Backpack the Ice Lakes Trail

Ice Lakes Trailhead

Ice Lakes Basin provides perhaps the best bang for your buck on an effort vs scenery perspective in all of Colorado. Beautiful, epic, and grand, it has it all.

Just north of Silverton, CO, lies the South Mineral Valley which is reachable down a well maintained, and paved dirt road and ends in the South Mineral Campground.

The hike starts out with a sweat generating 1500+ feet of gain over its first two miles. However, there are numerous spots to stop and cool off with near constant mist from a sizable waterfall that will be to your right for much of the first leg of this hike. Once the first section of trail levels out the waterfall that's been your trail friend will be to your right. Stop off, enjoy the spray and the views that look south towards Silverton. 

Continue back left (west) down the trail and start enjoying the view. The elevation gain levels out as you enter a valley that could be right out of the Lord of the Rings. Depending on the time of year there will be more waterfalls than can be counted, a riotous explosion of wildflowers, and every manner of bee, butterfly, and moth out there pollinating everything in sight. 

The opportunities to camp here are numerous, and all beautiful. If your goal is a day hike continue on to the far end of the valley where you will see a headwall that is climbed via a series of switchbacks. If your goal is to set up camp first, and then continue on hiking, search out a perfect campsite and then continue.

Once at the headwall look back east and take in the grandeur of one of the prettiest valleys in all of Colorado. Keep climbing through the rocks, and the willows and be aware that your feet are likely to be wet if you are going in the warmer months as run-off will share the hiking path with you. 

Finally, you'll level out again and this is Ice Lakes Basin, proper. Surrounded by imposing 13ers (Fuller, Vermillion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob) you'll stroll through the wildflowers to a cerulean blue lake directly out of a dreamscape. Sit, enjoy some lunch, and some unmatched scenery and if you are feeling energetic and the weather is clear you can continue west and start up the obvious path to Vermillion or you can take the well marked path north and east up to Island Lake (and even past that to Fuller Lake). Island Lake provides a stunning spot that is less crowded, and Fuller Lake is less crowded still. Also, there is easy access to ridge lines at around 12000 feet that give stunning views over the San Juans. 

When the time is right make your way back to your campsite, or if this is a day hike return back down the way you came, taking pictures, and memories, and enjoy the feeling of a day well spent.

Pack List

  • Food
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Rain jacket
  • Puffy jacket (above tree line Colorado can see snow 12 months of the year)
  • Comfortable running or light hiking shoes
  • Gloves
  • Camera
  • Sense of adventure
Show More
RT Distance 8.4 Miles
Elevation Gain 3200 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Engaged And Married 1 Year Later Here

Such a magical place, I proposed to my now wife up here and we returned 1 year later with 15 close friends and family, 2 pups and a photographer for a memorable wedding.

Wildflower Heaven

This is probably one of the most incredible places in Colorado. If you hike or backpack here in late July you'll be surrounded by paintbrush and columbine wildflowers. Most people stay at the lower basin but if you're brave you can camp in the upper basins and enjoy solitude after thunderstorms clear everyone else out.


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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