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Parking fee increases at St. Mary's Glacier trailhead after years of overcrowding, trash on trail

St Mary's Glacier
Posted at 11:14 AM, May 16, 2023

CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — The price to park at the St. Mary's Glacier trailhead has increased 300% after several years of people not paying the required $5 permit fee and leaving trash around the trail.

Previously, the fee per vehicle to park at the trailhead was $5. As of mid-December 2022, it increased to $20 per vehicle for 24 hours.

St. Mary's Glacier, which is technically a semi-permanent snowfield, is situated just above a lake. A rocky, wide trail leads hikers up an incline from two nearby parking lots, nestled in the small communities of St. Mary's, Winterland and Alice off Interstate 70's exit 238.

St. Mary's Glacier as seen on Oct. 5, 2022 via drone.

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While the St. Mary's Glacier itself is in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the parking lots at the trailhead are privately owned. They are the only two legal parking areas for the St. Mary's Glacier hike. Parking is not permitted on Fall River Road or in the subdivision.

The self-pay fee stations at these parking lots only accept cash or checks. A hiker will fill out the permit form and rip the yellow sheet from the white one. The yellow one goes on the car's dashboard in clear sight while the $20 cash or check is put in the envelope of the white slip and then put into the fee slot.

Any car found without a permit will be towed, according to new signage at the parking lots. The lots are checked frequently.

St. Mary's Glacier as seen on Aug. 25, 2019
St. Mary's Glacier as seen on Aug. 25, 2019.

According to the St. Marys Metro District, the private owners have stated that this increase is due to several factors, including that the previous system with a $5 fee was more of an honor system and many people did not pay it. The owners not only monitor the lot, but plow it, provide porta-potties and empty trash cans.

The St. Marys Metro District — which does not own the lots — added that the community around the glacier has had to deal with ramifications of extreme overcrowding, especially as Denver's population increased.

With opportunities to shorten or lengthen the hike, and beautiful views within a mile of the trailhead, St. Mary's Glacier is a very popular place to visit and usually sees heavy use throughout the warm months. It's relatively close to Denver and hikers can reach the lake within a mile. Those who want to go longer can reach the 13,000-plus-foot James Peak, the Continental Divide Trail and beyond.

The St. Marys Metro District said this overcrowding has led to a host of other issues, including campfires during fire bans, major trash problems, cliff jumping adventures that turned fatal and more. It said it's likely the private owners, who were unable to be reached for comment for this story, kept these challenges in mind when increasing the parking fee.

So, if you're headed up to St. Mary's Glacier, remember to bring $20 cash or check with you. There are few to no places nearby to grab some cash. Also important to note: Running water is not available at the trailhead. There are vault bathrooms and trash cans in the parking lots. Carry out any and all trash, including doggie bags.

And if you find yourself not wanting to pay $20 for a hike, or accidentally forget it at home, there are plenty of other local hikes to check out, but you will need to hop back on the interstate. Near Georgetown, there's the Silver Creek Trail, and beyond Empire, you can find high-altitude views on Berthoud Pass and the hikes below, or up to, Jones Pass (like Butler Gulch Trail and Hassell Lake Trail). Farther east is Maryland Mountain near Central City. And if you're set on seeing one of Colorado's glaciers, you can learn more about their current state and where you can find them in our story here.


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