Overland’s Best Day Hikes: Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

If you’re looking for a great day hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, read on to learn more about the Mills Lake hike.


  • Name of Hike: Mills Lake.
  • Location of Hike: Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Location of Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead or Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
  • Trail Notes: A gradual uphill climb past waterfalls, winding upward to the lake. Not only a beautiful destination but a beautiful journey. Features other smaller attractions that offer amazing views and cool moments (Alberta Falls, and a few cliffside rocks great for pictures). 
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate.
  • Roundtrip Miles: Approximately six miles from Bear Lake, a little bit less from Glacier Gorge.
  • Elevation Gain: 900ft from Bear Lake, a little bit more from Glacier Gorge.
  • Route highlights: The view of the lake is the scene on one of the Colorado State quarters.
  • Typical duration: 4-5 hours walking time roundtrip.


What It’s Like:

Tess Mooney: Starting at Bear Lake, you descend for a short while before starting the gradual uphill climb through the forest. Along the way, the trail overlooks Alberta falls, then continues its climb higher. Traversing a slope along the rocky trail, you can look to your left to see the sharp exposed ridge above Mills Lake. Winding through the forest, you can smell the pines and hear the rushing of nearby water. Once at the edge of the lake, you follow the shore deeper into the bowl, stopping to look out at the reflected mountains.

Henry Wilson: Leaving the Glacier Gorge trailhead, you cross a few bridges over small waterways, imbuing the start with whimsy and excitement. These lead you to a grove of aspen trees which dapple the light nicely (if it’s a clear day). The elevation gains quickly after that, but you’re treated to Alberta Falls, a dramatic waterfall that’s a hotspot for visitors (and the squirrels that feast on their granola bars). The higher you get, the clearer the views of RMNP get. The trail takes you alongside the face of the mountain, giving you an unfettered view. Delving back into the forest, you cross a couple bridges until you finally emerge onto Mills Lake, for one of the best views in the park.

Why I Love It:

Tess Mooney: Mills Lake was the first hike I completed as an Overland student in 2017. Coming from New England, I was in awe of the Rockies, and the beautiful place I was lucky enough to travel to. This hike holds a special place in my heart—at the time, this was one of the hardest physical things I had done, and I felt proud of myself and my group for our achievement. Coming back to lead a trip to this gorgeous alpine lake was equally special. The awe-factor of Mills never gets old, and I loved watching my students’ excitement about the dramatic landscape. This is a great intro hike to RMNP because it is a gradual hike, features viewpoints along the way, and can be adapted to any group (plenty of options for continuing higher up).  A great fun fact about the Mills Lake is that the lake and ridge above it are featured on the Colorado State quarter!

Henry Wilson: Great introduction to hiking, since it begins with a highly-infrastructured trail and ends with some less-traveled areas, without a very strenuous effort required. It’s a remarkably well-designed trail, very evidently geared around maximizing the visual aspect of the park. This hike satisfies both the hesitant and eager hikers in the group. Mills Lake is absolutely gorgeous, a wonderful place for a mid-morning snack or lunch. The rocks are an amazing place for a nap. Nobody ever wants to leave Mills Lake, but fortunately, you have plenty of beautiful things to see on your way down. Water is all snowmelt, so it’s insanely cold! Enjoy the fishermen which will inevitably be there.


Hometown: Lexington, Massachusetts

College, Major, Year of Graduation: Bowdoin College, English and Earth and Oceanographic Science double major, 2026

Trips: Rocky Mountain Adventure 2023

In Her Own Words:

Through working at a backyard goat farm in high school, I discovered how to learn from the outdoors experientially, which has carried over into my passion for adventures and curiosity about Earth systems.

Originally from Lexington, Massachusetts, I am a sophomore at Bowdoin College, where I am an Earth and oceanographic science major and visual arts minor. I am a member of our ultimate frisbee team (Chaos Theory), ski lesson instructor, and co-organizer of story-hour events on campus. Outside of school, I am an avid cloud watcher, cribbage enthusiast, and outdoor adventure-lover. In my free time, you’ll find me jumping into the ocean, hammocking, running, or skiing with my friends.

I am delighted to be part of the Overland team because I want to help more young people find joy and comfort in outdoor settings. My experience teaching learn-to-ski lessons to my peers demonstrated how rewarding it is to watch people improve and grow in new activities. Outdoor spaces are often exclusive, and I am thrilled to help introduce Overland students to fun and challenging trips regardless of previous outdoor experience.

A quote from a Co-Leader:

“Tess and I worked extremely well together. Throughout our time in Colorado, we had a very similar idea on how we wanted our trips to play out, as well as the experience we wanted our students to have. Tess has many strengths in the outdoor world including but not limited to her hard-working, touch-it-once leading style, being both efficient and effective in and outside of camp, and entertaining the students at all times with her backcountry and cloud knowledge.” 

Grayson Donninger


Hometown: Los Angeles, California

College, Major, Year of Graduation: Hamilton, Art History & Literature, 2023

Summers on staff: 2023, 2024

Trips led: Rocky Mountain Explorer ’23, Iceland Explorer ’24

In His Own Words:

When I was a freshman at Hamilton College in 2019, I started working at the art museum on campus. It’s now become a career goal and lifelong journey.

After attending high school in Los Angeles, I graduated from Hamilton in the spring of 2023 with dual concentrations in Art History and Literature. I joined the track and field team for a year, and was a managing editor and staff writer for The Duel Observer, our satirical publication on campus. I was also involved with our letterpress studio to craft broadsides for visiting authors alongside my own creative projects. I studied abroad in Edinburgh in the spring of my junior year; outside of Hamilton, I love surfing, reading, and film.

While leading orientation trips, I learned that bonding happens best over a light source. It doesn’t matter if it’s a campfire or a Nalgene/headlamp combo, but if there’s a light source in the middle of a circle, people talk! I can’t wait to lead again for Overland this summer, building community and introducing students to the outdoors!

A Quote from a Co-leader:

“Henry was awesome at seeing what needed to be done and doing it without hesitation, whether that was getting up extra early or taking out the trash. The thing I most appreciated about him was his selflessness and how he always put the students and his co-leaders first. He was always game to drive or cook or clean, or to give up his hiking boots or his granola bar, if that was what the group needed. He had tons of backcountry experience and was loved by the students for his humor and his ability to connect with them. 

Skylar Yarter


Rocky Mountain National Park: Mills Lake Hike

AllTrails: Mills Lake Hike

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails: Mills Lake Hike

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    Tom Costley

    When Tom Costley founded Overland in 1984, he sought to create experiences for young people that were fun, where new friendships could grow, where natural beauty was embraced, where there were real and varied challenges, and where Overland’s students would achieve something of importance to them. Overland’s focus on small groups, carefully crafted trips, and superlative leadership has made it a leader in the summer camp world. Overland’s commitment to excellence in everything it does has led to its success: over the past four decades, Overland has served 40,000 students and 5,000 trip leaders. Tom writes about the outdoors and travel from Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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