This is one of the most popular trails in the mountains between Silverton and Ouray, and for good reason. The trail starts at the South Mineral Campground, just a few miles down a good dirt road from U.S. Highway 550. From the trailhead, the path ascends steeply uphill, gaining 1,600 feet in two miles as you burst into meadows that teem with wildflowers for much of the summer. The lower lake comes into view at the two-mile mark. Climb higher above timberline and the basin opens up to reveal a massive bowl of 13,000-foot peaks, towering over a collection of bright blue alpine lakes, each seemingly bluer than the last. At an old cabin high in the basin, you can wonder what it must have been like to try to live in such a place. Spend some time exploring the basin or return the way you came.
- If you have the legs and the weather is good, continue another half-mile north from the Ice Lakes to Island Lake, a stunning alpine pool with, you guessed it, a large island. It can make anyone feel like a good photographer.
- Most of this hike past the lower lake is above timberline, with little shelter, so keep an eye on the weather.
- Be sure to stop in Silverton for lunch or dinner after the hike. This old mining town is one of Colorado’s hardest-to-reach towns and retains its historic charm.
Recommended season(s): Summer to early fall.
–R. Scott Rappold