The Ice Lakes Basin is nestled in a remote area about five miles south of the popular ski region of Telluride, Colorado. There are two parts to the Ice Lakes Basin, the Upper Basin and Lower Basin. These basins hold a shallow lake in the lower basin, Lower Ice Lake, three large lakes in the Upper Basin, and other smaller lakes scattered about the basin.
The large lakes in the Upper Basin are named Fuller Lake, Ice Lake, and Island Lake. You reach the amazing trail that takes you around the Ice Lakes through Silverton, or Ouray, Colorado. The trailhead is located near Silverton, Colorado, within the Columbine Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest.
Where Is Ice Lake Basin?
The Ice Lakes Basin trailhead begins from the dirt parking lot across the road from South Mineral Campground. The trail heads northwest from the parking lot. The Ice Lakes Trail is rated as most difficult. It begins at elevation level 9,840 feet. It rises to another elevation gain of 2,420 feet and more if you hike the connecting trails.
How Long of a Hike is Ice lake Basin?
The Ice Lakes Trail climbs up from an old-growth forest to subalpine meadows, and onto an alpine tundra with views of mountain lakes and rugged 13,000-feet and taller mountain peaks. Two other shorter side-trip trails take you to Fuller Lake and Island Lake. These trails are for experienced mountaineers and hikers need to be extremely cautious.
The Ice Lakes Trail is a seven-mile out and back hike. A side trip to Island Lake to the northeast adds about 1.12 miles round trip and 130′ elevation gain. A side trip to Fuller Lake to the south adds about 1.75 miles round trip and 335′ elevation gain. Wildflowers are spectacular from late July through August.
Sub-alpine wildflower species bloom in the Lower Basin and alpine species appear in the Upper Basin. This is a wildly popular hike, and visitors can expect a lot of company on the hike. People enjoy backpacking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountaineering, photography, skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, wildlife viewing, and wildflower and scenery viewing.
The U.S. Forest Service closed the Ice Lakes Trail in October 2020, when the “Ice Fire” (a wildfire) burned 596 acres in the Ice Lakes Basin region from October 19, to its containment on October 26. According to the U.S. Forest Service, this fire began at a large, flat boulder in a meadow near the treeline about 75 feet from the Ice Lakes Trail.
The Forest Service reported, “The only probable factor as to contributing to the start of the fire is human in nature. No evidence or conclusive evidence was found in the point of origin. Therefore, the cause of the Ice Lakes Fire is inconclusive. Though no cigarette butt(s) could be found at the specific origin, this is the leading theory.
“Fire investigators eliminated as causes burning debris, campfires, fireworks, and natural causes, like lightning. Mechanical causes also were ruled out because there are no roads or railroads.” A helicopter had to rescue 28 hikers and three dogs trapped above this fire. This wildfire closed down the popular trail until September 2021.
Can You Drive to Ice Lake Basin?
You can drive to the Ice Lakes Basin trailhead located adjacent to the north side of the South Mineral Campground. You cannot drive to the Basin. You can reach the trailhead from Silverton, or Ouray, Colorado. The Basin is seven miles east of Silverton and 23 miles south of Ouray. From the San Juan Mountains Association:
From Ouray: Follow Highway 550 south from Ouray for about 20 miles to the turnoff to South Mineral Campground. Make a sharp right onto County Road 7 and follow the gravel road for 4.4 miles to the trailhead parking area on the north side of the road across from the South Mineral Campground.
From Silverton: To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Highway 550 and the turnoff into Silverton/Highway 110, drive 2 miles north toward Ouray on Highway 550 and look for the turn off to South Mineral Campground which is Forest Road/FR 585, also called County Road/CR 7 or South Mineral Road.
This turnoff is located between mile markers 72 and 73. Follow the good gravel road for 4.4 miles to the trailhead parking area on the right or north side of the road, just across from the South Mineral Campground. This road is suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles, though there may be some potholes to avoid. Also, be aware that shortly after the campground the road becomes only 4WD accessible.
Note: South Mineral road or FR 585/County Road/CR 7 is not plowed in winter, so if you plan on a winter visit, you can add 4.4 miles each way to your hike, snowshoe, or ski.
Since this trail is so popular, prepare to start early. Visitors should arrive at the trailhead before 7 a.m. if they want to find parking remotely close to the trailhead. During the summer months, thunderstorms can crop up in the afternoons, and if you arrive early, you can beat them. Rangers patrol on the weekends.
Visitors risk getting a parking ticket if they park in the meadow or along the road, so if they do arrive late, they are advised to wait for parking spot to open up. If hikers are not acclimated to mountaineering, they should take their time. Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, shortness of breath, and vomiting.
Can You Swim in Ice Lake?
Ice Lake ranges from a deep aquamarine-colored to a brilliant ice blue-colored lake, and is frequently referred to as the most beautiful lake in Colorado. About two miles into the hike, hikers leave the forest, and the hike reveals an expansive valley and then Lower Ice Lake to the left, but access is limited to this lake. The larger Ice Lake is in the Upper Basin.
Yes, you can swim in Ice Lake. Ice Lake is quite chilly and not very comfortable for swimming because it is an alpine lake and never warms up to an optimal swimming temperature.
Is it Safe to Walk on Ice Lake?
This question applies to walking on any water bodies that are frozen over with ice. People need to take vital precautions before walking on ice over freezing water. If the ice sheet is too thin or cracked, anyone walking on it puts themselves in serious danger. Walking or skating or playing hockey on ice is never 100% safe.
Ice needs to freeze at least four-inches deep to hold a person, and five-inches to hold a snow mobile. For cars, the ice needs to be eight to 12-inches thick.