This trail report is a re-post from my original blog, Trail Ridge Outdoors. Enjoy!
Dark clouds flowing over the mountains discouraged most of our group from hiking to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), but my aunt and I weren’t about to miss this hike. A Twitter friend, @RMNP4MS had recommended it highly.
We began our hike at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and the trail was crowded with families until we reached Alberta Falls, 0.6 miles up the trail.
Past the falls, the crowd thinned and I felt privileged to overhear a teenage boy tell his friend that this trail made him, “want to paint a picture with words.” Admittedly, I felt inspired as well. Each time I thought the view was as stunning as it could be, I found another around the corner that stopped me in my tracks.
The trail continued upward and entered a rocky basin bordered by sheer rock faces and the harsh terrain was intriguingly beautiful. Throughout RMNP, the contrast between harsh rock, vegetation and water combine to form beautiful landscapes rarely found elsewhere.
As we approached Mills Lake, the trail disappeared under snow before crossing a massive rock slab marked with cairns. Similar rock formations plunged into the clear water of Mills Lake providing a perfect lunch shot. Areas of snow along the shore added to the beauty. From here, we had views of Longs Peak, Pagoda Mountain, and Chiefs Head Peak. Continuing up the trail to Jewel Lake, which is bordered by softer terrain and grasses, we noticed that the foul weather was returning. Time to head down.
Though this was an out and back hike, the return offered a new perspective just as enjoyable as the hike out. The rest of our group missed one of the nicest hikes of the week.
From the trail head to Jewel Lake is a 2.9-mile hike. The over 9900-foot elevation had me catching my breath in a few places. Especially on a set of steps just before the lake that I have dubbed the “Stair Master.” The only consolation was that my backside surely must have looked better after THAT workout… Over all, this is an easy to moderate hike. The parking lot at the trailhead fills up early, so plan on parking at the park and ride. Pack a warm coat and a rain shell for all hikes in this area as the mountain weather changes fast.
To see a trail profile for this hike visit: The Spirit of the Rockies
Many thanks to @RMNP4MS for recommending this trail. Check out his forum RMNPFORUMS.com or follow him on Twitter for updates on Rocky Mountain National Park.