With a long history of winter access dating back to the 1950s, St. Mary’s Glacier is a convenient destination to tour or snowshoe and access St. Mary's Lake and the surrounding terrain. With a half-mile approach and an elevation gain of only 351 feet to the St. Mary’s Lake, it is a friendly outing for even the most novice participant. This classic short hike is enhanced with the variable weather characteristic of Colorado winters, and it makes for an exciting half-day outing.
Because the trailhead elevation is at 10,400 feet, you'll quickly approach tree line and exposure to the elements. Especially wind. With high consistent winds and gusts that are occasionally strong enough to blow someone over, it can become an extreme environment. Coupled with the winter temperatures, St. Mary’s can be a serious endeavor despite its close proximity, and appropriate attire for the winter environment is a must.
As you approach the lake, beautiful wind-warped Jefferson pine trees surround the shore and offer an amazing glimpse of an environment shaping local vegetation. The lake sits at 10,752 feet, just shy of tree line, and the thinning forest is a testament to the elevation. From the lake there are a variety of options for the more adventurous to continue along toward James Peak and the alpine tundra situated above.The terrain above the lake offers panoramic views, alpine exposure and access to some technical ski terrain.
Portable restrooms are still accessible at the trailhead in the winter, and the parking lot adjacent to the old ski area along with the parking lot past the trailhead are both well maintained in the winter months. Fees are still required and operate on the honor system, so don’t hesitate to throw in the few bucks to support the landowners that the parking areas sit on.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.