Here’s a fun debate, ask a hiker, what’s your favorite lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?
I think of the favorites has to be Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge on the west side of the park.
Mills Lake is a good hike for visitors, it’s just 2.8 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain. The lake shoreline is not only beautiful, so is the backdrop. Mills Lake has a view of Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds. And Mills Lake is named for Enos Abijah Mills, the man nicknamed the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.”
Mills is credited with leading the campaign for establishing a national park in the Estes Park area, according to the Rocky Mountain National Park website. Mills was from Kansas, but became a guide on Longs Peak in the late 1800s. He climbed Longs Peak more than 250 times. Read more about Mills and his work here.
Most hikers start the hike to Mills Lake at the Glacier Gorge trailhead. There is parking here, a bathroom, some benches and a trail information sign. However, it’s best to take the Bear Lake shuttle to the Glacier Gorge parking lot because the lot fills very early in the morning.
The hike starts with a few steps down and soon crosses a roaring creek. At the first trail split, don’t turn left. It goes to Sprague Lake and Glacier Basin. Instead, go a short distance until you see the sign directing you to turn left for Alberta Falls, Mills Lake and Loch Vale.
Here the trail levels out as it winds through the trees and across a stream.
As hikers approach the canyon of Glacier Creek Gorge, they hear the water before they see it. Look over the edge (just don’t get too close) and into the colorful canyon carved out by the river. Continue hiking up the now rockier trail to Alberta Falls.
This 25-foot waterfall is a treat in all seasons. Come in the winter and you’ll find it mostly frozen. Come in the spring to see it gushing strong with snow melt. Come in the summer to enjoy the refreshing spray. Come in the fall for a picture of the falls with the turning leaves.
From Alberta Falls, it’s almost 2 miles to Mills Lake. From here, the trail gets rockier and steeper. The trail is moderate so many families enjoy this hike. There are several stream crossings along the way with wood bridges. At each stream crossing, look up the stream and down stream to see the various cascades. While none are large, the cascades make for pretty pictures.
As hikers approach Mills Lake, many are watching their feet so they don’t trip on the rocks. But that first view of the mountains surrounding the lake is wonderful. That mountain range not only features the 14,000 foot peak that’s on the Colorado quarter, Longs Peak. The mountain range also has several other peaks over 13,000 feet high. Some say the mountain range is called Keyboard of the Winds because of the sound the wind makes as it moves between the peaks.
Take the time to enjoy Mills Lake from a couple spots along the shore. Take pictures from different angles to see different mountains around it. Don’t miss the outflow stream, which makes for more scenic pictures. And enjoy the debate or just how high this lake belongs on your list of top 10 best lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Details: Approx. 5.6 miles RT, 750 feet elevation gain, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Read about more hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the James Peak Wilderness and across Colorado here.
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