Ice Lake Basin

#1 of 161 trails in San Juan National Forest

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Ice Lakes trail has two common destinations, lower and upper. The upper basin is surrounded by awesome peaks. Vermillion, Fuller, Pilot knob and Golden Horn are climbed from this basin. Amazing blue/green lakes, late season wildflowers, moderately strenuous hike to creekfalls and waterfalls too.

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Lauren B. (36)

I'm a native who has explored all over the state, and this trail in all of it's midsummer glory, with waterfalls and wildflowers abound, is the most beautiful place I've been.

However, as a former search and rescue volunteer, I'm extremely concerned that it's a tragedy waiting to happen. As we were coming down in the afternoon we encountered loads of unprepared people starting way too late in the day carrying little more than the cotton shirts on their back. Many also had clearly miserable and exhausted kids with them and continued on despite our warnings that storm clouds were brewing.

I think many people see the relatively short mileage of the trail, fail to realize how steep it is, and underestimate the time/exertion it will take.

First of all, you gain around 2,500 ft on the trail. Really this trail is quite comparable to many of the 14er routes in elevation gain and length, it's just lower. In my opinion it's better to see this more like an easy 14er than a quick easy day hike. It's not overly difficult but it will be quite a challenge for many kids, flatlanders, out-of- shape folks etc.

Much of the route is above timberline, there's water everywhere, and several stream crossings. In Colorado wicked thunderstorms are to be expected on summer afternoons. Getting caught in a storm here, especially in the upper basin, would be a nightmare. The section leading to the upper basin is very steep, rocky, in parts wet with little streams, somewhat exposed and above timberline - extremely dangerous in a storm with slick rocks, lightning, swollen stream crossings etc. Thunderstorms at these elevations are an entirely different beast than the ones you may be used to closer to sea level. They also can develop very rapidly and seemingly come out of nowhere.

Compounding these issues is that for the vast majority of the trail, you won't even be able to see a storm coming in. The vast majority of storms travel west to east here, and all those 13ers ringing the lakes block your view of the skies. We saw nothing but blue skies until we reached the upper basin... Then we could see the ominous clouds gathering right behind the 13ers. As we hurriedly descended, ascending folks were oblivious to the impending storm.

START EARLY IN THE MORNING TO AVOID STORMS. A good rule of thumb for hikes like this is to aim to be below timberline descending by 10-noon. Check the weather beforehand and reschedule if necessary. On your way up ask people coming down from the top how the sky looked and turn around if it sounds iffy.

There are also a few spots that are somewhat confusing. Read some of the posts below and you'll find plenty of people who went the wrong way. Bring a good topo map like Trail's Illustrated and a trail description.

This is a fantastic, gorgeous hike and it can be done very safely if you follow basic mountain safety guidelines and prepare properly.

Frank C. (180)

A beautiful alpine hike featuring waterfalls, creeks, wildflowers, and Alpine vistas. Upper Ice Lake is worth the effort.

Sarah Hautamaki (238)

6 Completed3 Reviews

Ernesto Diaz (98)

3 Completed3 Reviews

Best hike in Colorado. The lake and peak views are incredible.

Richard Stefan (36)

1 Completed1 Reviews

Pretty difficult for flatlanders from the Midwest, but so worth it in the end. My wife and I, and our three teenage sons hiked up to the lower ice lake basin and set up camp in a beautiful spot near the river and under some trees. It rained pretty hard with some strong winds and although it was early August, it got cold at night. My sons hiked up to upper ice lake in the morning and they came back in awe of the beauty. Their pictures were amazing. My wife and I hung back at camp, and enjoyed the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee. I wish we had read the previous post of Celene because we also went the wrong way up the right side of the first waterfall and it totally sapped our energy since we had big packs for overnight camping. In the end though, absolutely amazing hike with great views of surrounding peaks and valleys with beautiful wildflowers.

Phil Kenley (96)

1 Completed1 Reviews

Last trip to So Mineral we met a man 74 who had just returned from Ice Lakes. Here is our situation.... My wife and I made this hick 50 years ago this month and now wondering if we should try again. We will have been camping in Wyoming and Colorado mountains for about 3 weeks before arriving at So Mineral so we should have adjusted to the altitude at that point. The only question will we be in good enough condition. I guess we could always turn around and go back down. Wish us luck.

David Bencaz (197)

7 Completed7 Reviews

Awesome hike. It's pretty strenuous, but our 4 year old did it, too.

Christine Larsen (40)

2 Completed1 Reviews

Magical. It's certainly a climb but not to be missed. Absolutely wonderful!

Tara A. (56)

Celena H (36)

1 Completed1 Reviews

There is some gorgeous scenery here and the hike really shows if off.


There is a part of the trail that splits off near the beginning. One will take you to the actual trail and the other is a more risky route that eventually leads to the trail. I cannot tell you exactly where it is because I ended up taking the wrong way up and the right way down - unable to distinguish where it was.

I can tell you, though, that if you find yourself hiking up along the waterfall stream and climbing steep terrain in dark colored soil, you went the wrong way. Turn around and look for a path that has red soil - it will be obvious that it is a frequented trail. It will eventually lead you across the stream - farther below where the waterfall is.

If you go the wrong way, there is a point where it gets steep and the dirt is loose where you have to grab onto a dead tree to climb up. At the top you will end up at a trail and will need to turn left and cross through the waterfall. I would suggest only doing this if you are physically active and/or adventurous or looking to go off the more beaten track. Some people expressed their concern for going up that direction, and it wouldn't be too desirable to go down it.

Now, once you have gotten to open space you will eventually cross another stream and hit a fork in the path. Turn right into the tall plants. This will lead you up a stream bed towards Ice Lake Basin.

After reaching Ice Lake, I would highly suggest checking out Island Lake. It is about half a mile or less from Ice Lake. I was pooped after Ice Lake but Island Lake was doable. If you still have time and/or energy, there is a trail to reach the peak from Island Lake. It looks only to be a half mile again but much steeper.

There are 4 campgrounds leading up to the trailhead. The first three are free-for-alls and the last one (South Mineral Campground) is $19/night. It is located directly across from the trailhead. Potable water, toilets, and firewood are all located there. All campgrounds are first come, first serve.