Winter Hiking in Colorado - Mills Lake
Mills Lake Trail
Trail Length: 5.3-6.3 Miles
Trail Type: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 780 feet
Dog Friendly: No
Temperatures are warming up state wide and spring is just around the corner! Although we didn't have much precipitation throughout the winter, in the high country rivers are starting to flow and the greenery is beginning to blossom. Rocky Mountain National Park is always a great option when considering winter hikes since there is a lot of traffic through the park almost everyday, keeping the snowpack firm and easy to maneuver. Mills Lake is no exception with beautiful scenic views the entire hike especially once reaching the lake itself!
Your hike to Mills Lake can either begin from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead or the Bear Lake Trailhead. If you choose to start from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead you will add an extra half mile each way, compared to starting from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Starting from the Bear Lake Trailhead, the hike begins by descending down through an evergreen forests, over some small rivers, and through some aspen meadows. About a mile into the hike you will hit Alberta Falls, which in the winter is completely frozen over, but you will still be able to see the water flowing beneath the ice. If you have snow shoes, micro spikes, or crampons, you can descend down into the riverbed and check out the falls and ice formation up close. In the spring and summer, Alberta Falls is powerful 30 foot waterfall that offers a great place to cool off or enjoy a quick break. Continuing up the trail you will have great views of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain to your right, and outstanding views of the rock formations in Estes Park behind you. Make sure at all junctions to follow the signs for Mills Lake.
As you make your way up the trail, you wind around a sheer rock wall and into the valley that feeds into Mills Lake. The riverbed to the left of the trail is snow covered in winter, but in summer is rushing with snow runoff. Before you reach the lake there is a short ascent that brings you to a junction where you can go left or right. The left option is the actual trail but the route to the right offers a bit of a shortcut. After 2.6 miles of hiking you will be greeted by the beautiful subalpine lake that is Mills Lake, named after Enos Mills, one of the founders of Rocky Mountain National Park. From the lakes eastern shore, you will have panoramic views from left to right of the Keyboard of the Winds, 13,497-foot Pagoda Mountain, 13,579-foot Chiefs Head Peak and 12,668-foot Thatchtop Mountain. The lake will definitely be frozen all winter so if you want to walk on the ice, bring your spikes or crampons!
If you want to add an extra mile to your hike, you can continue on another half mile to Jewel Lake by following the trail along the left side of the lake. The further you follow the trail along the lake the photographic opportunities only increase! If you have been looking for a good winter hike you can actually complete, and get to your destination without having to trek through deep snow, THIS is the hike for you!