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One of the absolute best Denver-area trails is the St Marys Glacier Hike. This trail in Idaho Springs is perfect for all types of outdoor lovers, especially those who are visiting Denver with just a few days or less.
Whether you’re visiting many of Colorado’s mountain towns like Estes Park or Golden, or you’re just here to visit Denver, spending some time doing the St Marys Glacier trail is an absolute must. It’s popularly hiked by locals and is still somewhat of a hidden gem compared to the popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Keep reading to learn all about the St Marys Glacier hike, including when to go, how to prepare, what to pack, and what to do after!
Where is the St Marys Glacier trailhead?
The St Marys Glacier hike begins at the trailhead near Idaho Springs, Colorado. The trailhead has two different parking lots, both of which do have a small parking fee of $5. Note that the fee has to be paid in cash and there’s a small box that you can place it in.
One of the parking lots is bigger than the other, and sometimes it can be hard to find a spot, especially during busy times of the year. So, try to hike earlier in the morning.
Luckily, the weather is fairly great all day, though; I hiked during the day in July, and it was fairly cold near the glacier! I could’ve used a sweatshirt near the lake.
The trailhead also has a few bathrooms in case you have to go before you start the hike. Overall, the hike isn’t super long unless you decide to spend a long time up near the water, which is what most people do when they do this hike.
As a note, the elevation at the beginning of the trail is fairly high up since you do drive slightly up a mountain to get to the trailhead. The St Marys Glacier elevation, to get to the glacier itself, is around 1100 feet or so.
All About the St Marys Glacier Trail
Obviously, if you’re going to be doing the St Marys Glacier hike, you’ll want to know some quick facts about it.
Overall, the length is only 2.5 miles or so out and back. Note that once you get up to the lake where the glacier is, you’ll probably want to sit there for a while because of how beautiful it is. You can also make the hike even longer by going up to the summit.
As mentioned earlier, the elevation gain is 1100 feet, and you do get a lot of that elevation right at the beginning of the St Marys Glacier hike. Seriously; it pretty much goes straight up right from the parking lot, so be prepared!
On average, it takes around 1.5 hours to 2 hours total to complete this trail, which isn’t bad. I’d recommend putting aside at least two hours or so because of the beauty of the trail. Also, if you’re not used to the elevation in Colorado, then it will be better to have more time just to be safe.
The trail first starts off by going right up from the parking lot. It’s very rocky, and you definitely want hiking boots or poles, but more on that later. Sneakers just will not cut it.
You’ll want to watch your footing the entire way up because of how rocky it is! It’s fairly easy to fall because of the rocks, and you want to make sure you’re stepping on rocks that won’t move as you go.
After most of the elevation gain, it starts to get rather flat as you begin to start the small incline up to the lake and the glacier. This is where it starts to get really pretty.
Pro tip: As you’re hiking up, be sure to look back every once and a while. You’ll see the beautiful mountains in the distance, and it’s truly breathtaking.
Then, once you get to the very top, you’ll truly see the view. Many people will dip their feet into the water, but there are boulders and logs all around the area where you can sit down and enjoy what you’re looking at! Even when it’s busy, it’s fairly easy to find a spot to sit just on your own away from everyone else.
What to Pack for the St Marys Glacier Hike
When doing the St Marys Glacier hike, you’ll want to pack or bring a few things just to make sure you can do the hike easily. Check out our recommended list below!
First, you’ll want a pair of hiking boots. My whole family uses and loves the ones from The North Face because they’re fairly stylish (and come in a few colors) plus they’re long-lasting and truly comfortable. Click here to check out the women’s ones and here for men’s.
You’ll also want a water bottle. You can do this by purchasing a backpack with one of the hiking water contraptions, or you can purchase an actual water bottle. We personally love the Hydroflask and have a 32 oz one. They’re pricy, but they’re worth it, and the water stays super cold!
If you are worried about your footing, it can be a good idea to purchase a pair of trekking poles. These can pretty much be purchased everywhere, but here’s a pair online worth checking out! These can be helpful to make sure you don’t fall during your hike.
Next, and this may seem obvious, but I always recommend a backpack just so you don’t have to carry stuff that you don’t want to and you can hike hands-free. There are lots of options out there, but I have a 30L Eddie Bauer bag in all black that I’m obsessed with. Here’s a link to check it out!
Other great things to bring include a packed lunch (that you can eat up near the lake), sunscreen, sunglasses, and a light jacket or sweatshirt.
When to Hike the St Marys Glacier Trail
What’s so great about the St Marys Glacier hike is that it can truly be hiked any time of year, but it’s best for those who are experienced hiking in the winter. Crampons/spikes will definitely be needed to hike in winter, and the weather can get extremely cold.
The rest of the year is super doable whether you’ve hiked a lot before or not. In the spring and summer, even if it’s a hot day, the top area near the glacier will remain fairly cool. Hiking in the fall can be great to see the fall foliage.
I personally have done this hike in summer and absolutely loved it. It was around ninety degrees that day, and I felt like I needed a sweatshirt at the top because it was cool! It almost felt like air conditioning.
What to do After the Hike: Idaho Springs!
When you’re done hiking up to St Marys Glacier, take the time to explore nearby Idaho Springs. This quaint town is super unique and is the perfect way to experience a small town in Colorado.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Idaho Springs, in no particular order.
Argo Gold Mill and Tunnel
The most-visited attraction in Idaho Springs is definitely Argo Gold Mill and Tunnel. This is an old mining spot that is now open for tours with the public. The tour is around an hour and a half and is super informative, especially for those who have never visited a gold mine before.
At the end of the tour, guests on it get to learn how to go panning for gold. Plus, you can practice with a gold ore; this is super fun for the entire family! Plus, if you find anything, you’re allowed to keep it.
Beau Jo’s is the place to go to try Colorado-style pizza with honey. Their menu is extensive, and their pizzas are incredible. Sometimes the line to get a seat is fairly long, but it’s okay. Just join the waitlist and spend the rest of the time enjoying the charm of Idaho Springs.
Downtown Idaho Springs is so charming! There are many small shops worth stopping into where you can meet locals and learn more about the area.
If you don’t have time to visit many of the shops, be sure to at least visit The Spice and Tea Exchange of Idaho Springs. It’s one of my favorites, and they sell tons of incredible spices and teas that you can buy in bulk!
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