St. Mary’s Glacier

Distance2.7 mi
Elevation Gain787 feet
My Time1 hr 52 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownIdaho Springs
Food Nearby

What an amazing short hike with spectacular views but just because it is short doesn’t mean it is going to be easy!

A Rocky Start

Since so many people go to St. Mary’s Glacier I had assumed that it was going to be an easy hike and figured that the the trails would be on the smoother side. I was wrong. The start of this hike goes through a very rocky road with rocks of all sorts of shapes and sizes. Plus while trying to navigate the rocks you are also on a 20 degree grade for most of this section which makes it a pretty brutal way to start.

The rocky road that leads up to the lake at St. Mary's Glacier.  The road is littered with rocks from pebbles to hundred pound sizes

The Lake

Holy cow is the lake nice. For being less than a mile from the start of the hike it has to be one of the closet alpine lakes to get to. There is plenty of room around the lake with some sandy/rocky “beaches” leading to the water. I have heard that people like to swim in the lake but I saw a guy who looked a lot like Captain Ahab on the banks and didn’t want to risk getting in. (fat man/whale joke)

The views from the bank of the lake looking across the still clear water to the glacier between two mountains

Above the Lake

If you are following along the Alltrails app the trail continues up to the glacier itself. The hike above the lake is still rocky but more on the loose rock/sandy variety. It also has some really nice wildflowers around the different trails that move on from the lake.

a purple wildflower coming out of the trees. The background is tree lined mountain side.

A spot I really liked above the lake was right where the glacial melt was running down the hill into the lake. There is just some walking across the rocks and you can get right up to it. This was really my favorite spot of the hike and I kinda wished I just stayed here.

St. Mary’s Glacier

I don’t know that I would hike the glacier the next time I come. While the views are decent the effort is a bit much. The trail around the glacier was really loose rock, with even some of the larger rocks sliding down the hill on each step. Eventually you cross the snow which is slick but not too bad. I didn’t have spikes with me or anything and made it across OK. Back on terra firma and the trail was again really loose and I found footing difficult. The glacier extends into the canyon but the Alltrails trail just stops. Since I was done on my marked trail I stopped and headed back for more time at the lake.

The glacier filling the whole valley.

The Extra Waterfall

Coming down the hill a passerby let me know that they thought there was another waterfall. There is a section on that original rocky path to the lake that splits off with a sign pointing to the glacier. If you go past the sign about 20 yards you can find the waterfall which was a cool ending to this hike.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 2.7 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 787 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 11,332 feet. I was also moving for a total of 1 hours and 52 minutes.

Effort

The first stretch of this hike is pretty brutal and a lot of rocky steps which add to the difficulty. My app broke today’s hike into 2 segments for some reason but here is the step count from my fitbit.

Terrain

A majority of this hike is really rocky. The trailhead to the lake is a wide, road sized trail but it is completely covered in rocks of all shapes and sizes. As you get to the lake the trails turn to a more sandy composition. If you are a trying to get above the glacier then you will have to navigate some really loose rock. A couple of my steps sent sand and rocks tumbling down the hill. I would strongly suggest good shoes and poles.

Access

St. Marys trailhead is located off of Fall River Road near Idaho Springs. There is a parking lot before and after the trail. There is a self-pay $5 charge to park. The parking lots also have Port-o-Potties.

Wrap up

I really understand why so many people come here every year. It really is a pretty hike even if it is going to get your heart rate up a bit. The lake is a place I could have spent the entire day at. Next time I will bring some swim trunks and wade in a bit. The hike is also nice and short which makes the elevation gain a little more bearable. Take your time on the way up as those rocks are tricky to navigate.

I have added this hike and all the hikes on my interactive map that you can find here. If you have any comments or questions feel free to email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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