Before heading home for Christmas, we went up with our friends to Estes Park, Colorado for a long weekend. Their family owns a home within 15 minutes of Rocky Mountain National Park (!). RMNP transforms into a winter wonderland this time of year and we were excited to go snowshoeing, especially since we got lucky with a fresh 12 inches of fluffy powder the night before our hike.
We drove up Friday afternoon and that evening drank [hipster] Moscow Mules and played hours of cribbage, 31, and Durak while listening to Christmas music. Pizza and salad were consumed to
complete negate the Christmas theme.
Saturday morning we had breakfast tacos and then delayed our outing as much as possible because it was -10 degrees out and windy. Eventually we were forced to optimize diurnal temperature increase with not wanting to die in the dark from hypothermia, so out we ventured.
Mills Lake Trip Information
- Round Trip: 5.3 miles
- Start elevation: 9,240 feet
- End elevation: 9,940 feet
- Elevation gain: 780 feet
- Trail head: Glacier Gorge
Fun fact: Mills Lake is named after Enos Mills, who is commonly referred to as the “father of Rocky Mountain National Park”. He was the area’s first naturalist, and his efforts led to the profession of interpretive park rangers. He spent years lobbying Congress and writing thousands of letters and articles that facilitated the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park on January 26, 1915.
The hike begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, ~8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36 on Bear Lake Road. This is a great snowshoe hike because it is relatively flat and short. AND, in contrast to the summer there are no crowds!
The trail starts out as flat + easy walking. Within the first half mile we were greeted with winter wonderland views.
After this was the most strenuous part of the hike. As in I was sucking wind immediately. Hiking this elevation gain would have been minimal in summer conditions, at least I tell myself that. But with 20 extra pounds on my feet from mountaineering boots and snowshoes, plus 20 pounds of extra clothing and a backpack, plus a balaclava that felt like I was breathing through a paper bag = 15 minutes of self-inflicted torture. Yay hobbies.
We reached the lake-not-really-a-lake-anymore. Mills Lake winter views:
We watched the snow blowing off the peaks to make a beautiful magical mistiness.
Also this was where we were fully out of the trees and it was SO WINDY AND COLD. I took off my glove to take a picture and it was numb in 5 seconds. Rookie mistake.
After we turned around, the fun part began! Well, it was all fun. But here we could run downhill in our snowshoes and forget about the previous discomfort of huffing + puffing and sweating in -8 degrees.
This was a great snowshoe hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, especially for beginners or people wanting a shorter winter hike to minimize cold exposure.
Although it seems like a small hike, remember that things can quickly go downhill in winter mountain conditions and you need to be prepared. Exposure can rapidly lead to frostbite, hypothermia, and DEATH. Dun dun dun. But seriously. Bring plenty of extra warm clothing, materials to make a fire, water, food, a headlamp, first aid supplies, a space blanket, etc. For $3 why WOULDN’T you want to wait out bad conditions in this: