Trail Guide: St. Mary’s Glacier

St. Mary’s Glacier is a bit of a hidden gem, so I’ve been a little reticent to share it here. They actually removed the “Glacier” part from the highway sign so fewer people can find it, but I guess I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m okay with (potentially) ruining that. It’s definitely a hike you should do once, if not to say you’ve seen/been on a glacier, than for the spectacular views (although this is admittedly a common theme in hiking in Colorado).

On the topic of common themes, this was also a heck of a hike for me as a beginner. However, it is one of many trails that are tough, but doable. I’m a big believer in taking as many breaks for water/getting oxygen as you need. The point of hiking is to enjoy your beautiful surroundings, so why put pressure on yourself to get done AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. It’s not a race.

Elevation is always a factor for what to wear while hiking, but this is particularly true at St. Mary’s.  It is WINDY. We went in mid-September, while it was still quite hot in Denver, and were bundled. As always, dress in plenty of layers and carry a backpack to carry them as you peel them off on the way down.

Finding St. Mary’s does require some driving on non-paved roads, which can get a little rough. Take the St. Mary’s exit of off I-70, after passing through Idaho Springs (which, by the way, is the mother of all post-hiking lunch options. Hit up Tommy Knocker’s Brewery, BeauJo’s Pizza, or Smokin Yard BBQ. All are epic). It’s about an hour drive, depending on traffic.

Idaho Springs is your last stop for gas, food, and any other necessities. The trail does cost money to hike, and you have to leave either cash or a check at the parking lot. Amazingly, if you do not have exact change and you leave your mailing address on the provided piece of paper, whoever manages the trail will actually mail you a check in the amount you are owed. The cost is $5 per vehicle per day. There are trash cans and portapotties at the trailhead, and after that you’re on your own.

There are a litany of reasons why you should stay on a trail and not wander off, but most importantly at St. Mary’s you should stay on the trail because you are otherwise trespassing on people’s private property. It’s always important to be respectful of where you are hiking, but especially important here since again, these people make their home at St. Mary’s.

The trail itself is fairly rocky, but pretty wide which is nice. I admittedly had no idea I would one day be blogging about the hikes I was huffing and puffing my way through, so I don’t have any trademark back-of-my-boyfriend’s-head trail pics for you. Just make sure you’re wearing good, supportive shoes. Better yet, find yourself a pair of good hiking boots.

St. Mary's Glacier Hike Colorado Idaho Springs Beginner Hiking 3
The trail actually goes off the left, but there are a few sections where it it as rocky as what is straight ahead. Also, watch out for ice.

I may be dramatizing this hike in my mind (it was over a year ago that I did it), but it seems like a very long 1.5 mile trip. Probably because I was gasping for air most of the time. Once you reach the lake, rejoice! You are looking at the glacier. Depending on the time of year, it may look more or less glacier-ey than it does in my pictures.

You can keep walking up the glacier, but let this be my warning that if it’s extremely windy and you are a small white girl (like myself), you may not want to go all the way up. I was practically getting blown over the day we went, so I only went about halfway up. You still get an incredible view, and if there are crazy skiiers there, you can watch them go down the glacier, which is actually pretty cool.

An REI employee later informed me that it’s actually a snowfield or something, but I prefer to say I climbed a glacier. Regardless of what the proper name is, the views are worth the trek:

St. Mary's Glacier Hike Colorado Idaho Springs Beginner Hiking 4
Looking up at the glacier
St. Mary's Glacier Hike Colorado Idaho Springs Beginner Hiking
The view from halfway up
St. Mary's Glacier Hike Colorado Idaho Springs Beginner Hiking 2
Feeling triumphant back at the trailhead

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