The journey I’ll take you on this month is one of my favorite hikes; Mills Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’ve never been on this hike, I encourage you to go & enjoy the place that was chosen as the picture of Colorado, the back of the state quarter.
In the summer I encourage you to park at the park & ride & take the shuttle to Glacier Gorge. There is very limited parking here so the shuttle is always the best option. You can park at Bear Lake & add approximately ¾ of a mile to this hike. The hike itself starts at an elevation of 9,240 feet & gains approximately 750 feet along the way. Mills Lake is at 9,990 feet is the altitude alone makes this hike a bit difficult for the beginner. From the trailhead at Glacier Gorge the roundtrip distance is approximately 5.6 miles. I would give myself at least 3 hours for this hike, although the three times I’ve done it I’ve taken closer to 4 because I love to sit at the lake & take in the mountains that surround it.
Starting from Glacier Gorge the hike begins with a stroll through a wonderful Aspen forest. You feel completely surrounded by the Aspens & it’s a wonderful way to begin this hike. The path ahead is fairly rocky so I hope to encourage you to wear a good pair of hiking boots. As with most trials in RMNP, the trail is well marked & easy to follow.
After leaving the Aspen forest you slowly begin your trek up to Mills Lake. The first amazing view along the way (& place that many families hike to & then return) is Alberta Falls. There is several great viewing places along the trail to see this lovely waterfall. From the start of the hike it’s only approximately ¾ of a mile to Alberta Falls so it is an easy place to stop & enjoy the view. In the summer months you’ll leave the crowds behind once you pass by the falls.
The trail ahead continues upward & the views along the way can be breathtaking. There are many places to ‘pull off’ the trail & take a look that the vast expanses of the park because of the height of this trail on clear days you can see for miles & miles. In the fall you can see the mountainsides speckled with the color of the Aspens & the green of the pines.
You’ll come to a fork in the trail at approximately 2.2 miles into the hike. You have a choice at this point to turn to your left & finish the Mills Lake trail or go to your right & head up to The Loch. I’ve done both of these hikes & they are both well worth your journey. The Loch finishes with a large elevation gain right at the end so be aware of this if you choose this path.
As you continue on to Mills Lake you’ll move through a pine forest & then into a very rocky part of the hike. You’ll traverse a few boulders as you make your way up to the lake. The approach to the lake is well hidden & you won’t discover the full glory of this gem until you actually get to the banks of the lake.
Once you’ve made it across the boulders you’re almost there! There are many places to sit & take in the beauty around you once you reach the lake. I love to just sit on the bank & enjoy the mountains & the crystal clear lake.
The return is the same way you came, although it always seems a bit easier to me because you are going downhill. I do caution you that if you are returning to Glacier Gorge you’ll need to watch for the right hand turn near the end of the trail. The natural trail goes forward to Bear Lake & although there is a sign it’s easy to miss.
Till next time,