trailhead
  • Hiking: round-trip distance to Lake Haiyaha from Bear Lake is 4.25 miles (6.8 km) with 950 feet (290 m) of elevation gain
  • Other: use care when climbing around the boulders at Lake Haiyaha; they can be slippery when wet and some may move when you put weight on them. Wear sturdy shoes with traction and use your hands to help you move around

52 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: Lake Haiyaha”

  1. Fascinating, Diana. Excellent post. I liked that you had such clear “before and after” photos, and both the YouTube and your video were great. The change is dramatic and of course so was the rockslide. Wonderful that no one was hurt or killed. The force of nature…like no other.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lake Haiyaha looks gorgeous, before and after the rockslide! From its deep-green hue to vibrant turquoise, you were lucky to see it change color! Really is incredible just how nature can alter a place so quickly! The 4.25-mile hike sounds doable for me, and I’d love to check it out someday!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really so amazing and wonderful post dear Diana. Your thoughts are literally so awesome. I also write blogs and if you are ok then please do visit my page also and share your reviews so that I can also improve myself!🤗💕😊💞

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Glad to hear that no one was hurt during the rockslide. What a great reason to visit Lake Haiyaha to see how different the lake looked with the glacier flour. It’s pretty wild how the lake can change colour. Also, what a great picture of the low hanging fog.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The rockfall is so scary! I didn’t know that this could result in the lake being a different colour, though it does make sense. It must have been pretty cool to see it twice and compare! The pictures are beautiful as well, and the one with the fog is stunning, it looks like such a peaceful landscape!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. That rockfall is frightful! I’m glad nobody was injured. To see how this event affected the lake is impressive. Maybe you will be able to return next year to see if it has reverted back to its baseline. I love the beautiful views from your hike and of the fog in the valley. It’s something we don’t get to experience too often in Colorado,

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful journey as always! Your story captures the rockslide and lake color perfectly. I was there on September 17th (last hike of the year before knee surgery 🙂
    It was truly a sight to behold. Thank you again for taking me back there!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful images, both the photos and the videos give a good impression of the lake. The lingering fog and the clouds slowly creeping up the mountain slopes remind me of my mountain trips through the Alps.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I can’t imagine being one of the people back there to witness it. I saw a few other videos floating around on social media right after it happened, too. Some of them were from frighteningly close!

      Liked by 1 person

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