Local’s Guide to the St Marys Glacier Hike in Colorado

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One of the absolute best Denver-area lake trails is the St Marys Glacier Hike. This trail near Idaho Springs is perfect for all types of outdoor lovers, especially those who are visiting Denver for just a few days or less because of the impeccable views.

St Marys Glacier is one of those hikes that we had heard about a lot after moving to Denver, but it actually took us a few years to finally go out and do the trail. One summer, when family was visiting, we decided to finally make the drive out. All we can say is that we can’t believe that we didn’t do this hike sooner.

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 afterward!

Where is the St Marys Glacier trailhead?

people standing in shallow water of mountain lake.
We lucked out; there weren’t many people when we visited in the summer.

The St Marys Glacier hike begins at the trailhead near Idaho Springs, Colorado. The trailhead has two parking lots, both of which charge a small parking fee of $5. The fee must be paid in cash, and there’s a small box to put 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. (Truthfully, getting up for an early morning hike is the only time we will get up before sunrise, and it’s so worth it.)

A serene alpine landscape featuring St. Mary's Glacier near Idaho Springs with a lush green hillside, remnants of snow on the mountainside, and the clear, still waters of the glacial lake under a bright blue sky with wispy clouds.

Luckily, the weather is fairly great all day, though; we hiked during the day in July, and it was fairly cold near the glacier! We honestly could’ve used a sweatshirt near the lake.

The trailhead also has a few bathrooms if you need to use them 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 since you drive slightly up a mountain to get to the trailhead. The elevation of St Marys Glacier, to get to the glacier itself, is around 1100 feet or so.

All About the St Marys Glacier Trail

A picturesque view of St. Mary's Glacier, showing a gentle ripple on the glacial lake's surface, with a sweeping view of the rocky mountain slope covered in patches of snow against a backdrop of a partly cloudy blue sky.

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 its beauty. You can also make the hike even longer by going to the summit.

As mentioned earlier, the elevation gain is 1100 feet, and you get a lot of that elevation right at the beginning of the St. Mary’s Glacier hike. Seriously, it pretty much goes straight up right from the parking lot, so be prepared!

On average, this trail takes 1.5 to 2 hours to complete, which isn’t bad. However, because of its beauty, we recommend putting aside at least two hours. Also, if you’re not used to the elevation in Colorado, it will be better to have more time just to be safe.

As mentioned, the trail starts by going right up in elevation from the parking lot. It’s very rocky, and you definitely want hiking boots or poles—more on that later. Sneakers just will not cut it.

Rocky terrain on the St. Marys Glacier hike, with a clear blue sky above and lush green pines flanking the path, offering an invigorating experience in the great outdoors of Idaho Springs, CO.

Pro tip: Try hiking mostly along the right side on your way up. This area is a bit flatter.

You’ll want to watch your footing the entire way up because it’s rocky! The rocks make it fairly easy to fall, 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 in a while. You’ll see the beautiful mountains in the distance, which are breathtaking.

Once you get to the very top, you’ll truly see the view. Many people 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 alone, away from everyone else.

What to Pack for the St Marys Glacier Hike

An expansive view of St. Mary's Glacier in Colorado, featuring a clear glacial lake in the foreground with a fallen, weathered tree trunk, surrounded by rocky terrain with a mix of green vegetation and lingering snow against a vibrant blue sky speckled with clouds.

When hiking up to St Marys Glacier, you’ll want to pack or bring a few things to ensure you can do the hike easily. Check out our recommended list below!

🥾 First, you’ll want a pair of hiking boots. We love any of the ones from The North Face because they’re fairly stylish (and come in a few colors), long-lasting, and truly comfortable.

💦 You’ll also want a water bottle. You can purchase a backpack with one of the water bladders or a water bottle. We personally love Hydroflask, and each has a 32 oz one. They’re expensive but 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. We have used a pair from time to time. These can be helpful to make sure you don’t fall during your hike.

🎒 Next, and this may seem obvious, but we 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 we each have a 30L Eddie Bauer bag in all-black that we’re obsessed with. 

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

A rocky hiking trail leading through a dense coniferous forest near St. Mary's Glacier, with an array of green pine trees and a hiker in blue, partially visible, exploring the rugged landscape under a soft sky with scattered clouds.

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.

We personally have done this hike in summer and absolutely loved it. It was around ninety degrees that day, and we still felt like we needed a sweatshirt at the top because it was cool! It almost felt like air conditioning up near the glacier… it was a wild feeling.

A broad, rocky path cutting through a forest of tall conifers on the way to St. Mary's Glacier near Idaho Springs, Colorado, under a partly cloudy sky with distant mountain views on the horizon and hikers enjoying the trail.

What to do After the Hike: Explore Idaho Springs!

When you’re done hiking up to St Marys Glacier, take the time to explore nearby Idaho Springs. This quaint town is unique and the perfect way to experience a small mountain 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 public tours. 

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 learn how to panning for gold. They can also practice with a gold ore—this is super fun for the entire family! Plus, if they find anything, they’re allowed to keep it.

Beau Jo’s

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 that’s okay. Just join the waitlist and enjoy the charm of Idaho Springs for the rest of the time.

Shop Downtown

Downtown Idaho Springs is so charming! There are many small shops worth stopping into to 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 our favorites, and they sell tons of incredible spices and teas that you can buy in bulk!

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