San Juans » Silverton Hike with Two Alpine Lakes
This Silverton, Colorado hike is arguably one of the prettiest in the state. In fact, while relaxing at the lake I overheard a couple saying that it’s like hiking in the Canadian Rockies. I personally haven’t been to Canada, but I’ve seen the pictures and know that’s a major compliment.
The Ice Lake Loop Trail features two stunning alpine lakes. Both are bright blue and sit below golden mountain peaks. You’ll also hike up next to a waterfall towards the beginning. Although it’s a challenging 7-mile hike with 2,650 feet of elevation gain, the views are soooo worth it.
The average hike time on AllTrails is right under five hours. However, we spent much more time there. After all, we took plenty of breaks, photos, and a swim in my brother’s case.
The trail is 20 minutes from downtown Silverton — an old-west-style town between Durango and Ouray. Although the town may be small, the opportunities for outdoor adventures are endless.
Know Before You Go
Navigating the Ice Lakes Trail
Use this AllTrails link to navigate the Ice Lakes Trail to Ice and Island Lakes. Neither Google Maps nor the trailhead marker show the entire loop trail connecting the two lakes. Since cellular service in Silverton is spotty, I recommend downloading the AllTrails app before you go.
The Ice and Island Lake trail is long and challenging. Consequentially, it also goes above the tree line. Be sure to start your hike early and begin hiking back down by noon. As a result, you’ll be less likely to get caught in a dangerous storm.
Additionally, bring plenty of food, water, sunscreen, and a first aid kit.
- Hiking Poles are a life-saver on this trail. The closer you get to the top, the steeper it gets. Plus, the dirt is rather loose, and there’s not much to hang on to.
- Extra food and water. Bring more than you think you’ll need.
- A First Aid Kit. Just in case.
When is the Best Time To Go?
Summer and early fall are the best times to hike to Ice and Island Lakes. The snow melts slowly at this high of an elevation. You can expect snow until late spring, possibly even early summer.
I think fall is THE BEST time to go, specifically between mid-September to mid-October. There are several Aspen groves early on in the trail. We were lucky enough to hike through them while they were bright and golden.
Getting to the Ice Lakes Trailhead from Downtown Silverton
The Ice Lakes Trailhead is only 20 minutes from downtown Silverton. From there, head north for 2.5 miles until you get to Forest Road 585. It’s a dirt road lined with dispersed campsites.
After turning onto Forest Road 585, you should immediately see Kendall and Anvil campgrounds. The road only goes west, so you don’t have to worry about going the wrong way.
At about four miles down Forest Road 585, you’ll come across a small parking lot with a roundabout. This is where you’ll find the Ice Lakes Trailhead.
There is a pay booth close by. As of Fall 2022, you don’t need to pay to park at the trailhead. The pay booth is for camping. This confused a few other people and me when parking.
Begin the Hike with Wildflowers & Forest
You’ll begin the Ice Lake trail by walking through a beautiful pine forest. You’ll be treated to an abundance of wildflowers during summer and early fall.
Some Burned Forest at the Beginning From the 2020 Silverton Fire
About a quarter of a mile into the trail, the forest begins showing signs of fire damage. Parts of the forest were burned by a wildfire in 2020.
Despite the wildfire damage, I highly recommend this hike. It doesn’t last long, and the following views along the trail are worth it.
Clear Creek Falls
At about 1.5 miles in, you’ll reach the upper portion of Clear Creek Falls. It’s a small waterfall along the Clear Creek Tributary. The trail crossing the falls leads to Clear Lake Road. Continue the trail west to Ice and Island Lakes.
Beautiful Views of the Surrounding Mountains
As you head up the Ice Lakes trail, you’ll see stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Across from the road, you’ll see the Vermillion 7 peak, Twin Sisters, and Bear Mountain.
Golden Aspens in the Fall
We hiked the trail in mid-September, when the Aspens began to change color. Try to hike the trail from mid-September to mid-October. That way, you’ll get to walk through golden Aspen groves during parts of the hike.
A Fork in the Trail at The Treeline
The Ice Lake Trail splits when you reach the tree line. This is where the loop begins. The left goes directly to Ice Lake, and the right to Island Lake. Both are connected by a trail toward the top.
I recommend going counterclockwise (right, to Island Lake) first. Either way, it will be challenging. However, going down from Island Lake would be the most difficult. The trail is steep, with little traction or things to hold on to. Going down would be slippery, even with good hiking boots.
Above the Treeline
The expansive views above the tree line are incredible. It’s one of the prettiest places in Colorado. If you thought the hike was challenging through the woods, prepare for it to get even more challenging as you make the ascent up the incredibly steep alpine tundra. Still, the views are totally worth it. This part of the trail heads to a smaller peak. Island Lake is right on the other side.
Island Lake is a beautiful alpine lake with a large rock, or “island,” protruding from the center. It sits below the Ulysses. S. Grant and Vermillion 2 and 4 Peaks. This is an excellent place to eat and enjoy the views.
Optional Add On: Ulysses S. Grant Peak or the saddle
If you’re up for a bigger challenge, consider hiking to the Ulysses S. Grant Peak or the saddle. The Ulysses S. Grant Peak is a 13er rated a class 3 on the Yosemite Decimal System. Scrambling while using your hands will be required, and falls can be fatal. Only hike it if you’re experienced and prepared! Learn more about it here.
The Trail Between the Lakes
While hiking the trail between Ice and Island Lakes, you’ll come across this lookout point with expansive views across the Ice Lake Basin. This was one of the prettiest points along the trail. You can see Ice and Island Lakes, the Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, Ulysses S. Grant Peak, and several of the Vermillion Peaks.
The section between the lookout point and Ice Lake is VERY challenging. The trail is worn down and sandy, with a big drop-off point and limited handles. Hiking poles would have been helpful here. It’s certainly doable, but be careful.
Ice Lake is a massive alpine lake. It sits below the Golden Horn (left side of the picture) and Pilot Knob (ridge on the right side of the picture). Stop here for a snack and to relax and enjoy the views. If you’re feeling daring, you can jump in for an alpine swim. My brother went for a swim and said it wasn’t TOO cold. I, however, do not trust his judgment on that 😂.
Coming Back Down
The hike down from Ice Lake takes you through a winding alpine pass. It’s beautiful with lots of views of the surrounding mountains. We got lucky and even saw a marmot playing on the way down.
In about a mile and a half, you’ll return to the fork in the trail. Go left to head back the way you came to the trailhead.
Views from the hike back down:
Thing to do after your Silverton, Colorado Hike
Grab a Meal in downtown Silverton
After that challenging seven-mile hike, you’ll probably be starving. Even if you brought plenty of snacks. Head to downtown Silverton to grab a meal in its old-west style downtown. Some restaurants I recommend:
High-quality meats in an old-west atmosphere
Inexpensive homestyle food
Ouray, Colorado is a beautiful mountain town only 45 minutes north of Silverton. It’s tucked below the surrounding tall mountains that make it known as the “Switzerland of America”. After hiking the Ice and Island Lakes trail, rinse off then relax in the Ouray Hot Springs or grab a fresh beer and burger at Ouray Brewery. Check out this post for a full list of things to do in Ouray, Colorado.