Ice Lakes Basin

Ice Lakes Basin Guided Backpacking

The Perfect Family Trip!

Cascading waterfalls, brilliant wildflower displays and turquoise lakes permeate the landscape of Ice Lakes Basin. Matching unparalleled scenery with relative easy access make this 3-day backpacking excursion a perfect trip for families, or those new to wilderness travel. If you are seeking the best of what the San Juan Mountains have to offer, do not let this trip slip off your list.

The lower Ice Lake Basin is clearly separated from the upper basin by a massive 400-ft granite wall. The upper and lower Ice Lake Basins differ greatly from one another and make for contrasting ecosystems. The wildflowers that grace the lower Ice Lake Basin are the tallest, and among the most densely packed we have ever seen in Colorado. The upper basin is comprised of small tarns (mountain lakes), smooth granite domes, miles of alpine tundra and wildflowers and of course four magnificent peaks – Fuller Peak, Vermillion Peak, Golden Horn and Pilot Knob.

Family-Friendly

If you have younger children and are looking to give them a great introduction to multi-day backpacking in a wilderness setting then this is the trip you’ve been looking for!  Easy access to the trailhead and seamless logistics simplify the details and offers a less committing introduction to wilderness travel for families or those who’ve never backpacked previously.

Just a quick word to say thanks for all you did to make my past several days truly rewarding. I plan on coming back for other trips in the future! – D. Mrozek

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Ice Lakes Basin Backpacking Itinerary


Day 0

We meet at the San Juan Mountain Guides’ office in the afternoon or early evening in order to go over equipment, food, and logistics issues for the following morning.


Day 1

In the morning starting from Durango, we’ll drive to Silverton and the beginning of our hike from the South Mineral Creek Trailhead. Today’s backpack into Ice Lakes Basin and our base camp is not terribly long at under 4 miles, but is steep enough that we’ll want an early start.


Day 2

Rising early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, we’ll have two choices of day hikes. For the more adventurous we’ll make a summit attempt of 13,780-foot Golden Horn – a non-technical Class 2 walkup mountain peak. For those who desire a bit less challenge, we’ll traverse up to Island Lake Basin, a beautiful mountain lake situated under the shadow of Ulysses S. Grant Peak.


Day 3

A leisurely morning allows us to pack our camp and head back down to the South Mineral Creek Trailhead at a reasonable pace. We’ll be back to Durango by mid-afternoon with plenty of time to catch a shower and enjoy a celebratory dinner! This is also an alternate summit day in case of poor weather.

Backpacking Equipment List

  • Backpack: Internal frame, 50-80 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Aether 60
  • Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
  • Sleeping pad: Guides’ pick: Thermarest NeoAir
  • Bowl, spoon, cup: Plastic/lexan
  • Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
  • Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
  • Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Osprey
  • Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable. Guides’ pick: Potable Aqua

Clothing and Personal Equipment

  • Hiking boots: Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable boots. Please contact us with questions or further recommendations.
  • Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
  • Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
  • Soft shell pants: warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
  • Soft shell jacket: light weight. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
  • Insulated vest: down or synthetic. Guides’ pick: OR Transcendent
  • Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Helium
  • Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
  • Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
  • Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
  • Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
  • Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
  • Camera
  • Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…

Training & Follow Up Programs

As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great trip.

1Before Your Trip

In order to successfully carry a 35 lb. pack up to 7 miles a day, endurance is key. Cardiovascular activities such as running, swimming, and cycling are great to build heart and lung endurance. Taking day hikes with your loaded backpack at a local park will help train your legs for the mileage you will do in the mountains.

2Follow Up Programs

If and when I decide to tackle the big mountains I will call you guys for sure. I was very impressed with the guides and the service on my last class. Thanks again! – Chris N.

Durango, Colorado: Getting Here

Durango is located in the SW corner of Colorado, at the intersection of the sandstone towers of the desert, and the jagged, San Juan Mountains. A mecca for climbing, hiking, cycling, and foodies; make sure you plan to spend some time in town before and after your SJMG trip.


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Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Durango – La Plata County Airport. Multiple airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, Phoenix, or Dallas. The airport is a 20 minute drive from our office. Many hotels offer a free shuttle pickup. Buckhorn Limousine offers a shuttle as well.

Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Durango. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.

  • Denver, CO: 6 hours
  • Albuquerque, NM: 3 hours

Hotels: Durango has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suite you best for this trip! Below are just a few options catering to different lodging styles and preferences.

Additional Information

  • Cost Includes:
  • Guides/trip leaders
  • All dinner and breakfast meals
  • Group camping and cooking equipment
  • Incredible mountain scenery.

  • Not Included:

  • Hotel costs before, during, or after the trips
  • 5% land use surcharge, trip cancellation insurance
  • Personal camping equipment
  • Trail lunches
  • Guide gratuity

  • Registration and Cancellation:
  • Advance Registration is required for this program.  You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System.  All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.

Download the pdf Form

Register Now Online

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