St Mary's Glacier Colorado Hike Guide
ST MARY’S GLACIER COLORADO HIKE GUIDE
St Mary’s Glacier itself is actually no longer a glacier but rather year round snow-pack and extremely popular hike in the Front Range of Colorado. Many people who hike St Mary’s Glacier enjoy beautiful St Mary’s Lake which sits below the “glacier”. This popular hike is a quick 20 minute drive off I-70 and is visited by people year round by locals and tourists to Colorado. I would recommend visiting from July-October to experience the beauty of the area without the snow pack, unless you are looking to snowshoe or ski/board in the area.
St Mary’s Glacier Quick Facts
Rating: ★★★★ (⅘ Stars)
Distance: 1.14 Miles RT to St. Mary’s Lake, 2.8 miles RT to top of St. Mary’s Glacier
Elevation Start: 10,359 ft
Summit: 11,436 ft (top of St. Mary’s Glacier) 10,700 ft (St. Mary’s Lake)
Total Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 1 Hour RT to St. Mary’s Lake, 1.5-2 Hours RT for St. Mary’s Glacier
Difficulty: Easy What does this mean?
Class: Class 1
Season: Year Round – but expect snow October – May
Directions to St Mary’s Glacier
Trailhead: St Mary’s Glacier
Getting Here: Take I-70 to exit 238 and follow fall river road about 9 miles to the first parking lot which will be on your left. Once you get to the parking area, you will need to walk up the road about 100 yards past the parking lot and the trail starts on your left. St. Mary’s Glacier Trailhead can be entered into your favorite navigation app.
Fee: $5, cash only, must be paid at the pay stations near the bathrooms
Parking: Parking for James Peak shares the same lot as extremely popular St Mary’s Glacier. If you plan on hiking this hike on a weekend, get here early. The lot is massive but will fill up on busy summer weekends. There are two very disgusting porta potties at the TH.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on this hike, but must be kept on a leash. Although its not a deal breaker, the trail up to the lake is pretty rocky, so just keep an eye on your fury friends pads if they are not used to hiking. There will be plenty of people and other dogs are you hike up to St. Mary’s Lake and Glacier in case your dog does not “play well with others.”
Camping: Free camping is available in areas around the lake. Much of the land leading up to the St. Mary’s Lake and Glacier is private so just be respectful when camping (pack in pack out, leave no trace etc. etc.) To be honest, camping near St. Mary’s Glacier would probably not be my first choice due to the overwhelming amount of people who visit each day, but to each their own.
Make it a Loop: If you are looking for a longer hike in the exact same area as St. Mary’s Glacier, head up to James Peak. To reach the start of the James Peak trail, just continue straight after reaching the top of St. Mary’s Glacier.
Mountain X Factors: Crowds and Camping
St. Mary’s Glacier is located about an hour from Denver and is popular year round destination. For the least amount of crowds, arrive to the Glacier early or later in the afternoon and you could quite literally have the place to yourself.
If you are looking to camp near the glacier, there are permit free opportunities to do that as long as you are north and west of the lake and avoid private property lines. As always with back-country camping, leave no trace and be sure to avoid large groups and camping too close to any water source (rule of thumb is generally 150 feet).
Hike Tip(s): St. Mary’s Glacier is a great place to pair hiking with other activities. If you can bare the cold water, this makes for a great place to swim or do some cliff jumping into the lake that has formed at the bottom of the glacier. Looking to ski or snowboard (almost) year round? This is a great spot, that even in summer months, has several hundred yards of snow to enjoy. Fishing is also allowed here (bag limit of 10 fish, 8 inches or less) but the lake is not stocked.
Best Views: Arrive to the glacier early to get some beautiful shots of the lake and glacier without the crowds. If you are with a group, taking action shots of people jumping off some of the nearby cliffs makes for a very neat memory. Season-wise, I would try to head to St. Mary’s Glacier during the fall to catch the combination of late season foliage with early season snow.
Our Trip to St. Mary’s Glacier: August 2015
My last visit to St. Mary’s was last summer during late August with my girlfriend. We arrived to the parking lot around 6AM with the plan to hike the St. Mary’s Glacier and neighboring James Peak. When we arrived we were 1 of 4 or 5 cars in the parking lot.
We packed our daypacks and started up the rocky trail towards St. Mary’s Lake. When we arrived about 30 minutes later, we had the place to ourselves besides the couple of groups which had camped out the night before. We ate our breakfast, took some pictures and enjoyed the peace and serenity. We started up the rocky trail towards St. Mary’s Glacier (to the northeast of the lake). The trail was pretty easy to follow most of the way. We choose to follow the dirt trail on the side of the snow but we could have easily hiked straight up the snowy middle section if we wanted to.
On the way down from James Peak, we decided to take a different trail down to the lake (west [right] side of the glacier). We saw several groups of people skiing and snowboarding on the snowy section of the glacier. Lugging all of your ski gear up St. Mary’s Glacier only to ski a small section of trail did not see worth it to me. But hey, to each their own.
By the time we got back down to the lake (around 11AM) it was socked with people. The cold water of the lake was a perfect place to soak our tired feet from the hike to James Peak and cool off on the hot summer day. We spent some time relaxing and sunbathing while we watched all of the people jumping off cliffs into the lake below. On our way out, there was a steady stream of people coming up the trail and the parking lot which was empty this morning, was now chalk full.
St Mary’s Glacier was a nice quick hike but is extremely popular among visitors of the state. We noticed that the majority of people who hiked up to St. Mary’s Glacier stopped at the lake. St Mary’s Glacier is not a personal favorite of mine (just because of the crowds), but if you are in the area I would recommend stopping here to take in the beauty.