After wrapping a print job in Denver, Colorado my photo assistant (Garrick) and I decided to squeeze in a quick day hike before our flight back home to Los Angeles. Luckily for us we stopped by a coffee with an outdoor savvy barista who suggested that we check out St. Mary’s Glacier hike. The trailhead is just an hour outside of Denver and has a big payoff for short hike.
Length: 1.5 miles (19.4 km) round-trip
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Trail Conditions: A mix of boardwalk and rugged alpine terrain (and snowy in Nov.)
Elevation: 10,300 – 11,000 ft
Misc: Dog Friendly, porta potties are provided at trailhead
Permits: None, but there is a $5 parking fee
It really is a short hike with a big payoff. After we parked our car it was only a .45 mile walk to St. Mary’s Lake, which is located a the base of the glacier. In our case the lake was completely froze over in the 20°F/-6.7°C and was solid enough for us to take a stroll right over the lake.
And yes, it was cold –luckily not to much windchill.
What I Wore to Stay Warm
- Waterproof Shoes – Ideally you’d wear some form of waterproof boots to keep the snow out and your feet warm. I wore my Salomon Gortex Trail Running Shoes. They’re very similar to sneakers, which makes them extremely versatile for jumping from urban to wilderness areas. Since they are a low cut shoe these probably weren’t the best idea for walking through fresh powder snow, but they did their job by keeping my feet dry and lucky for me most of the trail was hard packed.
- Merino Wool Socks – I swear by merino wool now. They’re light weight, dry quickly, don’t smell and come in different thicknesses. I usually wear my Darn Tough ones to accompany my trail runners.
- Fleece Warming Layer – Earlier this year I picked up a fleece from Columbia, which turned out to be one of the best bangs for the buck. Their Fuller Ridge Fleece Jacket (women/men) is very breathable, is made from Polartec 200 (warmth!) and costs around $50 or less.
- Gloves – Shame on me I left my polartec gloves I used in Utah back home, but thankfully Garrick had an extra pair of North Face running gloves that I could borrow.
- Insulated Pants – To my surprise my Nike Tech Fleece pants worked to keep my legs from freezing. Nike isn’t a brand I’d usually associated with the hardy outdoors, but surprise turns out they’re awesome for it as well.
- Beanie – While the sun was out I didn’t really need to cover my head, but after sunset the wind picked up and found myself quickly shielding my head with a merino wool beanie followed by a tightly pulled hood from my jacket.
After you pass St. Mary’s Lake you have the option of xc hiking up mountain and of course Garrick and I decided to climb up to the top to get a overview of the area. Climbing up this gradual slope in snow made me really miss my Kahtoola Microspikes which were left back in California. Although most of the snow going up hill was hard packed parts of it was still soft while other areas were slushy-like. We found ourselves either sinking in knee deep or losing traction and slipping.
The nice thing about hiking through the snow is that it’s a lot faster and more fun to get off the summit. It took us about an hour to climb up to the top and less than 10 minutes to come down. How did we attain such super speed? We laid back on hard packed snow and slid all the way down! When we reached the bottom of the hill I noticed that stars were starting to come out and decided to go for a night shot.
Overall this was the perfect day hike to go on after my morning work day. I’d recommend it if you have a few hours to spare outside of Denver, CO. It’s within an hour of the city and you get to experience a bunch of natural features in such short mileage. Plus if you go now you can walk over the lake. As someone who grew up in Southern California where winters consistently feel like early summer I am very fascinated by this snowy, frozen water phenomenon.
Sony 28mm f/2 FE
Peak Design Slide Strap
SUPPORT THE BLOG
If you find content like this helpful or enjoyable, please consider purchasing gear from B&H or any of my other my affiliate links. Anything you purchase after clicking through these links helps keep the lights on for the blog –and you get to treat yourself to a new toy!