Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier: Arapaho National Forest

Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier in Arapaho National Forest

When we moved to Indiana in 2016, we made a lot of trips back to Colorado to visit family and friends, including this trip to St. Mary’s Glacier in Arapaho National Forest outside of Denver, Colorado.

This particular trip was centered around a wedding we were attending for friends that I’ve known for over a decade now. Even though we were mostly there to attend the wedding, I always try to see as many friends and family as possible while in our home state. We drove from Indiana to Colorado, knowing that we would want to have our car to explore the mountains we were missing so much in the Midwest. It worked out perfect that my long-time friend Kynsi had time to meet us for a short hike outside of Denver, where she was living at the time.

I met Kynsi in 2011 through dancing with the Colorado Dance Collective, an adult repertoire company based in Northern Colorado. We danced together for many years eventually auditioning for and performing with Dream Project Dance Company based out of Denver. Kynsi, being a Denver native, knew of the perfect hike near Denver for the short time we had to catch up: St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs, CO off of I-70.

Kompass Apparel

Before I go into our hike to St. Marys Glacier, I want to mention Kynsi’s apparel company because her logos show up in a lot of our adventure photographs. Kynsi founded Kompass Apparel in 2015 after graduating with her bachelor of science in apparel merchandising from Colorado State University. It was inspiring to watch her create the brand and take the leap of opening her own business all within a matter of months. I’m lucky to have so many friends to look up to professionally who have taken the risks necessary to create a lifestyle worth living!

Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier in Arapaho National Forest with the founder of Kompass Apparel.
Kynsi and I near the top of the hike!

Kompass is inspired by the outdoors, taking adventures, and finding your passion and pursuing it! All of the logos are created by Kynsi and are printed locally in Denver. Keeping the brand as local as possible is something Kynsi strives for! We frequently travel in our Kompass Apparel for many reasons. First, we love supporting Kynsi, but it’s also super comfortable, lightweight—which makes it great for travel—and a lot of the gear allows us to represent Colorado during our adventures.

St. Mary’s Glacier in the Rocky Mountains

St. Mary’s Glacier is situated in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Even having grown up in Colorado, it’s still sometimes shocking to remember that glaciers exist in the heart of the Western United States. St Mary’s Glacier is easily accessible from Denver via I-70 as it sits nearby Idaho Springs, North of Mt. Evans and South of Rocky Mountain National Park. We made our way to St. Mary’s Glacier from Winter Park, CO where we were staying the night before. It was about an hour drive even though they seem much closer on the map because we had to drive around the mountains to get back to I-70.

Getting to St. Mary’s Glacier

We’re never mad about having to take a longer route through the mountains because nothing can beat the scenery of the Colorado Rockies, no matter the time of year! Although, summer mountain driving is much more enjoyable than winter mountain driving, even though you might still hit the occasional August snowstorm near Vail Pass. If there is anything I learned from growing up near the Rocky Mountains, it’s that weather in the mountains is unpredictable and it’s always better to delay your trip rather than try to make it through the mountains during a snow storm. Thankfully, the weather that mid-July was perfect—tons of sunshine mixed with thin, crisp mountain air.

The Trail

The trail to reach St Mary’s Glacier is in Arapaho National Forest, a forest encompassing popular fourteeners like Mt. Evans and Grays Peak and Torreys Peak. The trail is only about a mile and a half round trip, but is often rated as moderately difficult due to rocky trail conditions. It was a short hike, but since our lungs had already adjusted to Indiana sea-level, I would definitely rate this trail as moderately difficult for anyone coming from out of state who is not used to the elevation. Depending on the source, the elevation gain ranges from around 500 feet to 800 feet. So again, nothing too strenuous, especially for those used to hiking in the mountains—but also by no means an easy stroll through the forest.

Our Experience at St. Mary’s Glacier

Upon arrival to the trail head, it is important to note the $5 parking fee. But the short hike and day-accessibility from Denver make it an inexpensive adventure. Our original plan was to carry a small sled in case there was enough snow to slide down parts of the glacier. Unfortunately, a great deal of the snow had melted and the conditions at the bottom were rocky to say the least. This is definitely a spot where people tend to get some summer sledding in though if that’s something you ever find yourself looking for! But I’d suggest going earlier in the season to catch the trail with more snow if that’s your plan.

Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier: Arapaho National Forest
Luke and Kynsi taking in the views before making the short trek up to the glacier!

Post-Hike Mountain Pies

We made the short hike up to the glacier, walked (and slid) around on the glacier a bit, and then made our way down the trail while making plans to grab lunch at Beau Jo’s Pizza, a local pizza joint specializing in “Colorado Style” mountain pies, in Idaho Springs before parting ways. Beau Jo’s is always a treat when heading back to Denver from the mountains. Whether it’s after a long yet rewarding day of skiing or snowboarding, or after a hike in the summer heat, you can never go wrong with a stop at Beau Jo’s.

If you’ve never had cream cheese on your pizza, Beau Jo’s is also a great place to be introduced to the topping of all pizza toppings. Cream cheese on pizza is something I have yet to see outside of Northern Colorado. In fact, even growing in Grand Junction on the Western Slope of the Rockies, I’d never heard of putting cream cheese on pizza—despite cream cheese literally being my favorite food. Anyways, I could go on and on about my—and my cat’s—adoration for cream cheese, but back to the hike!

Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier: Arapaho National Forest
Luke on St. Mary’s Glacier

Final Thoughts on Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier

The hike up to St. Mary’s Glacier was the perfect length and effort for what we were looking for that day. We got our cardiovascular systems working and some jello legs going towards the end, but nothing that wiped us out too much for the wedding we were set to attend the next day. The hike comes with some amazing views of the peaks of Arapahoe National Forest, and you get to enjoy some summertime snow and ice all while soaking up the sun at close to 11,000 feet above sea-level.

I hope our experience convinces you to give this hike a try, but remember to go early in the day if you want to avoid a crowded trail as I’m sure it’s only become a more popular spot since we visited the Summer of 2017.

Stephanie Wilson

Stephanie was born and raised in Colorado where she developed her great appreciation for exploring big open spaces outdoors. She is a Sociology PhD and advocates for the discipline of applied sociology in her role as a founder of Applied Worldwide, a digital content production and consulting company. Dr. Wilson is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and a researcher of health inequalities. She is also a dancer at heart, serves on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Dance Collective, and is always looking for her next opportunity to perform, teach, or choreograph.