Distance: 7 miles round trip. Elevation change: 9,800 ft to 12,270 ft
Time to Lower Lake: 2 hours 40 minutes
Time to Upper Lake from Lower Lake: 1 hour 20 minutes
Time to descend from Upper Lake: 2 hours
Total hike with stops: 7 hours
The hike to Ice Lake was the highlight of our July 2013 trip to Colorado. It is the hardest hike we’ve done so far and the highest altitude that we’ve hiked to. The trail head begins at South Mineral Campground near Silverton, Colorado at an altitude of about 9,800 ft. There is ample parking near the trail head. We got there around 7:30am and there were just a few cars in the parking lot.
The hike started off with us realizing we forgot one of the tripods at the car 3 minutes in. Jess went back to the car while I waited and photographed anything that looked interesting around me of course. Once he was back, we were on our way. Soon enough we came to our first waterfall. We stopped to take a quick photo and continued on. We came to the junction where another trail that starts on the road up to Clear Lake joins the main trail. Part of that trail crosses over a pretty sketchy looking waterfall with some waterlogged wood that you have to walk across. I was glad that we didn’t have to cross over that, but we stopped there to take some photos and a quick time-lapse. We continued up the winding trail passing through a couple of small meadows along the way.
The steepness of this trail was really quite amazing compared to what we are used to. This trail climbs 1,600 feet in the first 2 miles! It was a foggy morning in the mountains and it wasn’t until about an hour or more into the hike that the clouds and fog seemed to start breaking up. The clouds never completely lifted during our hike though, but we had peeks of sunshine here and there. We continued through the forests and caught glimpses of a couple more waterfalls. Waterfalls are plentiful on this hike!
Two and a half hours into the hike, we finally reached the Lower Ice Lake Basin. We didn’t realize that it would take us so long to get to the Lower Basin. There were a couple of times that we thought, “we’re almost there, we’re almost there”, and then “oh just kidding”. The first lake in the Lower Basin is not very photogenic and is a hike from the trail if you want to take a photo of it. We decided that since it took us so long to get here that we would press on through the basin. Wildflowers covered the lower basin. There is a small campground in the Lower Basin. Some day we will have to come back and camp here. It must be amazing with the stars at night and to be able to get up early for sunrise at the Upper Basin would be great!
We stopped to rest, enjoy the view, and take some photos. I counted at least 4 waterfalls that I could see pouring into the Lower Basin from where we were. It was pretty incredible. After we were done resting we started toward the top. We walked through the meadow for a ways and started up the trail to go the last 800 ft toward the top. 800 ft might not sounds like very far, but we were already at over 11,000ft. The air was getting pretty thin, and our lungs were born and raised in Iowa.
We took a slow and steady approach and made it to the top after a little over an hour. Once we crested the top of the trail and saw brilliant blue water of Ice Lake, all I could say was, “WOW!“. Just amazing! The water is so blue it almost seemed like it was glowing blue at times and even more when the sun hit it. We took in the view, relaxed a little, and wandered around taking time-lapses and photos. We had a couple of people along the trail ask us “who do you shoot for?” Jess was tempted to say “oh you know, National Geographic” haha! Unfortunately, by the time we got up there it was almost 12:30pm, still pretty cloudy, and the weather was getting more uncertain. We stayed for just under an hour before heading back down the trail. Just as we were heading back down the trail, a man and his young daughter who was maybe 12 years old were nearing the top. He was encouraging her to keep going. She looked exhausted and asked how much further it was to the top. What a hike for a young girl!
We didn’t want to leave, but also didn’t want to get stuck in any bad weather. Down we went and all the while I kept thinking, “when can we come back next!?” AMAZING!
We didn’t have any issues with mosquitoes on our way up the trail, but they were thick on the way down! I highly recommend wearing some good hiking shoes and good socks! The hike down is very steep for 2 solid hours. It can be brutal. Dress properly, it was very chilly at the top. Lots of water and snacks are necessary. I wish we would have had one more bottle of water on our hike. Walking sticks would have been nice; bring them if you have them. I don’t know that I would bring kids on this hike. That poor girl we saw near the top looked miserable. There are no signs beyond the start point so bring a map to check where you are. It was difficult to gauge distance based on the time with such a steep hike. You could spend days here exploring this trail. Don’t try to do this hike as a half day trip. It’s worth a full day or more!
Add the hike to Ice Lakes to your bucket list!
- Time-lapses from our trip can be seen in our 2013 Time-Lapse Montage and are available for use in your creative project via Nimia.com
- Several of the photos seen above are available for purchase or download on my website