Mills Lake Snowshoe

February 25th, 2012

We had originally planned to hike Mills Lake the weekend before for my birthday, but I took Tyler to the CSU vs Wyoming basketball game and he got to bed really late and didn't sleep in, so he was in no mood for a 5 mile snowshoe.  The weather was supposed to be good on Saturday, so we got in the car early to get up to RMNP and start the snowshoe.  We left around 7:30 and stopped at Burger King in Loveland for breakfast.  We made it to the Glacier Gorge trailhead around 9:00.  The parking lot was already about 2/3rd full.  We got our snowshoes on and headed up the trail.  It is a quick 0.3 miles to the junction with the trail down from Bear Lake.  We then followed the trail towards Mills Lake.  We followed the obvious tramped down trail towards Alberta Falls.  I'm not sure which way the trail went exactly, but it definitely didn't follow the normal trail route.  There were a couple of really steep sections that aren't on the normal trail.  It was amazing how hard it was to find the normal trail with all of that snow.  I thought it would be more obvious because it is such a wide trail in the summer.

I didn't stop to take any pictures on the way up, we were making pretty good time until we got about 1.4 miles up the trail.  At that point, we met several people that had turned around and said the trail ended just ahead.  I had my GPS with me and it has topo maps which include the trails, so we looked at where we were in relation to the real trail.  We were actually quite close to the real trail even though we got to that point in a very different way than normal.  The trail that we had followed cut off a lot of the meandering the normal path does.  As a result, it was steeper and more difficult, especially given how deep the snow was in sections.  It was easily over 8 feet deep in some spots.  We were really glad we had snowshoes as there were a couple of people on the trail without them and they were having a miserable time as they kept slipping into the snow up to their hips.

We broke some trail for a few hundred feet and were able to meet up with the real trail right around the junction where it splits with a trail that heads up towards Longs Peak.  From that point on, the trail was pretty easy to follow and a lot less steep.  We made good time and were at Mills Lake by around 11:30.  We stopped and grabbed a snack and I took a few pictures of the icy lake.  Mills Lake is one of my all time favorite hikes in RMNP, but this was the first time I've ever been up in the winter. 

Snow and ice near the outlet of Mills Lake

I took a few pictures of Erin and Tyler at the lake.

Family photos at Mills Lake

The outlet of Mills always has lots of logs.  It was neat to see them all covered in snow.  Also, Mills Lake always has awesome views of the back side of Longs Peak and Pagoda.  It was pretty windy when we got to Estes Park, but most of the trail is quite sheltered, so we had been out of the wind for most of the time on the hike.  When we got to the lake that changed and there were some strong gusts that made it chilly and whipped up the snow.  The pictures make it look colder than it was.  The weather overall was really good.

Awesome views and some blowing snow

We finished our snacks and headed back down the way we came.

Snow drifts on the trail

The trail we followed went through a really steep section a couple of minutes from the lake.  Tyler slid down it on his snow pants.  Erin and I hiked down and tried not to slip.

Super steep section.  Definitely not the normal trail.

There were some really pretty looking trees that still had lots of snow on them as we walked through.

Snow covered trees

On the way back, some clouds rolled in and obscured the sun.

On the way back the clouds rolled in.

We made quick time on the way back.  We stopped at Alberta Falls.  It looks quite a bit different all covered in snow.  There was also a nice pair of blue birds in the area.

Alberta Falls

We got back to the car at about 1:00.  It took us about 4 hours to cover the 5 miles round trip.  We were pretty hungry so we went to a Mexican restaurant for a late lunch.  After lunch we drove back to Fort Collins and went to a physics exhibit for kids at CSU.  We didn't know exactly what to expect, but figured we would spend about a half an hour there and head home.  We ended up spend an hour and 45 minutes.  Tyler had a really good time.  They had all kinds of demonstrations and activities.  Tyler even got to have some ice cream that they made with liquid nitrogen.  We'll definitely have to check it out again next year when they have it.  It was another great day in Colorado.

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