Ice Lake, nestled in Ice Lake Basin at 12,257 feet, is simply one of Colorado’s most beautiful lakes. The gorgeous lake, fed by snowmelt, glistens a surreal turquoise and is the bluest blue you’ll ever see. Green meadows strewn with wildflowers surround the above-treeline lake. Ice Lake is a glacial tarn, chiseled from bedrock by an ancient glacier. The lake’s fluorescent color comes from a fine powder ground by the glacier that is now suspended in the water. Ice Lake, a popular destination for mountaineers, hikers, and backpackers, is an idyllic spot reached by a lung-busting 3.5-mile hike from a trailhead by South Mineral Campground near Silverton. The scenic basin is surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, including U.S. Grant Peak, Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, and 13,894-foot Vermilion Peak, Colorado’s 74th highest mountain.
- The trailhead for Ice Lake Trail (#505) is a couple miles west of Silverton on U.S. 550. Turn off the highway on County Road 7 and drive 4.4 miles to the trailhead by Mineral Creek Campground. The trail gains 2,430 feet in 3.5 miles from the trailhead to Ice Lake. The moderately strenuous trail passes waterfalls, old-growth forest, and open meadows.
- The meadows and tundra grasslands at Lower Ice Lake Basin and Ice Lake Basin offer a renowned rainbow of colorful wildflowers from mid-July through August. The wildflowers, one of Colorado’s best displays, bloom during the area’s 40 frost-free days. Look for a variety of species, including columbine, chiming bells, fairy primrose, moss campion, sky pilot, paint brush, and alpine forget-me-nots. Don’t forget your camera!
- After you enjoy Ice Lake and its stunning color, hike to two other lakes in Ice Lake Basin. A trail heads north, contouring across a steep mountainside, to Island Lake. This unique tarn, tucked into a cirque below U.S. Grant Peak, features a small rocky island. Another trail heads south from Ice Lake, climbing open tundra to 12,585-foot Fuller Lake, the basin’s highest lake.
- The hike to Ice Lake is vigorous, so get an early start. Be prepared for afternoon storms and wind by packing extra clothes and rain gear. Some backpack up to Ice Lake Basin but it is often cold and windy with little shelter. A better alternative is to camp in Lower Ice Lake Basin. Remember to camp well away from water sources and properly dispose of human waste. Best to use a wag bag and tote it out. Also, treat all water before use.
Recommended season(s): June to October.
—Stewart M. Green