All the information you need for the Mills Lake Hike at Rocky Mountain National Park
By the end of this article, you will be able to feel confident in hiking to Mills Lake Trail.
Start your adventure that will include awe-inspiring views of the Glacier Gorge trail system of Rocky Mountain National Park. You will transported to breathtaking scenery that includes beautiful mountains with snow-capped peaks, colorful wildflowers, and maybe even some wildlife!
INCLUDED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Highlights and Information on the Mills Lake Hike
Driving Directions to the starting point at Glacier Gorge Trailhead from Estes Park
TO THE POINT Clear and Concise Summary Directions
2D Map showing directions to the Trailhead (start of hike)
STEP-BY-STEP DETAILED Directions for the “Map-ically Challenged!”
3D Map showing topographical detail of the trail
Highlights and Information Before You Start
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If you are going to be staying at a resort or hotel, then you will need to reserve those accommodations early. But, if you are CAMPING (either tent camping, or Sprinter Van/RV/Camper camping), you will NEED to reserve these spots super early. They go like hotcakes. I’m not really sure what that means, either. But, let’s just agree to agree that they sell out quickly. Make sure to check out how we tell you all the amazing apps you can use to find campgrounds!
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Many people hike the Mills Lake Hike from Denver or other parts of Colorado. It can get very busy in this popular national park! You may choose to ride the shuttle bus service available at Rocky Mountain National Park during the operating months May through October. Please check the National Park Service Website Here in order to see dates, times, and a map of the shuttle bus service within RMNP!
Updated Trail Conditions
Mills Lake trail conditions can be found here. Updated Trail Conditions can be found by clicking here.
Colorado Road Conditions
Mills Lake weather can be fickle, and its always important to look at the road conditions. Road Conditions in Colorado can be found by clicking here.
Depending on where you are going, and when, and who is going with you, you will need to pack certain gear. Take time before to find, purchase, and pack the gear you need. Consider our 17 things you need to pack, but didn’t think of, as well as our list of essentials for a day hike. You can even check out our guide to gifts for hikers and adventurers to give you ideas regarding items that you may need (or want!) to make your vacation even better!
Gear is really important, and give yourself the time to think, research, and plan for the things that you will most need and want during your vacation. Frankly, I even make lists for food and clothing. (But like I said, I’m a planner, people.)
Highlights and Quick Reference Guide
- Moderately easy to Moderate Hike
- 5.6 miles round trip from Glacier Gorge Trailhead
- About 4 hours total
- 9,240 – 9,940 feet (bring water!)
- No fees, except the park entrance fees
- Beautiful, stunning views. Rumor has it that Mills Lake is the prettiest lake in Rocky Mountain National Park!
- Moderate hike – kids could do it – but they will be exhausted at the end!
- Doggies are not allowed (but you may see Equestrians as far as 2 miles in from the trailhead
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To the Point Summary Directions
These directions to hike Mills Lake are clear and concise, without extra commentary! Use these directions, and if you ever feel confused, always refer to the map and directions below that are more detailed and include even more specific directions.
Miles and Directions
0.0 Start at Glacier Gorge Trailhead and head towards Alberta Falls
0.9 Alberta Falls
1.7 Keep on towards Mills Lake on the Glacier Gorge Trail (Not left towards North Longs Peak)
2.2 Four way junction – Turn Left towards Black Lake and Mills Lake. (Note: the middle path goes to Loch Vale and the Right goes to Lake Haiyaha)
2.8 Mills Lake
5.6 Turn around and come back!
Step by Step DETAILED Directions (TWO OPTIONS!)
Your days of feeling “Map-ically Challenged” are over! (Trademark on that pending!) These maps (both simple and detailed), along with exceptionally clear instructions, are all provided for you in this post!
Please note: The 3D maps in this post, and below are NOT FACING NORTH (on purpose!). Repeat: These maps do NOT face North. These maps are shown specifically for those of us who are “map-ically challenged” and need to visually see which way we are hiking. Please refer to the compass at the bottom right of the map below to show where NORTH actually is!
CLICK ON THE MAP BELOW, OR CLICK HERE, AND YOU WILL LINK TO THIS EXACT GOOGLE MAP. You can zoom in on it and take as many screenshots as you would like! If you bring up the map in Google, if you use your mouse and hit CONTROL, then you can MOVE the map to the direction in which you are ACTUALLY HEADED!!!! (Amazing!)
When you click on this, and open the map, you can then click on the link below the blue box on the left and have these directions sent DIRECTLY TO YOUR PHONE!
You can then screenshot those images, so that you can see these directions, and maps, even if you do not have wi-fi as you are hiking!
Finally – look look LOOK! AT THE BOTTOM RIGHT of the map. See that little yellow guy? Click on him when you open up the map on your phone. You can see ACTUAL PICTURES on the blue dots that people have taken. This is a GREAT resource to have. If you look at your map before you go, you can screenshot what the intersections in the trail look like to help you navigate your way, and not get lost!
First Option – From Glacier Gorge Trailhead
- Start early, especially if you are traveling to Mills Lake from Denver, grab your coffee at Kind Coffee in Estes Park, and head out!
- Travel on US 36 highway to Bear Lake Road.
- Travel to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (Travel 8 miles on Bear Lake Road from US 36). Park in the parking lot. Jump out of your car, stretch (always stretch first haha!) and check the signs. You really should be able to only hike one way, and the signs are clearly marked.
- When you get to the fork in the road, go LEFT towards Alberta Falls. You will be heading southeast at this point, and there should also be signs. Just stay on this trail. Don’t veer off of it (for example, don’t take another left onto Prospect Canyon Trail.) After some time you will see the waterfalls! Enjoy! But this isn’t your final destination! You have much further to go!
- Keep going towards Mills Lake. There should really only be one major trail to go on from Alberta Falls. So take that one, obviously! This will have you traveling for the most part in a twisty, but southerly direction.
- Don’t take the left towards North Longs Peak Trail. Keep going on the Loch Vale Trail.
- This is SUPER IMPORTANT – we got lost going to Mills Lake because we weren’t on point really looking at the signs!
- Then get excited because you are about to take a RIGHT onto Black Lake Trail. Keep going in a south-y kind of direction until you get to it!
- Side note: If you want (and if you have the energy) you can jump back on the trail headed back to your car, but instead of going home and resting with a nice glass of wine, take a LEFT! Don’t take the right on the trail towards Lake Haiyaha or Dream Lake. Just keep going on Loch Vale Trail.
- Then you will see it!!!! The Loch! You will be adding about 1.5 to 2 hours to your trip but it will be worth it and you are in the area – but it’s up to you!
Second Option – Bear Lake Trailhead
- The Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot can get full quickly. A second option to get to Mills Lake is the Bear Lake Trailhead a bit further up the road (about a mile) on twisty, turn-y Bear Lake Road, instead of the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. The Bear Lake trailhead has a larger parking lot. Again, park in the parking lot and use that restroom if you need to!
- When you get to the actual trailhead, you will see the huge sign for the Bear Lake Hike to your right. Instead, walk a bit to the LEFT, and then when you get to another fork in the road, go LEFT AGAIN. The signs are clearly marked.
- At this point you will walk straight (which will be southeast) all the way!
- Don’t turn right at Dream-Emerald Lakes Trail, unless you want to go to Nymph Lake or beyond.
- Don’t turn right to go to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (you didn’t park there!) or right onto Prospect Canyon Trail. Just keep going straight, baby! The falls are gorgeous! They are gorgeous! Then continue on to Mills Lake following the directions above. This will add about a mile each way total, so definitely take that into account!
More Information and Resources
Final Thoughts on Mills Lake Hike
Mills Lake is an incredibly popular hike, and the lake itself is right under the towering and majestic Longs Peak.
Mills Lake is named after Enos Mills, who is really known as the father of RMNP. He wrote many books and really lobbied hard to make the area a national park. The park was officially established in 1915.
This is a moderate hike, but with this guide you will be prepared! You will definitely get your work out, but not to the point of being needed to be airlifted out due to exhaustion. It’s a good five hours of work, and if you add it some time at Alberta Falls, or head back to Bear Lake, it definitely will make a whole day of it. The stunning views will be worth it though, and you will keep a memory of a lifetime.
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When you are ready to finally have your National Park Family Vacation!
Hopefully, you already have all of your reservations, your tickets, and gear planned out! A last minute checklist is so important to make sure that nothing gets left behind. Here are a few extra hacks and tips for your road trip and family vacation! Want even MORE free options? Simple! Just subscribe at the bottom of this post to be part of the Van Adieu Crew and get access to the FREE Van Adieu Vault filled with itineraries, checklists, roadmaps and more!
- Confirm all reservations, tickets, and any events you may be attending (Best suggestion: Print copies of everything and have it with you.)
- Confirm the route you are going. (Best suggestion: Purchase an atlas, as in, an actual real map – on honest to goodness old fashioned paper.)
- Check all gear. (Best suggestion: Discuss this gear with everyone. Is there something that someone would like to have? For example, is someone interested in doing geocaching on the trip? Maybe a waterproof notebook and waterproof pen would be fun for them!)
- Make sure to look at our Road Trip Checklist!
- Make a shopping list, and purchase all possible groceries ahead of time. (Best suggestion: Figure out not only each meal, but also prepare snacks in individually wrapped packages to make the trip more fun and super easy!) Or try to find the best Farmer’s Market where you are going – its easy!
- Consider what you will be doing during the road trip. We have some great road trip activities for kids, and also some fantastic productive and unique activities for adults!
Tell us about your Mills Lake Hike Experience! Did you add any other hikes to it? What part did you find to be the most beautiful? Did you think it was easy or a difficult hike? We’d love to hear your opinions and experiences, and see your pictures! Comment below! And remember to like us on FACEBOOK! (Its cool, and all the kids are doing it!)
Adieu for now!
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