Enos Mills was this awesome guy they call “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park”. Who’s “they”? No idea. But Enos Mills was pretty great. He spent most of his time lobbying congress and giving speeches on behalf of creating RMNP. When he wasn’t doing that, he spent the rest of his time climbing Longs Peak. He’s guided on Longs over 300 times and climbed it 40 times by himself. Since Longs Peak was already named, they named the 2nd best thing after Enos– Mills Lake. From the shore of Mills Lake you can gaze longingly at the back of Longs Peak. (See what I did there?)
I’d love to have a job where I hike around National Park-worthy locations and then yell at politicians about how it needs to be protected, but I need to pay rent to be able to afford my National Parks pass, so I have a regular job. But I can appreciate all the work Enos Mills and many other great naturalists put into protecting our amazing lands, (not you Kansas,) and so I will proudly hike along a trail through RMNP, named after one of its greatest protectors, and maybe, just maybe, I will be walking in the footprints of what I consider to be one of America’s greatest unsung heroes.
Near the end of Bear Lake Road you’ll find a parking lot for the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This is where your quest to Mills Lake will begin. Click here for directions.
STARTING ELEVATION: 9,240′
ENDING ELEVATION: 9,940′
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: 780
DISTANCE: 4.6 miles out and back.
DIFFICULTY: Easy in summer / Moderate in winter.
The views on this hike are stunning. Being close to Bear Lake and Emerald Lake trails, they share similar views to the south/south-east. Once at Mills Lake, you can eat lunch beneath the spiky mountain formation known as Keyboard of the Winds, named for the sounds they supposedly make on windy days. (Has anyone heard it for themselves?) At the far end of Mills Lake, to the south, Longs Peak looms at 14,259′. I doubt we were the first hikers to gaze upon the mountain while eating our lunch on the shore of Mills Lake and ask each other if we would ever hike it one day.
There are many turn offs to other trails along the Mills Lake route, and only about 60% of them were marked with signs. This lead to some confusion, not just by us, but by every other party we encountered along the way. Armed with a map we were able to discern which path to take after a few minutes of consultation, so definitely bring one along with you and pay attention to your surroundings.
Sometimes there were tons of signs…
And sometimes we had to make our own signs…
To be fair, the snow was easily 3-4 feet deep in places, so some signs could have been buried deep under the snow. Below are a couple examples of how deep the snow was. On the left, a hitching post for horses can be seen almost at “ground” level. You gotta have some pretty small horses to tie off there. In the photo to the right, Andre shows what “deep” trouble you can get into if you step one foot off the snowy trail…
One of the other great things about Mills Lake Trail is that while you get to take in all the amazing views Bear & Emerald have to offer, Mills is much less crowded. There were fewer hipsters mugging for selfies, but we did happen to encounter this crazy girl along the trail…
Andre pretended not to know me and continued down the trail.
And later, when Andre was busy doing this…
I was doing this.
Ok enough fooling around. Here’s the rest of the pictures…
When we were finishing up the hike and were within site of the parking lot, I said to Andre, “That was a great hike! It did not disappoint.” His reply was, “Do you think there are ANY disappointing hikes in National Parks?”
Well, are there?
– C. Egli