Mills Lake

Many people consider Mills Lake to be the prettiest lake in the park. It sits at the northern end of Glacier Gorge and has nice views of the peaks to the south. It’s an easy two and a half mile hike, climbing only about 750 feet to an elevation of 9,940. Its beauty and ease of access mean it is generally quite crowded. Yesterday, though, I spent an hour or so watching the world and saw nobody else at the lake or on the trail.

Mills Lake is named for Enos Abijah Mills (1870-1922), who was instrumental in the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mills purchased Longs Peak House in 1901 and turned it into the famous Long’s Peak Inn and acted as a climbing guide on Long’s Peak. He summitted the peak 304 times.

It was somewhat windy at the trailhead, and maybe a bit cooler than I was hoping for. The forecast for Denver was a high in the mid-60’s, but at 10am at Glacier Gorge Junction the outlook didn’t seem so warm. Once on the trail, the wind wasn’t an issue. There were only a dozen or so cars in the parking lot and the only people I saw on the trail all day were two couples within a few hundred yards of the trailhead.

I took the Fire Trail shortcut to the Mills/Loch/Haiyaha trail junction. The snow on the “beaten path” was well packed, and my microspikes were sufficient. It was obvious, though, that stepping off the path meant postholing in deep snow. Just below the lake, the trail crosses the outlet stream. In the depths of winter, rather than hiking up the summer trail it’s easier just to follow the stream. By now, though, the stream was thawing enough that I stayed on the summer trail.

I arrived at the lake just in time to see the peaks to the south disappear in a cloud of snow. By the time I got the camera set up for the time lapse, the little squall had come down the valley and a light snow was blowing in my face. You never know how long these little storms last, though, so I let the camera roll and had my lunch.

I had picked a spot mostly out of the wind, which can be extreme on these alpine lakes, but I didn’t really have a comfortable place to sit. So I stood, taking a few bites of my sandwich and setting it back in my pack to grab a few chips or a sip from my soda. Before long I heard some noises. I thought perhaps some hikers had arrived but when I turned to look, I saw it was a small bird sitting on a tree branch about a foot and a half from my shoulder. It sat there nicely, as if posing for a photo. The camera was busy doing the time lapse, so I reached into my pocket for the phone. I had taken my eyes off the bird to do this and when I turned back to face him, he was gone.

He didn’t go far. He was now perched on my pack and managed to peck at my sandwich, the corner of which was poking out of its plastic bag.

Brash BirdThe storm cleared after a short while, revealing a dramatic view of Pagoda, Chief’s Head, and Keyboard of the Winds. Had I managed to get the camera rolling ten minutes earlier, I’d have captured the whole thing. With the “storm” over and lunch consumed, I headed back. While the weather at Mills was wintery, the view to the north was much more spring-like.

Mills OutletIn summer, I like to take longer hikes to get away from the crowds. But the rest of the year, it’s possible to get away from everybody and enjoy the scenery without taking the whole day. This hike was less than three hours start to finish, including an hour at the lake.

Here’s the time lapse: