The hike up to Ice Lake and Island Lake in Colorado's San Juan Mountains is truly an amazing one. It is moderately difficult, clocking in right at 8 miles with a total 3,000 feet of elevation gain, but the waterfalls, fantastic lakes, and wonderful views below and above the tree line are absolutely fantastic.
The trailhead and parking lot are just across the street from South Mineral Campground. There is a book to sign in at the trailhead, which is a good idea, especially weekdays when there aren't usually many people on the trail. The first mile proceeds through subalpine forest and crosses Clear Creek a couple of times. A wonderful waterfall can be seen around 0.9 miles from the trailhead (watch for slippery rocks).
After passing an aspen grove, which looks great in early fall, there is a fork on the trail 2.2 miles from the trailhead. Stay on the left to get to Ice Lake. The trail continues on the first step of this double basin, and a beautiful meadow opens up, surrounded by almost vertical cliffs and a towering waterfall on the right. The hike is steep to the second step of the basin where Ice Lake is located, but it is well worth it as the deep blue of the lake is unparalleled. Glaciers eroded rocks in the area thousands of years ago, leaving a fine rock powder suspended in the water. This is a great place to camp or pass some time admiring the view. A walk around the lake is very rewarding as well, providing different views of the spires behind the lake and the silver-like runoff creek.
The view alone is worth the hike, but continuing the loop to the nearby Island Lake is hard to miss. The hike to the Island Lake lake is just over half a mile and gains some 200 feet of elevation. It is a beautiful green lake with a rock island in the middle, which gives the lake its name.
From there the trail loops around the basin and returns back to the main trail. Along the way there is some evidence of old mining activity, including mine tailings. The trailhead parking and campground lot are also visible some 2,300 feet below.
Note that the hiking trail to Ice Lake and Island Lake is not very well marked. Take a map and compass or a GPS unit to help you stay on track. Also, if you are looking for camping in the area, South Mineral Campground is nearby and an excellent choice for longer stays in this section of the San Juan Mountains.
Conservation Colorado has worked with communities around the state for over 50 years in pursuit of our mission - to protect Colorado’s environment and quality of life by mobilizing people and electing conservation-minded policymakers. We fight to protect the air, land, water, and people of Colorado. Our collaborative approach and focus on electing pro-conservation officials has yielded successes in addressing climate change, supporting clean energy development, conserving water resources, and protecting our public wildlands and rivers. These priority issues, and the incredible natural resources of our state, inspire our motto - The Future is Worth the Fight.