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Ice Lake Basin: Hike To Southwest Colorado’s Ice Lakes

Silverton, Colorado's Illustrious Ice Lakes Make For A Popular Trek

The Ice Lake Basin is becoming one of the most popular hikes in the San Juan National Forest to see the majestic ice lakes. It’s easy to see why. The trail gains an exhilarating 3,000 feet in elevation just 3.75 miles, which means hikers encounter all kinds of terrain and natural wonder in a short time.

Where Are The Ice Lakes?

The trailhead, located in Silverton, is a perfect way for experienced hikers to get a taste of the San Juan Mountains. From beautiful aspen and conifer forests to challenging switchbacks up a cliff to the breathtaking Ice Lakes Basins, there is much to enjoy when setting out on this trail. Lace-up your boots and get the information you need to plan the perfect hike up to Ice Lakes.

Durango To Silverton

Reaching The Ice Lake Basin

The Ice Lake Basin, nestled in the San Juan National Forest, is one of Southwest Colorado’s gems. There are many reasons to hike Ice Lakes, but the ice-blue lakes you’ll find at the lower and upper Ice Lakes Basins are the true reasons to hike this 7.5-mile round trip trail. Lower Ice Lake sits below the timberline. You’ll find it at the base of a towering ridgeline. When you continue hiking, you’ll find the Upper Ice Lake after conquering a series of switchbacks.

You’ll be able to see a few of the San Juan Mountain peaks when you reach the upper basin. This birds’ eye vantage point will give you views of Beatie Peak, Fuller Peak, and Grant Peak.

When To Hike

If you hike Ice Lakes Trail during the summer, you’ll see a basin of Colorado wildflowers. You also will see alpine waterfalls, grassy slopes, footbridges, and other natural wonders. You might even spot the remnants of an old mining operation with building ruins and abandoned equipment if you look up along the Lower Ice Lake trail. Because this trail has become so popular, you’ll likely encounter other hikers and backpackers along the route.

Parking At The Trailhead

Another important thing to keep in mind when you’re planning your hike is that parking at the trailhead is limited. You’ll likely find the lot full by 8 a.m. on warm days, especially on the weekend. If you’d like to park at the trailhead, plan on arriving early. Ice Lakes Trail rapidly increases in elevation. In fact, you’ll climb 3,000 feet in just 3.75 miles. At one portion of the Upper Ice Lakes trail, you’ll gain 700 feet in elevation in just half a mile.

About The Hike

How long should you plan to spend on Ice Lakes Trail? Given the quick gains in elevation and challenging switchbacks, the trail is rated strenuous. Because of the challenges along the way, most hikers are able to conquer the strenuous hike at about 1.2 miles per hour. This means it will take about a little over 6 hours to complete the trail round trip. You might consider factoring in more time for rest and nutrition breaks, photo ops, and the take in the San Juan Mountains splendor around you.

Can You Fish in Ice Lakes?

Should you bring your fishing gear on this hike? Yes! According to information from the USDA Forest Service, both upper and lower lakes are known for their cutthroat and brook trout. Ready to get back to nature and savor what makes the San Juan Mountains special? Plan on making a hike on the Ice Lakes Trail part of your next Durango adventure.


With so much to do, explore, and enjoy, outdoors enthusiasts will love spending time in Southwest Colorado. From Durango camping to rafting to rock climbing, consider making Durango your home base for your next outdoor adventure. Browse Durango lodging and find the perfect place to call home while you enjoy the great outdoors.

*Every year the Bureau of Land Management Colorado implements seasonal closures of trail access across the state to reduce disturbance to wintering wildlife. These closures usually take place between December & April. Please see BLM Colorado's interactive map of seasonal closures before planning your outdoor activities.

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