From Estes Park, the shortest way to the Glacier Gorge TH is to take CO36 SW out of town toward the park. Drive past the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and continue to the entrance station and gain your admittance. A short distance past the entrance station is an intersection where you should turn left onto the Bear Lake Road. It's about 1.3 miles from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to this intersection. Head on up the Bear Lake Road, going past the large Glacier Basin Campground and continue to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking area, which is about 8.4 miles from the intersection just past the entrance station. If this parking area is already full, there are two other close-by options. One is to continue on up to the Bear Lake parking area, which holds even more vehicles. From there, a trail leads back down that will intersect the Glacier Gorge trail. Another option is to go back down from the Glacier Gorge parking area two switchbacks and after the second one, there is a small parking area for a half dozen vehicles. From there, you're probably best off to just walk back up to the Glacier Gorge TH. All of these parking areas tend to fill completely on summer days, especially weekends. But there's almost always someone pulling out. Best advice is to get here early - prior to 7:00 AM. Do not park along the road. Your vehicle may be towed.
If arriving from Granby and the Trail Ridge Road, turn right at Deer Ridge Junction and drive 3 miles to another right turn onto the Bear Lake Road.There is also a shuttle bus system maintained by the park for visitor use. Shuttles even bring visitors in from Estes Park. To learn more, go to the park website and search for the shuttle schedule.
There is no at-large camping allowed within Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a system of designated backcountry campsites and there are also regular, fee campgrounds with the typical features of toilets, firepits, tent platforms for tent sites, water and pull-through options. The nearest of these is the Glacier Basin Campground. Sites may be reserved in advance at www.Recreation.gov. Most are reserved months in advance. Beetle kill has resulted in many of the trees in that campground being cut down so a number of the sites are now treeless.
In regards to backcountry campsites, these are available on an advance reservation system as well that also involves a drawing/lottery. Permits for a backcountry site must be applied for several months in advance. You'll be provided an opportunity to list alternate choices. It can be difficult to obtain your first choice for the date you desire. There is only one camp location in the Loch/Andrews Tarn area called "The Andrews Creek" at 10,560 ft. It is about 3.6 miles in from the TH and is on the trail to Andrews Tarn and Glacier at about where the trail takes a decided turn to the west after having been heading in a northerly direction. In Glacier Gorge, there is only one backcountry site there as well which is the "Glacier Gorge, #39." Permits for these sites can be obtain & submitted online now. Begin your search here:
From the Glacier Gorge trailhead parking area, hike generally SW until a footbridge takes you across Chaos Creek and continues SW to a trail intersection. The trail coming in from the right comes down from the parking for Bear Lake. Turn left and head for Alberta Falls in .5 mile. Above the falls, the trail winds and switchbacks by the "Glacier Knobs" to another intersection at 1.4miles from Alberta Falls or 2.2 miles from the TH. Take the left fork toward Glacier Falls and Mills Lake which is about 2.8 miles from the start. Jewel Lake is an additional .4 mile beyond Mills. The backcountry campsite (Glacier Gorge #39) we were able to use is at about 3.8 miles in and is on the west side of the valley. The turnoff is marked. Continuing past the turnoff for the campsite, you'll reach Black Lake at 5.4 miles in from the TH, so the campsite is 1.6 miles from the lake. For the last mile or so in, expect the trail to not be as well used, with some boggy sections, elevated planks, some cairns and some rebuilt sections. The maintained trail terminates at Black Lake.
Designated backcountry campsites only. This link is to the only designated campsite in Glacier Gorge. You must obtain a permit to use. There is only one designated site here that can accommodate two tents. There use to be an outdoor privy, but the most recent information on the park websites instructs campers to use Wag Bags like a Restop 2. The turnoff for this campsite comes a short distance after the trail crosses a large, exposed dome of rock with a single, large glacial erratic boulder sitting on the rock dome.
Follow maintained trail as described in the "Approach" to Black Lake. From Black Lake, hike along the east shore of the lake on a fainter trail that begins to ascend at the base of slabs and cliffs in an easterly direction. Follow this trail as it turns to the south toward Green Lake, a small tarn tucked away in the basin below Pagoda and The Spearhead. Notice the jagged ridge above called "The Keyboard of the Winds," that forms a connecting ridge between Pagoda and Longs Peak. The last "notch" along that ridge just north of the Pagoda summit offers an access to the final portion of ridge that climbs to the Pagoda summit. To access the notch, head into the west facing couloir that descends from the notch.
The bottom of the couloir is really a large talus cone/slope that will change from tundra/rock to mostly rocky talus as you begin to ascend. A few hundred feet up, you'll encounter a steep rock slab. Hike along a steep ramp with some tundra at the foot of the slab instead of climbing directly on the slab. Continue working your way up and after a few more hundred feet of gain, the talus slope will narrow into the couloir. You'll now have a much clearer view of the huge spires of "The Keyboard." After about 1,200 feet of total gain in this couloir, you'll reach the head and will find yourself on the north ridge of Pagoda. This final 400 feet of gain will require "scrambling" over great boulders to reach the rocky summit. Take a nice break here and enjoy the spectacular view of the "catwalk" and "homestretch" sections of the Longs Peak standard route. Watch the tiny, ant-like people as they work their way along. It's hard to believe from this perspective that there's a non-technical access to the Longs summit!
To return, follow your ascent route back down, or contemplate a traverse over to Chiefs Head peak, if you haven't already done it. No beta available for this traverse at the present time.