St. Mary’s Glacier
The hike to St. Mary’s Glacier is quintessential Colorado for a few reasons.
For the rugged and sweeping scenery.
For the easy access — that spoiled feeling we get only an hour’s drive from Denver.
And, let’s face it, for the crowds.
In-staters and out-of-staters flock to the trail reached off Interstate 70, past Idaho Springs. It’s a good one for your visitors who want a taste of the alpine. For beating the heat, it’s especially good in the summer — if you can get a parking spot.
Though the elevation starting above 10,000 feet might be more than your flat-lander guests bargained for. And however epic their desires, conditions might be too epic in the winter. The rocky trail is notoriously icy. There is also avalanche danger to consider.
Whatever the season, if one is driving from the Front Range, one should be aware of the weather changes at the trailhead. It is, after all, the alpine. It can be especially windy out of the trees at the destination: a lake reflecting the vertical grandeur. It reflects, too, smiles that immediately come to first-timers.
If it’s your first time, you might be confused by trail branches along the way. The general rule of thumb is to continue uphill. Follow the small, trickling stream, directional downed logs and stacks of rock. You’re very unlikely to be alone, so you can always ask a fellow hiker if in doubt.
From the lake, one could continue on the trail north toward the summit views. It adds about another mile to the round trip.
Trip log: 1.1 miles round trip to the lake and back, 462 feet elevation gain, 10,839 feet max
Getting there: Going west on I-70, continue past Idaho Springs and take the exit for St. Mary’s/Alice. Go right and continue through the neighborhood, ascending a series of switchbacks for about 8 miles to the large parking lot (try a smaller one farther north if full). From the large parking lot, the rocky trail starts to the left about 100 yards up the road.
FYI: $5 fee for parking. Hiking only recommended. Dogs on leash. Icy in fall, winter and spring; wear traction.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE