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Ice Lake & Island Lake | Colorado’s Most Breathtaking Hike

ice lake and island lake

Ice Lake and Island Lake offer some of the best views Colorado has to offer. Seriously, be prepared to always compare every mountain hike you ever do to this one!

This is one of Jake and my all-time favorite hikes in Colorado. Simply just starting the hike through the dense forest to the legendary green & rocky mountain peaks surrounding you to the emerald-colored water, this hike is absolutely breathtaking.

Ice Lake and Island Lake are located near Silverton, CO in the San Juan National Forest. Let’s dive into the details for one of Colorado’s most breathtaking hikes, Ice Lake & Island Lake.

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Hiking Stats For Ice Lake & Island Lake:

  • Distance: 6.5 miles
  • Elevation: 2736 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Permit: No
  • Bathroom: At Trailhead (campground)
  • Dogs: Yes

Join Along On Our Vlog Of Ice Lake & Island Lake | Colorado’s Most Breathtaking Hike:

Trailhead For Ice Lake & Island Lake:

You get to Ice Lakes Trailhead by going on US 550 and then turn off on County Road 7/Forest Road 585. The trailhead will be 5 miles down this road. You will pass by 3 free dispersed campsites and a few other remote campsites, before you get to the trailhead.

If you go during the busier months, the camping will be very crowded. There is a decent amount of parking at the trailhead, but it is still advised to get there early to get a good spot and not have to park along the road making the hike even longer for you.

Beginning of Ice Lake & Island Lake Hike:

Ice Lakes Trail starts off with steep incline switchbacks for the first mile through beautiful wilderness. The beginning was very busy, and you most likely will be hopping back and forth between passing people and taking short breaks to catch your breath.

You then will come to an open area with beautiful wildflowers and stunning views of the mountains. The hike will then gradually keep climbing in elevation as you walk through thick vegetation surrounding you.

The Loop At Ice Lake & Island Lake:

At about 1.7 miles look out for a trail that spurs out to the right. It’s not marked with a sign, so be sure to keep an eye out because it can be easy to miss. But it’s right after you come out of a steep section of trees.

The trail levels out and you will notice thick vegetation about knee high covering the field where the trail splits.

If you want to avoid the crowded trail, and work your way up to Island Lake, take a right at the fork. You will be climbing about 1000 feet in elevation until you reach Island Lake.  But thankfully, this is the highest elevation because Ice Lake is slightly lower that Island Lake.

Island Lake

Island Lake:

If you go right at the loop you will first encounter Island Lake which offers a beautiful turquoise/ greenish color surrounded by stunning mountains with streaks of orange and tan, and depending on the season green vegetation. There will obviously be an island in the middle, hence Island Lake.

It tends to be less crowded than Ice Lake, so if you are seeking a little more solitude it might be a better spot to hang out, though you will want time to admire both.

We thought Island Lake was better to see first as you think it is stunning but then turn the corner and climb down to Ice Lake which is like nothing you have ever seen before!

Ice Lake (seen from the path connecting Ice and Island Lake)

Ice Lake:

Get ready to have your breath taken away once you spot this lake. The hike from Island Lake to Ice Lake can be a bit sketchy at times due to the path being downhill and there are some areas of loose rock/gravel you have to cross. But, if you are careful and cautious with your steps, you will do just fine.

You first notice the lake from afar and the blue color stands out, even on a cloudy day! It’s then ¼ mile til you reach the lake.

Ice Lake
Jake Swimming In Ice Lake

Swimming At Ice Lake & Island Lake:

You can swim in the lake, but it is very chilly. It is an alpine lake, so the temperature of the lake never really warms up enough to be comfortable to stay in for too long.  Jake was committed to going in, even though he was shivering almost the whole time.

Fuller Lake:

Unfortunately there was a large thunderstorm when we arrived at Ice Lake, so we decided to head back down and not go to the 3rd lake. We also heard that it is the least exciting lake out of the 3 lakes. But, if you are feeling adventurous and want to continue hiking then you can head to Fuller Lake which is an additional ¾ miles and 357 feet in elevation from Ice Lake basin.

View on the way back down

Trail Back Down:

Hiking down is always the easy part! If you took the loop to Island Lake, you can now take the trail back down the other way. It is a bit busier going down the main trail because a lot of people just make the out and back hike to Ice Lake, but it is wider, so just alternate letting people pass. Check out our article on Trail Etiquette & Safety. (Or if you decided to see Ice Lake First, you can follow the path to the left as your walking away from Ice Lake).

Camping/Backpacking At Ice Lake & Island Lake:

If you plan to camp or backpack for this hike, there are 4 different campgrounds along the 5 mile road. The first 3 campgrounds (Mineral Creek, Sultan & Anvil, and Golden Horn Primitive) are first come first serve, but South Mineral campground closest to the trailhead is reservable and has a campground host. 

The first one you encounter doesn’t have facilities but the remaining 3 have facilities. They can get a bit crowded during the middle of summer, but there are also lots more dispersed spots for primitive camping along the road. 

If you plan to backpack up the trail, there are plenty of great spots to set up camp near the lake. Or we saw some good spots in the valley in the picture above, if you don’t want to haul all your gear up the final steep section. But be respectful to other campers and give them a decent amount of space if you can.

Don’t forget the essentials: Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

Takeaway | Colorado’s Most Breathtaking Hike – Ice Lake & Island Lake:

This is seriously such a stunning hike. The blue glow of Ice Lake is stunning, and surrounding mountains are very unique and colorful.  It is a challenging hike, but most fitness levels should be able to do this hike if you take breaks along the way. You will definitely want your camera out the whole time for this hike, because there isn’t a bad picture to be taken!

Things to pack:

Check out our post —> 8 Essentials for your hiking pack

  • Dry-bag/Ziploc baggies
  • Snacks
  • Hat
  • Camera
  • GoPro
  • Rain Jacket
  • Extra Layers (depending on weather/time of year)
flowers at ice lake and island lake, ouray, co
ice lake and island lake, ouray, co
ice lake and island lake, ouray, co
ice lake and island lake, ouray, co
barley at ice lake and island lake, ouray, co
Colorado waterfalls
ice lake and island lake, ouray, co
ice lake and island lake, ouray, co

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