Southwest Colorado’s most popular hike to the stunning Ice Lake is best experienced in the fall

It’s no secret why Ice Lake has increased in popularity in recent years.

The challenging 7-mile hike gains 2,500 feet of elevation while traversing through dense forest and vast meadows before opening up to the Ice Lake basin. The cerulean waters of the glacial lake and jagged peaks in the background provide magnificent mountain views unlike any other. 

While many hikers and backpackers head for the trailhead during the summer months, fall is where the true experience lies. Here are four reasons why you should check out Ice Lake in the fall.

ice lake meadow fall
The trail leading through the meadow below Ice Lake is much more quiet and much less crowded in the fall.Tiona Eversole
Fewer People

Finding a parking spot at the Ice Lake trailhead in the summer is nearly impossible if you don’t arrive first thing in the morning. The “No Parking” signs that line the road for about a half mile add to the difficulty of finding a parking spot.

Summer crowds also lead to packed trails and a lake swarming with hundreds of other people trying to enjoy the view. But with the summer bustle coming to an end, both the trail and lake are much less crowded — even on a weekend. Fewer people equates to a better overall experience as you soak in the lakeside views and fresh mountain air in solitude. Opt to plan your trip earlier in the fall to avoid inclement weather. You’ll have the best luck if you hike during the week as well.

And who knows? You might even be able to park right at the trailhead. 

Less Bugs

Hiking while swatting horse flies and mosquitos is never a good time. The bites are either painful or itchy, and the constant buzzing in your ear is enough to drive anyone crazy. But as the temperatures begin to drop, so does the insect population. By waiting until the cooler months to hike, you won’t have to worry about falling victim to countless, irritating welts.

ice lake fall sunny
Not a cloud in the sky on this sunny fall day at Ice Lake basin.Tiona Eversole
Better Weather

Weather plays a huge role in proper safety practices in the high country. During summer months, the high country is notorious for afternoon storms that roll in without notice. At 12,274 feet, Ice Lake experiences frequent, sudden thunderstorms throughout the summer.

These threats tend to tail off as monsoon season ends and fall approaches. A smaller chance of afternoon thunderstorms also means that you can get a later start to your hike and still have plenty of time to spend at the lake.

While fall days tend to be more fair and mild than summer days, it’s still important to check the forecast before heading out, especially in late fall. The high country is much more susceptible to snowstorms than lower elevations. 

ice lake shore fall
How many different colors can you point out in this fall photo of Ice Lake basin?Tiona Eversole
The Colors

And last but not least, we head to the high country in the fall for the spectacular color show. Take the blazing golds, deep russets and bold ambers of fall foliage and place it up against the blue hues of Ice Lake, and we assure you that the sight will take your breath away (but the elevation might be a factor as well). It’s by far one of the most vivid and unique fall landscapes that we’ve had the pleasure of laying our eyes on.