Today, I am going to share another favorite hike of mine- Ice Lake and Island Lake trail. The electric blue color lake at the end of the trail is an eye soothing scene sight and its worthy. Ice Lake and Island Lake both are located in the San Juan National Forest near Silverton, Colorado and this hike is considered moderately difficult. It does not matter how hard the hike is, as soon as you see the beautiful lakes surrounded by the mountains, you will forget everything. Moreover, this entire basin is famous for its alpine wildflower during the summer months. So, if you are doing this during summer, more likely you will be able to see these alpine beauties surrounded by wildflowers.
We did this hike during fall. As a result, there were patches of yellow here and there, which made the whole hike quite amazing. We started our hike around 10 am, accompanied by a lot of other hikers. If you are doing this hike during summer month, be prepared to see a lot of people on the trail. The trailhead is located across the road from the South Mineral Campground. There is a registry for the hiker at the beginning of the trail. I always find myself excited whenever I write my name in this kind of registry book.
The trail starts from a meadow and then passes through a subalpine forest for the first mile where you have to go through moderately steep switchbacks. Around 0.4 mile, the trail crosses Clear Creek and ascends again. At 0.9-mile mark-point, you will pass a waterfall. Watch out for the slippery rocks though. Beneath the waterfalls, there is an old wooden bridge. Do not go towards that bridge; instead, stay on the main trail. Once you walk past the waterfall, head west and here the trail starts to climb steeply up a grassy slope. You will find a ruin of an abandoned mining building and equipment on your left here. The trail becomes flatten and crosses a meadow before it enters the trees again and starts to climb steep switchbacks. After hiking 2 miles and an elevation gain of 1600ft, you will be able to see the Lower Ice Lake basin. The open wide view of the lake surrounded by the mountains- Fuller, Vermillion, Golden Horn and Pilor Knob is mesmerizing.
At around 2.2 miles, there is a fork on the trail. Stay left if your aim is to reach the Ice Lake. The trail now goes across a meadow and at some point, you will pass the Lower Ice Lake basin to the left. I really loved this part of the trail- wide open and beautiful. Waterfalls, snowfields, rocky hillside, meadows, wildflowers everything combine to give a spectacular view. If you are hiking during late July or early August, you will be able to experience wonderful wildflower display around the waterfalls and the meadow. Different kinds of wildflowers such as columbine, aspen daisies, cow parsnips, larkspur, chiming bells, etc. can be seen here. Once you cross the Lower Ice Lake, the trail shifts towards south (or on your left) and here you will have to go through a steep ascent up the basin’s headwall. The out stream of the fuller lake cascades down a rocky crevasse and creates a very beautiful waterfall. Before you reach the waterfall, you will come across a point where the trail shifts to the right and climbs a few steep switchbacks before swinging towards north (or right) for the final climb. In this section, you will climb 700 ft in 0.6 miles which makes it a little bit stiff. Now the trail becomes flat, and you are almost there. A few steps, well quarter mile distance to the Ice Lake. From a far distance, the lake seems to be a blurry line of shocking electric blue. As you go close, you will be able to see the bright beautiful electric blue colored lake. I did not even believe my eyes until I went up close and saw it by myself. One thing I can confirm that you will be blown away by the beauty of the lake. If your destination is only the Ice Lake one, you can take the same trail and start your return journey.
We decided to go further to the Island Lake. The distance is very short, and it would be such a loss if you are so close and do not go for Island Lake. If you want to go for Island Lake, look for the outlet stream of the Ice lake and cross it. Here the trail is not that distinguished and a bit of faint. Look for the trail and start hiking. The trail starts climbing towards northeast and if you look back, you will be able to see the stunning view of the Upper and Lower Ice Lake basins. In some of the part, the trail is narrow and be cautious while hiking. Once you come across the base of a tailings pile, the trail ascends above a rocky outcrop and eventually swings towards north (on your left). From this point, you have to hike through the hillside above the lake. Soon, you will be able to see the lake and the island in the middle of the lake. The color of the lake is different from the Ice Lake. It’s not blue like Ice Lake but aquamarine and the shade of the water look different color at different times of the day. The total distance from Ice Lake to Island Lake is around 0.7 mile and 130 ft elevation gain. Overall, this whole hike is a beautiful one. I would love to go here someday for backpacking. How amazing it will be to wake up in the mountains with a view of the lakes. If you are planning to backpack, please follow the rules and regulation of backpacking in the wilderness.
At a glance/fact
- Hike length: 8 miles out and back
- Elevation gain: 3000 ft
- Difficulty: moderate
- Location: South Mineral Campground, San Juan County, Colorado.
- Trailhead: 37.80672, -107.7740
- Best time to visit: Summer and fall, season opens in June.
- Permit/Fee: none
- Parking: The parking lot at the trailhead has limited spots (30-40 cars). Plan for early start to get a parking spot. We have seen people parking on the side of the road. Please do not park in the meadows or any kind of vegetation, or in the campground across the road. Please also note that, illegal parking is not allowed, and citations have been issued for any wrong parking.
- Amenities: None. The restroom near the parking lot is for the campground guest only.
- Mountain weather always change frequently. Please check the weather beforehand and dress in layers. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, etc.
- If you are backpacking, please bring bear canister. Carry bear spray, attach ring bell with your bag. Talk loudly while on the trail to ensure your presence.
- Let’s practice leave no trace principle and pack out all our trashes.
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