Date hiked: 07/06/16
Mileage: 10.1 miles; 4.5 hr
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 8 groups
From blazing fields of wildflowers to spouting runoff and frigid waters encased in ice, the Ice Lakes trail can lead you on a tour through every season of Colorado in just a single day.
On a clear Wednesday in the thick of Colorado summertime, the South Mineral Campground, which shares a parking lot with the Ice Lakes Trailhead, was in full swing. Trying to squeeze this hike in after work, I was getting a late start, with more cars going than coming. Not that I was complaining.
From the start, loose switchbacks lead you into a false security of easy hiking. Pines and aspens grow effortlessly here amid a sea of wild grasses. Nearing the one mile mark, the woods thin out to far-reaching views of the jagged cliffs which guard Clear Lake.
Close to Ice Lake’s lower basin, the first wondrous glimpse at Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak and Golden Horn reward your taxing efforts. At this point, the trail traverses the flooded offshoots of the creek, leading right up to the final, grueling climb into the upper basin.
My first – failed – attempt of this trail during the early spring saw a rugged avalanche path blocking the way. I tried to summit by climbing the northern wall of the basin, until a coming storm forced my hand. But with the all clear this time around, I thought I’d give it another go.
My route sets you up on a direct course towards the easternmost lake in the cluster, Island Lake. It offers plenty off opportunities for a bit of light bouldering – nothing that requires ropes. If that isn’t your thing, there are easier ways around the more technical spots. In the end, this option probably cuts out a full mile from the overall tally.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Island Lake, follow the trail across the ridgeline, taking care on the loose scramble across a mine tailings pile halfway through. Dropping into Upper Ice Lake Basin, nothing beats that first view of the brilliant blue high alpine glacial waters of Ice Lake.
Now onto the final butt-kicking leg of the journey to Fuller Lake. The trail grows increasingly faint at times, so when all else fails, keep to the creeks.
The real beauty of my newfound route up to Island Lake means you can make your descent on the standard route, cutting out a second traverse between Ice Lake and Island Lake. And with my late start, that time really did make up all the difference.
(From Silverton): Just west of town, head north on Highway 550 for 2 miles. Turn left onto CR-7/FSR-585. The trailhead is 4.3 miles up this road at the South Mineral Campground. Despite a few easy to navigate potholes, the road is an easy 2WD to the trailhead. So well groomed, it may as well be pavement.
6.3 miles; 17 min