Ice Lakes Trail is really one of the best in all of Colorado, if not the country. And that is saying something with all of the immeasurable beauty in the state. This spectacular trail really has about everything there is to offer. Expansive picturesque mountain views, abundant fields of colorful wildflowers, flowing mountain streams, wildlife, and to cap it all off, a lake of such otherworldly blue, you will be left speechless.
The San Juans in Southwestern Colorado are incredible, and this trail is one of the gems of the area. The trailhead for Ice lake starts at South Mineral Campground at the end of 585, off of the Million Dollar Highway just North of Silverton. This is a gravel road, but easily passible in cars without 4WD. There are multiple campgrounds along this road as well as some pretty great dispersed spots. All of the campgrounds along 585 are first come first serve. You can also backpack in to this trail, just remember to follow all leave no trace principles and respect and take care of this gorgeous trail for future generations. There are some fantastic spots for camping in the lower valley that offer some tree cover and flowing water nearby. Camping is allowed in the upper basin, but is more exposed to the common thunderstorms and rain.
This trail is a pretty steep incline the whole way up, definitely a challenging trail so be prepared to take a lot of breaks and be acclimated to the altitude. You start off climbing through the forest, crossing a stream on some fallen logs with some great waterfall views. Steadily conquering switchbacks, you'll pass some mining ruins on your way up to the gorgeous lower valley with multiple streams and fields of wildflowers. The views are fantastic even in the lower valley, and this offers some perfect sites to camp when backpacking.
At the west wall of the lower basin, the trail will start to ascend into the upper basin. It is a steep climb and there are some rocky areas that may require you to use your hands a bit. A few more switchbacks through some wildflower engulfed meadows in season, and you will begin the final climb up to Ice Lake. It barely looks real, even in real life! The color of the lake as you approach it will leave you speechless. It is such a royal blue, much deeper than even the sky. This is due to glacial flour, or finely ground up rock that is in glaciers. As they melt, the fine flour is suspended in the lake, giving the Ice lake its ethereal hue.
Spend some time basking in the glory of the beauty around you. Eat lunch, do some yoga, relax and enjoy the views of a lifetime. This is one of the most beautiful places in the state, so please be respectful and take care of it. Pack out more than you pack in, stay on trails, and be gentle to the fragile alpine tundra around you.
An extra mile round trip with a bit of light scrambling will take you to the gorgeous Island Lake. If you aren't dead tired, it is definitely recommended to make the trek up to this incredible Colorado icon. Just be ready for a bit more of a steady climb, and a narrow trail with some light scrambling. To get to Island lake, just take the trail that branches to the right off of ice lake trail as you're coming up to Ice Lake. You'll see it stretching up to a basin above.
Overall, this is a trail you don't want to miss. The hike of a lifetime really. Please, please respect this trail if you go. The popularity of this trail is causing it to be loved to death a bit. Leashed dogs are allowed, but you must pack out their waste. Enjoy this top 5 hike in the state and lets leave it even better for our future generations to enjoy!
There is fantastic camping all along 585, the road to the trailhead. There are four campgrounds with facilities along the road, all first come first serve. Lots of gorgeous dispersed sites with parking along the road as well. The road is flat and easy to traverse in any normal vehicle, no 4wd needed. Backpacking in and camping along the trail is also allowed, no permits needed as of now. Please just follow all leave no trace prinicples when camping in any of these areas.
Bring the camera. This trail is a stunner!
The flat area and insane views near the lake offer a perfect spot to relax, do some yoga, and soak in the views!
Silverton and Ouray are both awesome small mountain towns and worth exploring.
Ice Lake Trail starts at South Mineral Campground off of 585 just north of Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway. The parking lot for the trail is relatively small, so arrive early!