6 routes · Trail Running
Ice Lake Basin
This pair of San Juan alpine lakes is guaranteed to take your breath away.
Trail Running Difficult
- 15 km
- 966 m
- 967 m
- 2-3 hrs
- Low Point
- 3 km
- High Point
- 3.8 km
This high alpine lake adventure is one with numerous options and a vast array of distances. For the one-lake option, the trek to 12,264' Ice Lake is a 7-mile roundtrip outing. Add the 3/4-mile and 130' gain to 12,390' Island Lake for an 8.5-mile total, or make it an all-day ramble to tack on Fuller Lake and beyond. This incredible basin offers up an array of jewel-like liquid treasures, so plan adequate time and a good lunch.
As the trail launches steadily upward from the trailhead, the park-like surface of the first 2 miles to the lower basin makes for easy walking. From then on, the views are so stunningly-captivating, it doesn't really register that the tread becomes more gnarly. From the lower basin, four 13ers (Fuller, Vermillion Peak, Golden Horn and Pilot Knob) come into view.
Instead of the ever-present willows common in most mountain basins, the lower basin is dominated by crazy-tall wildflowers. The creek crossing at about 3 miles in is notable due to the bone-white rocks that glisten in the sun as one hops across them. Continuing on, the trail climbs 700' up a rather dramatic headwall before arriving at the upper Ice Lake basin.
Upon arriving at the upper basin, choices must be made. If adding Island Lake to the run, this is the time to cross the little stream flowing from Ice Lake and look for the trail that ascends the slope ahead. Locating this trail is the crux; once found it is not difficult to follow as it traverses the face of the steep slope and across old mine tailings. The first view of the emerald waters of Island Lake is jaw-dropping.
After absorbing the surreal viewscape of Island Lake tucked in at the base of U.S. Grant Peak, head back down to the creek crossing and continue on to Ice Lake less than 1/4-mile away. If the sun is shining, the brilliant turquoise-blue water will defy believability. At Ice Lake, choose to either stay and marvel before heading back to the trailhead, or run a mile farther up to 12,600' Fuller Lake and the lure of unlimited exploring above Ice Lake.
Regardless of the option chosen, the Ice Lake Trail takes runners to some of the most stunning scenery imaginable. Be forewarned: friends and family will NOT believe that the color or the lakes in your photos is real.