Mills Lake Trail: A Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Thousands of people visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) every year. So much so that getting into the park in the summer has become a bit of an accomplishment. While summer is the easiest time to hike in the park, especially if there is good weather, winter offers its own lens on RMNP. There are a little less people exploring the mountains in the winter. And frankly, the snow can create a real wonderland that is breathtakingly beautiful.

But for the hikers out there, it’s ideal to know what trails can work well for the cold (and often snowy) season in the mountains. Well, Mills Lake Trail is one good winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It isn’t easy, being about 5 miles long (round trip) and it has some consistent elevation gain throughout the inwards leg of the hike. But compared to the truly challenging trails in RMNP, it settles in the range of easy to moderate. And the track works well in the snow, particularly when other folks have already followed the route.

That, and the pay-off for the trail is a really lovely lake tucked among the shoulders of some of the most exceptional mountains in the world (the Rocky Mountains).

If I’ve sold you at this point, read on to learn more about exploring this trail in the winter. And if you aren’t a hiker, scroll down to see some pictures of this inspiring little corner of Mother Earth. Finally, if you’d like to learn more about other Rocky Mountain lake hikes, be sure to also check out my guide to Gem Lake and Lily Lake hikes.

Why Mills Lake Trail is a Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

(c) ABR 2023

Mills Lake Trail is among the moderate hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and its length, difficulty, and location all make it a great open for winter treks. Here are some things that you might consider when deciding if this trail is a good fit for your needs.

  • Mills Lake Trail is an out and back trail, which means that it makes for an easy turn around at any point. Weather can change rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and you will need to keep an eye out for whether or not to head back.
  • This trail is long and steep enough to make for a bit of a challenge, and these characteristics of the trek will make it worth the drive and winter gear-up. It’s a solid day hike, particularly if you are going a bit slower because of the snow.
  • Mills Lake Trail is a good winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park because it is lower down in the mountains and it mostly travels through valleys. This means that the air is a bit thicker and warmer than the higher reaches of the park. The road is also open for more of the winter, and a bit easier to navigate.
  • This area is absolutely exceptional. The forests here are verdant carpets of evergreens and aspens. And the mountains that surround this area are stoney monoliths. When shrouded in snow, they rank among the giants of Switzerland and New Zealand for their impressive size and rugged, awe-inspiring beauty.

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Hiking Piestewa Peak: The Mountain at the Heart of Phoenix

If you are a hiker who has considered or is planning a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, there is a good chance that you’ve heard of Piestewa Peak. It is one of the most challenging and well-known hikes in the city. But this mile plus trek up the craggy desert peak is more than just a physical feat. Hiking Piestewa Peak is a part of Phoenix culture, and it can also be very spiritual.

This mountain, so heavily trafficked and easily accessed, still offers her visitors an escape into nature. She will test your body, your mind, and your spirit – if you let her. And while many people strive for the summit (sometimes to their own detriment), you can experience this central Phoenix hiking landmark even if you just go up part way.

There are plenty of guides to this challenging urban hike – so while I will include some trail information here, my main purpose is to remind all her visitors that Piestewa is still a mountain to be loved and respected as the heart of Phoenix.

Is Hiking Piestewa Peak Right For You?

Even though the Piestewa Summit trail is right in the middle of the city, and on paper might not look too concerning, almost every year people die on the mountain. Sometimes it is the heat, dehydration, or even a fall. And I’m sure there are times when it is totally accidental, but I also see many people approach this trail without the respect and preparation that it deserves.

I will talk more about some safety tips below, but my main question when it comes to whether hiking Piestewa Peak is right for you comes down to two questions. Are you aware of the challenge that this trail represents? And are you willing to make decisions based around that?

Questions to Consider

hiking piestewa peak

Don’t let the photos fool you – this is STEEP (c) ABR.

If so, you can ask yourself a couple of things. (1) Are you physically prepared? The Piestewa Peak summit trail may be short, but it is a steep uphill climb from start to finish. Add to that that you will likely be dodging other hikers all the way up and down. It is just that busy.

(2) Are you willing to turn around and give up on the summit if that is the safest thing to do? I’ve been hiking Piestewa Peak before during very hot days. These are days when I decided to turn around. Meanwhile, tourists from colder states kept going up, without even a water bottle to quench their thirst. They might feel ok on the way up and down, if they are lucky, but many of them will have a killer headache in the evening. It’s better to know and acknowledge your limits. If it gets too hot, or you are too tired, please turn around. The reality is, no one but us cares if we make it to the summit… including the mountain. You can get so much out of this challenging urban hike without making it to the top.

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Part 5 of Fort Collins Footrails and Food: Longmont, North Shields Ponds, Ross and Running Deer

I am back here with the fifth part of my series on hiking, food, and attractions in and near Fort Collins, CO.

This particular post is a little bit of an interesting one, because I started out with this series focusing on trails. The parks that I cover here in Part 5 aren’t my favorite, as sad as that is to say. BUT I am hoping to explore all the Natural Areas in town, so that means checking out the amazing ones and the humble ones.

Additionally, because the experiences that culminated in this post happened mostly over the winter, there is more emphasis here on food than trails. AND I have some information on some cool attractions in the Longmont area – which is just south of Fort Collins. When traffic isn’t so bad, it is about an hour drive there.

So, if you are looking for some short winter walks, and lots of good food options, this is the series chapter for you. And if you are wondering about what to do on an afternoon in Longmont, I’ve also got some ideas for you.

Hiking

North Shields Ponds Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2023

North Shields Ponds Natural Area is a very small park near the Poudre River. It has tracks that circle two small ponds. This makes for a figure 8 trail of about 1.5 miles.

I must say, of the Fort Collins parks that I have been to, this was the only one that has made me uncomfortable. It’s tucked back in an area that is a little industrial, so it has a particular kind of traffic. So, I’d suggest not going here alone – at least based on my experience here.

Ross Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

The Ross Natural Area is a small natural area that is home to a short, 0.7 mile section of the Spring Creek Trail. While there isn’t much hiking here, it is connected to Rolland Moore Park. So, it is a nice little area to bring the family for a day outside.

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San Carlos, Sonora: Why You Should Visit and What to Do There

South of Hermosillo, where craggy mountains meet the sea, sits San Carlos, Sonora. One of Sonora’s Pueblo Mágicos, San Carlos is known for its immense natural beauty. Personally, I was shocked by how majestic the landscape is here. It captured my imagination, and I was in literal awe on a near daily basis while I was there.

So, why should you visit San Carlos? Because the natural world here is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Even as someone who grew up in the northern Sonoran Desert, I can say this. San Carlos is a world class town. And it is barely on the map for most people.

san carlos sonora

So, it’s beautiful! But what can you do in San Carlos? Well, plenty of things. There are sandy beaches to sit on. Good food to eat. “Adventure” attractions like ziplines can also be found. But most important to me, is the hiking. There is a load of hiking in San Carlos, especially by Mexico standards – where hiking isn’t the most popular of activities. I hiked nearly every day. And each trail was a unique wonder.

Now, let me give you a short guide to San Carlos. And if I can’t convince you to visit, at least come enjoy some snapshots from what I consider to be the crown jewel of Sonora, Mexico.

Why You Should Visit San Carlos, Sonora

san carlos sonora

(c) ABR 2023

I kind of spoiled it above, but if you are wondering – what can you do in San Carlos, and why should you visit, I am going to give you a short list.

  • Even if you don’t hike one bit, there are jaw dropping views all through town. Especially when I first got to San Carlos, I found myself staring outside, facing the mountains, and just… watching. Birds sang and danced through the desert. The mountains swept up from the desert like strongholds in stone.
  • For hikers, there are short and long trails. Some are quick, some are exceptionally steep, and some take wanders to places unimagined. No matter what you are looking for, there is a trail for you in San Carlos. And it will leave you in awe. (Just beware the heat).
  • There is good food to be had in town. There’s something magical about enjoying tacos while sitting on a peaceful beach surrounded by hills and mountains.

If you don’t believe me that this place is cool, remember that Pueblos Mágicos are Mexico’s most exceptional towns. And thus, the country itself marks San Carlos as one of its many treasures.

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Small Towns of Sonora, Mexico: Kino Bay, Magdalena de Kino and More

Sonora isn’t just a place of natural wonders where the desert meets the sea, and sky islands abound. It’s a place rich with culture and the diversity of art, architecture, and food that make all places the people call home exceptional. While you could explore this part of Sonora through indulging in its big cities – like Hermosillo. The small towns of Sonora each offer their own unique glimpse into the vibrant world of this Mexican state. They are the perfect destinations for a Sonora roadtrip, especially if you enjoy delving into history and culture. And if time and resources allow, they aren’t to be missed.

This guide will cover some of the small towns that I was able to check out during my time exploring Sonora, in particular, Magdalena de Kino and Kino Bay. But I would also like to point you in the direction of the other Pueblos Magicos of Sonora. Even though, I unfortunately was not able to visit them all. Come along to explore these small towns via pictures and words. And see if they might be just right for your next adventure.

Small Towns of Sonora

small towns of Sonora

An arch in Magdalena de Kino (c) ABR 2023

Sonora is home to many well-known urban areas, including its capital, Hermosillo. It is also home to the town perched on the coast that Arizonans love, Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point. But of course, it goes without saying that the people of Sonora don’t just live in big cities and tourist towns. Like all places, Sonora is home to all kinds of villages and settlements. It has historic landmarks, architectural wonders, and the unexpected.

Mexico does a nice job of pointing you towards some of its most unique towns through the Pueblos Magicos program. They designate exceptional pueblos across Mexico in this way. This helps travelers decide where to spend some time exploring. It also honors the work that local people have done to make their homes beautiful and protect the various histories of Mexico. On a Sonora roadtrip, you could try to see all of these special small towns of Sonora.

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What to Do in Hermosillo – The Capital of Sonora, Mexico

Hermosillo is a true sister city to Phoenix, Arizona, with lots of shared culture, food, and families that share members between both. It is also only a 6 hour drive from the capital of Arizona to the capital of Sonora. This city is also the heart of culture in Sonora, Mexico. But surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2023 that I finally visited this fellow, Sonoran Desert urban area – all thanks to a friend of mine who invited me to her wedding there.

While Sonora has a reputation for being dangerous, among both Americans and Mexicans, I found Hermosillo to be a fun city to visit. There was loads of good food, a very interesting downtown, and the city is also home to some impressive museums. All the good stuff for visitors and locals both. Of course, there are safety considerations (as with all cities), but with some caution, respect for the people who call this place home, and an excitement for the history and culture of this place, Hermosillo can be a lot of fun.

This guide will give you a quick taste of the city and help you figure out what to do in Hermosillo, and whether it is a good fit for you. And if it isn’t, scroll through and enjoy my pictures of this urban heart in the Sonoran Desert.

Why Visit and What to Do in Hermosillo, Mexico

This city isn’t on the top of any list of Mexican must-sees that I have ever seen, but nonetheless, for anyone interested in exploring culture in Sonora, Mexico, it should be on the top of your list. That’s because Hermosillo is the capital of the state, and it is home to lots of museums, food, and even a historic downtown. While it can’t capture all the vibrant diversity of Sonora, it is home to many of the institutions and places to explore that most cities harbor. And if you want to pack a punch into a shorter trip, this city will have you covered for the flavor of Sonora.

what to do in Hermosillo

Downtown Hermosillo (c) ABR 2023

When you are talking about what to do in Hermosillo, there is also a little something for everyone. There is a surprising amount of urban hiking in the city. There is historic architecture and big museums for the history buffs. And there is tasty food to satisfy anyone but the pickiest eaters.

Aside from safety considerations, the only immediate thing that I would say to avoid in Hermosillo is the summer. Much like Phoenix, it is extremely hot here in the summer. That makes it hard to enjoy the city, and can even add an element of natural danger if you try to hit the trails.

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Unseen Puerto Peñasco: What to Do In Rocky Point, Mexico

For the people who call Arizona home, the beach town of Puerto Peñasco (commonly known as Rocky Point in English) is a famous coastal escape. Lots of people go here to party, and there are plenty of all-inclusive enclaves in town. However, there is another side to Puerto Peñasco – a calm, natural paradise, and a small town with good food, kind people, and plenty of Mexican culture to immerse yourself in. If you are wondering what to do in Rocky Point, and looking for authentic or peaceful experiences, this is the post for you.

What to Do In Rocky Point: What to Expect in This Guide 

I spent much of my high school weekends in Puerto Peñasco, where I discovered the world of outdoor Rocky Point and got glimpses of the true town under the growing tourist destination. The beaches here are magical and dynamic. The Sea of Cortez shows off much of its biodiversity on the coasts here. And Puerto Peñasco itself is a study in the ebb and flow of local culture and international tourism. If you know where to look, the story of these tides are written across the landscape.

what to do in Rocky Point

An abandoned hotel on the beach (c) ABR 2012

This post will also be a bit of a (recent) historic peek at the town – the last time I visited was in 2014. But I photographed and explored Puerto Peñasco for more than a decade. And the time period in which I experienced Rocky Point was also a time of change. From the years of rapid growth from 2005-2007, to the Great Recession, and beyond.

All that being said, if you are looking for a guide to all-inclusive or party-town Rocky Point, this isn’t that. I’m not that kind of traveler, and I was far too young when I spent lots of time in this part of Sonora, Mexico. As a white, Arizonan visitor, I also can’t speak much to the internal culture and life of Puerto Peñasco. But I can speak to some of the ways that visitors can enjoy the vibrant Mexican spirit while visiting this popular tourist spot.

So, come along for some tips on what to do in Rocky Point and a glimpse into what the town looked like during the turbulent years of the Great Recession.

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Part 4 of Fort Collins Foothills and Food: River’s Edge and Reservoir Ridge

Join me for my fourth entry in the series Footrails and Food in Fort Collins! I’ve got loads of suggestions for restaurants across the city in this post, along with some great, in-town hiking options. The trails included here range from city park trails to great training options at the edge of town. Give it all a try here!

Hiking

River’s Edge and Salyer Natural Areas

hiking in Fort Collins

(c) ABR 2022

River’s Edge and Salyer Natural Areas are linked to eachother via Lee Martinez Park. All together, these make for a great place to walk. There are great views of the Poudre River. And loads of of options for side trails and places to sit and take it all in. Throughout the seasons, you can see different kinds of wildlife – from birds to mammals and of course, all the little guys too (insects, reptiles, etc.).

As long as you respect seasonal signage for sensitive wildlife, this is also a great area for walking your dog. With bridges, nice flat trails, and views of the river, it’s a nice place to come with the family too. (Just mind the water!).

hiking in Fort Collins

(c) ABR 2022

Unsurprisingly, there is also a lot to do in Lee Martinez Park. It’s a really big area with playgrounds, links to the Poudre River Trail, and even a farm!

If you want to make the day of it, you can get a meal in Old Town and then spend some time strolling through the park and natural areas with a warm drink in hand.

There is no fee to visit these areas!

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Exceptional Hiking Near Lyons, CO – Button Rock Preserve

Lyons is a small town tucked just on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Besides having a cute main street complete with food and (sometimes) music, Lyons is also the gateway town to beautiful Button Rock Preserve. I first visited the Preserve when I was looking for fairly easy hikes near the Front Range. I was immediately enchanted by the part of the trail that follows a twisting, robust creek to a massive dam. And recently, I was able to visit for a second time to complete a lollipop trail that heads up into the forested mountains that surround the preserve. What’s great about this trek, besides the river, the drama of the dam, and the views, is that Lyons is the perfect post-hike stop for food and rest.

button rock preserve

This is a wonderful option for anyone looking for a trail that isn’t too long, but it is still a great workout. It also offers an opportunity to enjoy many of the things that make Colorado such a wonderful place – forests, mountains, food, and breweries. Whether you want to explore in person or just enjoy some pictures, come along to learn about this exceptional hiking near Lyons, CO.

Why Visit Button Rock Preserve?

There are a lot of really cool trails in Colorado. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to pick which one you’d like to do. This is a particular problem when you have limited time in the state, and you have to prioritize. Button Rock Preserve (as much as I love it) can’t compete with places like Rocky Mountain National Park. And it isn’t the same kind of hiking as the famous 14ers. When it comes to moderate Colorado hiking, close to Denver, CO, though, this preserve is a great option.

Perfect for Family Hikes

button rock preserve

(c) ABR 2023

For one, it doesn’t require reservations – which Rocky Mountain National Park does seasonally. If you happen to come and find out you can’t visit the National Park, it’s time for other options. Button Rock Preserve is a great spot. Sure, it isn’t home to craggy peaks, but is a beautiful riparian area encircled by the mountains. And it has hiking options for the whole family. For example, there are plenty of long trail options for the hard-core hikers. There is also a road that most of the trails start from, which travels along the creek to the dam. For folks into casual hiking, this is great. There is even a bathroom at the beginning of the trail and towards the dam. It’s perfect for the family as long as you are careful around the flowing water. And finally, there are even beautiful spots along the creek right at the trailhead. So, folks who don’t want to hike at all have some good options too.

History on the Land

button rock preserve

(c) ABR 2023

Secondly, Button Rock Preserve is a prime spot for exploring the relationship that people have had with the land in this area. The dam is a massive, industrial element that shapes everything in this area. It is important to the water provisions of the communities here. And it makes for a really interesting and unique hike. That’s because the trail leads to the base of the dam. And you can follow another track up to the top too. From there, a spectacular lake will stretch off into the mountains. There is also a history of ranching here.

Free but No Dogs Allowed

Another nice thing about this spot is that it is free. And while it can get busy, it has a nice parking lot, so it is a great option if you don’t want to make a mountaineering start. That all being said, Button Rock Preserve is NOT dog friendly.

Sleepy Lion Trail Lollipop Route

button rock preserve

(c) ABR 2023

As per 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Denver, I did the Sleepy Lion lollipop route (5.5 miles) when I visited Button Rock Preserve for some hiking near Lyons, CO. (Although the first time I went, we just did an out and back to the dam). For this route you will follow the dirt road that leaves from the trailhead along North St. Vrain Creek. Along this initial, road section, you will get to see Longmont Reservoir, and the lower part of the creek. In the summer, there are often fly fishers in this area, and sometimes people just relaxing along the waterway.

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Is Boyce Thompson Arboretum Worth Visiting? A Guide to Central Arizona’s Other Premier Garden

Perhaps you have glanced the name Boyce Thompson on the internet while researching your Arizona trip. Or you have friends who have visited and you have yet to make it out there. Either way, this unique garden will have caught your eye both for its exceptional aesthetic and rave reviews. But it is far from all the big Arizona cities. Phoenix proper is about an hour away and Tucson is even further. So, is Boyce Thompson Arboretum worth visiting when the Desert Botanical Garden is closer? Is it worth the drive is explore a spot that’s not quite so famous?

My immediate answer is yes! If you have an appreciation for plants, and the weather cooperates for you, there is no question that you should try to give this spot some of your time. Not only is Boyce home to an exceptional collection of desert plants from around the world, but it is nestled in a landscape you won’t see anywhere else. It also has extensive hiking trails for the adventurous among you. And the Arboretum is perfect for people traveling with small kids or just looking for a more relaxed experience. With its historic buildings, stone mazes, and verdant main grounds, this place will open your eyes even before you buy your ticket.

Learn more about visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum in this short guide to Central Arizona’s secret, garden paradise.

Is Boyce Thompson Arboretum Worth Visiting?

boyce thompson arboretum

(c) ABR 2023

I know that I already said yes above, but if you are still on the fence about making the drive, I want to give you a list of reasons that you should try to take this day trip from Phoenix, AZ if you can.

  1. There is no other garden in the world like this one. The Desert Botanical Garden might have a similar collection of desert plants from around the world. And there might be other gardens with hiking trails. But nowhere else has the grounds and views that Boyce does. At the foot of the towering Picketpost Mountain, the Arboretum trails weave their way through rock formations that are alive with Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. All the while, historic buildings look down on visitors from cliffside perches, or peek out from shallow caves.
  2. No matter what kind of group you are traveling with, Boyce will make everyone but an ardent outdoor hater happy. The kids will have fun exploring historic buildings, rope bridges, and rock mazes. (Let’s be honest, so will the adults). Hikers can spend hours out on the trails. Photographers can play with both close-up images and landscape captures. Folks who can’t walk far can enjoy the immediate beauty of the garden. And solo travelers can comfortably take it all in at their own pace.
  3. Visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a great way to introduce yourself to the Sonoran Desert. Yes, they have plants from all around the world. But they also showcase Arizona plants and in the most exceptional way imaginable. You can see the Sonoran Desert in its full glory here. And besides connecting with the ecology of Arizona, there is a lot of history to be uncovered in this garden as well.

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