Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Perfect for dayhikers and backpackers alike, this 7.6-mile out-and-back in the San Juans features alpine tarns, waterfalls, and views of ragged peaks. Come early to fit this trek into one day, or spend the night and savor the scenery.
From the dirt parking area across from South Mineral Campground, head northwest to pick up the marked Ice Lake Trail. The first 500 feet of trail winds through a meadow before entering cool conifer forest. Soon after entering the woods, the trail starts to climb. Cross the first creek at mile 0.5, then ascend a handful of switchbacks to a short spur that leads to a small waterfall. Watch your footing; there’s a steep drop-off on the right.
From here, the route winds to the west toward Lower Ice Lake Basin, passing mining remnants, a few campsites, and views of another waterfall. After 2.3 miles, the trail enters Lower Ice Lake Basin and continues west. Grab a bite to eat here on a massive trailside boulder with views of the surrounding peaks.
Half a mile later, the final climb to Ice Lake begins. Cross a creek, then follow the rocky trail up and out of the lower basin to the grassy banks of Ice Lake. Drop your pack and spend some time at this stunningly blue tarn surrounded by stark and jagged peaks. For extra views, follow the upper path to a second, smaller lake that sits just south of Ice Lake. Retrace your steps to the trailhead.
-Photos by Kim Phillips