Ice and Island Lakes

So, you’ve seen high alpine lakes before you say? Well, you probably haven’t seen lakes quite like these before! Not only are Ice and Island Lakes engulfed in the vibrant San Juan mountains, but the colors of the lakes themselves are simply stunning. When I looked up pictures online prior to our trip and had seen them before, I’ll admit that I was questioning how heavily edited some of the pictures were. Well, I’m happy to report that the colors are every bit as electrifying in person. So, what makes the lakes their vivacious blues and greens? In short, it is glacial rock sediment known as glacial flour. If you want a little bit more thorough of an explanation, start with this Article from OutThere Colorado.

Another reason why I wanted to visit the lakes was because the Hardrock 100 course famously runs by Island Lake and I had seen numerous pictures of it from the race. For now, like most, I’ll sit back and only dream about getting into Hardrock. In 2017, 2,236 people entered the lottery for Hardrock, an event which is capped at 145 runners. The odds are not equal for all for all entrants either as your odds increase the more times you don’t get into the race. Another thing working against me is that Hardrock only has 45 slots available for first time participants. And, I haven’t even mentioned that the first step is to complete a qualifying race, which are only races over 100 miles in length. Well, Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat qualified me for the 2017 lottery and this year’s lottery to take place in early December. Unless I get incredibly lucky, I will have to complete another race from the race’s very limited list to get more tickets if I want to get in. The list of qualifying races for 2019 and 2020 only includes 15 races in the U.S. and 12 more when you include the rest of the world. So, wish me luck!

Trying to channel good vibes above Island Lake. In the spirit of ‘leave no trace’, I did not throw a penny into the lake.

Alright, enough about the Hardrock 100 for now; let’s get back to the amazing hike up to Ice and Island Lakes. We found different mileage and elevation figures when searching online, but I’d say the hike is 8-10 miles with around 2,800ft of gain if you go to both Ice and Island Lakes. There are probably definitive figures on this somewhere, but at least this gives you an idea. Regardless of the distance, these lakes will be worth every bit of effort you put in to get there!

The trail starts from the South Mineral Campground. A glance and the elevation profile in the center of the sign tells the story as well; the hike is a steep and steady one.
The trail up to Ice Lake is very well-maintained and spaces out the elevation gain nicely.
Vermillion Peak (13,894′) and Golden Horn (13,780′) pop up on the skyline as you work your way up Ice Lake Basin.
Lots of color during our early September hike.
Lots of color during our early September hike.
Looking back down
Similar to one of the photos above, but I like this one too.

Ice Lake

Ice Lake is surrounded by 13ers: Vermilion Peak (13,894′), Golden Horn (13,780′), and Pilot Knob A (13,738′)…among others.

The short trail up to Island Lake

Golden Horn and Pilot Knob A provide an amazing backdrop for Ice Lake

Island Lake

US Grant Peak (13,767′) is a prominent backdrop for Island Lake. From what I can tell, the hike up is class 2+ with a brief class 4 section on the final approach. Also, in this picture is someone floating out toward the island on a small inflated raft. She didn’t make it all the way, but I don’t think she was trying to either. The water is pretty cold, but I’ve seen pictures of people heading out to the island before.

Here are a few other pictures of some of the distant views from the trail to Island Lake.

Zooming in for a look at the Eolus Group 14ers.
Less zoom
Perhaps the largest marmot I’ve ever seen.
The nearest town to Ice Lakes is Silverton.
A shot of the historic street from Avalanche Brewing

Here are my GPS tracks. I headed up toward the pass about a quarter mile, so my stats are probably a little higher.