Updated: Mar 20
Hiking Guide for Ice Lakes
I have been to Ice Lake Basin in Silverton, Colorado, at least ten times. Living in Durango for six years allowed me to explore the San Juan Mountains. And this is one of my all-time favorite hikes in the area. Every time I take someone new up with me, it is a whole different experience.
Not very many people know this, but there are a few other alpine lakes up by Ice Lake. My favorite next to Ice Lake is called Island Lake.
In this post I'll cover:
Over the years, I’ve camped along the trail, the base, as well as made day trips. Each time I learn more about the trail and its surroundings.
Being in the backcountry is always unpredictable, so it’s best to come prepared. I’ve been poured on and seen crisp blue days.
All of these photos are from our recent trip to Ice Lake, July 10, 2020.
The trail is at the South Mineral Campground just outside of Silverton, Colorado.
To reach the trailhead, from Silverton, CO head North on Hwy 550 towards Red Mountain Pass.
After 2 miles, turn left on County Road 7 (Forest Road 585) to South Mineral Campground. CR 7 is a well-maintained dirt road.
Follow this road for about 4.3 miles until you reach the campground on your left.
On your right is a parking lot where day hikers can park. Get there early. This lot tends to fill up fast!
Ice Lake Trail Information
The hike is about 7 miles round trip. The hike starts at 9,800 feet elevation and ends at 12,200 feet. That’s about a 3000 feet elevation gain!
And trust me, you’ll feel it. I always feel like I’m gasping for air as we are about to summit, above the tree line. This hike is rated moderate to strenuous.
If you continue up to island lake, you’ll tack on an extra mile or two, but it’s worth it! Island Lake is the trail off to the right of Ice Lake. The trail is stunning the entire time, from the waterfalls to the wildflowers, the whole trek is enjoyable.
It is good to wear layers. I just went last week in July, and I needed a jacket at the top even with the sunshine. And being that high up, it tends to rain a lot in the summer months. It is best to get an early start; if you can be at the trailhead around 6:30 AM to 8 AM, you will beat the foot traffic and the rain.
Can You Swim in Ice Lake Colorado?
The answer is yes! It is a wonderfully refreshing experience, much like an ice bath. Be sure to bring extra socks and underwear or a towel!
South Mineral Campground:
The trail starts at South Mineral Campground, so it’s a good bet to get there the night before so you can hit the trail first thing in the morning.
The site is said to have 26 locations, and they don’t take reservations. It is free, but also first come first serve. There are lots of great spots along Country Road 7, and truly all over Silverton. Silverton town is about 10 minutes from the trailhead.
Camping at Ice Lake:
If you want to turn it into a backpacking trip, the photos of Ice Lake at sunrise and sunset will be unparalleled. But be prepared! It can quickly get below freezing at 12,000 feet in July. You’ll need to come stocked with full outdoor gear!
I myself have never camped that high because I didn’t want to make the hike with my pack. We love camping at the bottom. But no doubt, if you went to the top, it would be worth it! I always talk to the campers at the top and they seem to enjoy it.
Best Time of Year to Hike Ice Lakes
If you are not from the high country, you may not know, but 12,200 feet is very high up! It never truly gets hot up top.
These are Silverton’s yearly temperatures, which are 3,000 feet lower than Ice Lake. The best time of year to hike is sincerely July and August. The top is warm, the snow is melted, and August, in particular, has crazy wildflowers everywhere. I love seeing the native columbines.
We have hiked up in June, made it 75% of the way up, only to turn around when we hit snow up to our waist. But if it’s a dry year, June can be beautiful.
The fall, September and October, can be beautiful. I love the blue lake with the changing orange tundra colors, but it will be frigid. On the plus side, there are fewer people in the fall.
And in winter, you could do some awesome snowshoeing along the trail, but I doubt you’ll get to the top unless its a dry year or you’re an extreme outdoorswoman/man.
Colorado’s Most Popular Hike
No doubt about it- this hike is stunning. The blue color is unreal. And you will never forget this hike!
There is a reason this lake has become an Instagram phenomenon. The photos, the experience, and the location. If you are ever in the Durango, Ouray, or Silverton area, this is a do-not miss!!
Hiking During COVID
You can still transmit and contract coronavirus while hiking. Try to maintain social distancing. While it may be uncomfortable to wear a mask when walking, it still always a good idea.
Try to go in the off-peak hours, so it's less crowded. Also, when we went we used buffs around our necks, and when we saw someone in the distance, we pulled them up over our noses and mouths.
There are so many amazing hikes around America, and during COVID it is the perfect activity to get active and avoid the crowds (if you go early).
If you have questions about making the trip, comment below.
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Photo Cred: Kyle Niemtschk