Nestled in the shadow of the tallest peaks in the Wallowa Mountain Range, Ice Lake is a majestic high-alpine lake that completely freezes in the chill of winter, rewarding snowshoe and backcountry enthusiasts with incredible scenery. The trail navigates the snow covered slopes and rises to tree line, providing breathtaking views of jagged granite peaks and winding streams that keep your heart pumping for the entire length of the trail. Beginning at the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, the trail parallels the West Fork of the Wallowa River and rises at a gentle grade as snow-covered boulders pop out of the rushing water like toad stools. After 3 miles the trail crosses a log bridge and makes a steep climb to tree line. Heavy winter snowpack provides opportunities for experienced navigators to shorten the route by climbing straight up the slope to bypass switchbacks.
Trail-breaking through the knee-deep powder may make for a slow ascent, however, so keep an eye on the time and look for locations to camp if you find yourself racing the sun. There is a bench at 6,800 feet approximately 1 mile from the lake that offers a perfect place to camp using the protection of short alpine trees. You will enjoy your lighter pack as you make a morning ascent through a timber stand to the edge of Ice Lake to watch the mountaintops glisten in the sunlight. Look for signs of elk, deer and other wildlife along the trail as wildlife viewing opportunities are common.
Be sure to pack appropriately for the weather as temperatures can dip below zero with the wind chill. Also, storms are frequent in the winter months. Hikers must understand the snow conditions and use caution in avalanche prone areas.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.