St. Mary’s Lake/Glacier

Trail Length: 2.45 miles (roundtrip)
Trailhead Elevation: 10,367’
Elevation Change:  +477, net elevation gain
Trailhead Location:  From I-70, exit #238 for St Mary’s – Alice – Fall River Road. From the exit ramp, turn north on CR 275 and drive 9.2 miles to the St Mary’s Glacier Trailhead on the left (west) side of the road. Roadside parking is restricted (see rules and regulations above). The trail begins on a wide, rocky forest road marked by a large white sign clearly visible from the road.

I wanted to get out again last Sunday but wasn’t sure where to go and I didn’t feel like driving far.  I also try to stay off of the I-70 corridor heading west into the mountains from Denver to avoid all of the ski traffic.  I finally decided on St. Mary’s Lake/Glacier.  It met my criteria and although I did need to take I-70, it was only for a short distance so I knew I would avoid most of the traffic.

I also decided it would be a great spot as I’ve been working on putting together seasonal contrasting photos taken at the same location during different seasons.  Since we do much more summer hiking, we have many photos of mountain lakes and scenes taken during the summer/fall season but need to collect more from the winter season.  So, I headed off for St. Mary’s Lake.  You can read about our June hike to St. Mary’s lake here.

As with last week, it was a beautiful blue sky day when I left, but more clouds in the sky with blowing snow in the high country.

It’s only about 0.5 miles to the northeast shore of the lake.



A contrasting shot comparing this same view to June.


I continued up the trail along the northeast shore of the lake, heading towards the glacier itself.


I proceeded to climb up the glacier (it’s actually a permanent snowfield and not a glacier).  It was quite windy with blowing snow.  A couple of people ahead of me moving up the snowfield.


Looking back down the valley at the lake.




A contrasting shot from this vantage point looking down on the lake from the glacier.


I was going to continue further up the snowfield but the wind was blowing quite strong and it looked like whiteout conditions ahead so I knew I wasn’t going to get any better views so I turned around.

A view of the mountains to the southeast as I turned to head back down.


Back down at the lake’s shore looking back up the snowfield.



Looking across the lake to the south.  I headed across the middle of the lake to the other shore.



A final view of the lake before heading back down the trail.


Taking in the views heading down.



Near the parking lot were some old cabin ruins.




My route mapped out with MayMyHike.


I made it back to the car and started my drive back home.  A few shots taken from the road of the beautiful peaks near St. Mary’s.




A great short outing on a Sunday afternoon!

Loch Vale-Mills Lake

Round-Trip Length: 7.5 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,180 – 10,236′
Net Elevation Gain: +1,056′
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located 8.4 miles from the Meadows Entrance Station on Bear Lake Road. Just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located on the left side of the road and has limited parking. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Bear Lake Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.

The second week in a row I decided to go snowshoeing. I decided to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park as it had been a few years since I’ve been up there in the winter. The forecast called for sun and wind. It seems it is always windy up in the park in the winter. I was hoping for a clear day to get some good photos. Although there was blue sky, because the wind was quite strong and gusty, it was blowing snow all around the peaks and those weren’t as clear as I would have liked but it was still a great day to get out.

I arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and got on the trail around 9:55am. A short distance up the trail, I came to a bridge crossing. You can see the depth of snow here. The snow was all the way to the top of the bridge railings.


A short distance further up the trail (about a quarter of mile from the trailhead) I came to the first trail sign junction. I headed off in the direction of Alberta Falls and Loch Vale.


In 0.87 miles from the trailhead, I arrived at Alberta Falls. The waterfall is named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area. Normally the 30-foot waterfall thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek. No falls in the dead of winter.


Here is a comparison photo comparing winter to autumn at Alberta Falls.


I continued on up the trail. At 2.2 miles I came to the Loch Vale – Mills Lake junction. I continued on up towards Loch Vale.



At the junction of the North Longs Peak trail, I did get a little lost. It is much harder to follow a trail in the winter. I ended up going a short distance up the North Longs Peak trail where the tracks just kind of ended. I turned around and eventually found my way back to the Loch Vale trail and continued up. The snow deepened and the climb steepened on the final approach to the lake.





I arrived at the lake where there were quite strong gusts of wind. Here’s a short video to give you an idea (and this was during a calm spell)!


Some shots around the lake.






I did head across the frozen lake and up into the trees a short distance on the other side.




Some parts of the lake had huge snow drifts while other parts the wind had totally blown off the snow exposing shiny ice.


A couple of more shots of the lake.



Here is a comparison shot contrasting Loch Vale today with an autumn shot.


I started back down the steep, snowy section of the trail.


I reached the trail junction with Mills Lake and decided to head the 0.6 miles up to that lake. A view heading up.


The final approach to Mills Lake.



I arrived at Mills Lake and sat for a few minutes taking in the view. It wasn’t quite as windy here as it was at Loch Vale.



Another contrasting shot of Mills Lake in summer compared to today.


I headed back on down the trail. I again lost the trail at the North Longs Peak trail junction. I would follow a set of tracks that would just kind of end. I turned around and headed back up the way I came from searching for the trail. The wind was quite strong blowing over and covering up tracks that were made. I ran into several other people and together we tried to find the right way. After a little searching, I finally got on the correct trail again. Always a little scary when you lose the trail, especially in winter! There was actually a guy who spent the night out just a few days ago in this very area and was found and taken out the next morning. He had hypothermia but was OK otherwise. A good reminder to respect the mountains and weather conditions and always be prepared!

I made it back down to the car around 3:00pm and was ready to call it a day. An overview of my trip. The route is not accurate on the way back from Loch Vale as my phone shut off at Loch Vale because it was too cold. So, it shows a straight shot to car not following the trail nor my detour up to Mills Lake.


Brainard Lake Snowshoe

Trail Length: 6.41 miles
Trailhead Elevation: 10,065’
Maximum Elevation: 10,379’
Elevation Change: +314′ net elevation
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead Location:    Take Highway 72 to the town of Ward. Just north of Ward turn west of Forest Service Road 102 (Brainard Lake Road) and drive 2.5 miles to the winter closure and parking lot.

Last Sunday I got out with some good friends for my first snowshoe trek of the season. The mountains have been getting plenty of snow already this year so I was excited to get out into the High Country. Brainard Lake is always a nice area and also off the beaten path avoiding the ski traffic into the mountains. The forecast was for some sun and some possible snow showers.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 10:00am and headed out on the trail around 10:20am. In the summer you can drive up to Brainard Lake and start off from there on one of the many trails into the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. However, in the winter the road is closed 2.5 miles from the lake and you must park and walk/snowshoe the additional distance to get to Brainard. You can opt to snowshoe the road or take the Colorado Mountain Club Snowshoe Trail through the woods. We opted for the snowshoe trail. The trail is 0.75 mile longer than taking the road but more scenic as it’s a single track trail through the woods. A view from the parking lot before we headed out.


Heading up through the woods on the trail.



Just a short distance up the trail we passed a small pond. Some views from the pond.





We saw some pretty cool looking ice crystals at the pond as well.



We continued on up the trail. An occasional peak through the trees at the peaks.


The trail continued on up for 1.5 miles, crossed the road, and continued on up another 1 mile to the east shore of Brainard Lake at 10,360’. We arrived at the lake around 11:35am. It was amazingly calm at the lake. This area is normally known to be quite blustery. We sat here and ate our lunch and took in the views. We had lost the little sun we had but still had a nice view of the peaks.





After our lunch, we decided to head back down. There several other trails that head off from Brainard Lake to Mitchell Lake, Blue Lake, Long Lake, and Lake Isabelle. We recently hiked all of those lakes this past summer. You can read about those hikes by clicking on the links on the lake names mentioned. You can also read about my snowshoe hike to Long Lake in 2013 by clicking here.

A comparison photo of Brainard Lake – one shot taken in June of 2016 and the other shot taken on today’s snowshoe trek. Quite a contrast in seasons!


We made a loop and headed back to the parking lot. A small bridge crossing along the way.


The map of our route for the day.


We headed back to Littleton and stopped off at the Morrison Inn in Morrison for some Mexican food before getting back home.

South Valley Park Collection

Round-Trip Length: 2.8miles
Trailhead Location: From C-470 and Ken Caryl Avenue take South Valley Road and park in either the north parking lot or continue down to Deer Creek Canyon Road to park in the south lot.

South Valley Park is another “go-to” hike for something close to home.  It’s a beautiful area with red sandstone rock formations and great reflections in Mann Reservoir.  Below is a collection of photos from different hikes in different seasons we’ve done in South Valley Park.  More detailed blog posting can be found here.



















Waterton Canyon


Round-Trip Length: 7.00 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,509′ – 5,782′
Elevation Change: +273′ net elevation gain (+658′ total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Trailhead Location Follow Wadsworth Blvd (Highway 121) south of C470 past Chatfield Reservoir to the Kassler Center, where you will find public parking.

Whenever we’re looking for a hike close to home, we often will head to Waterton Canyon. This was the case a week ago Sunday. Even though close to home, you feel you are in a remote area away from the city.

Waterton Canyon is owned and operated by Denver Water. It offers a 6.5 mile hike to Strontia Springs Dam. The Colorado Trail continues above the lake approximately 10 miles to the confluence of the North Fork of the South Platte and the South Platte River. The Colorado Trail continues to Durango. Waterton also connects to the Roxborough State Park trail system.

The trail (actually a road) follows the South Platte River and is used by hikers and cyclists. There is fishing in the South Platte River and one is almost always sure to see bighorn sheep and mule deer in the canyon. Waterton also hosts more than 40 species of birds.

On this day we hiked 3.5 miles up the road before turning around and heading back.





We saw bighorn sheep but not up close this time.  They were climbing up on the walls of the canyon but we did get a few shots.




As the sun was setting, we got some beautiful shots of the clouds.





We got back to the car at dusk.  It’s always a good hike in Waterton Canyon!





Cascade Falls

Round-Trip Length: 8.64 miles – includes hiking about .92 miles beyond the falls
Start-End Elevation: 8,491′ – 8,893′
Elevation Change: +402′ net elevation gain (+620′ total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Trailhead Location:  North Inlet Trailhead is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, just off West Portal Road on the north side of Grand Lake.  From Highway 34, turn east for Grand Lake on Highway 278 / West Portal Road. Drive approximately .75 miles and turn left up a steep, narrow dirt road at the sign for Tonahutu and North Inlet trailheads. In .2 miles take the quick right fork and continue another .25 miles to the trailhead parking lot.

We did this hike over Labor Day weekend while we were up in the Grand Lake area. It was a beautiful weekend and this was a nice, easy hike.


Heading up the trail.


A mountain weasel we saw along the way.


Arriving at Cascade Falls after 3.4 miles.






Taking a break above Cascade Falls.


Heading back down the trail with a shot of the creek and trail.



There was definitely a hint of Fall in the air.






Of course I stopped to take a reflection picture in a puddle on the way back.


Our hike route.