Hikers hoping to experience the two stunningly turquoise, high-alpine lakes at the top of Ice Lakes Trail in the San Juan Mountains will have to wait until the end of summer.
The trail, one of the most popular in Southwest Colorado, will remain closed through Sept. 15 because of ongoing impacts to the landscape from last year’s Ice Fire. The fire, which burned 596 acres, required helicopter rescue of 28 hikers in October 2020.
Weakened trees, erosion and flash floods pose safety hazards that make it too risky to open the trail this summer, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“Our main concern is absolutely human safety,” said Lorena Williams, San Juan National Forest spokeswoman. “If you think of any other fire we’ve experienced in the area like the 416 Fire, everyone’s aware of the potential of flash-flooding events to pose substantial hazards to people in the area. Debris flows, rolling boulders, rocks are all a major concern during a rain event.”
The closure includes South Mineral Campground, the lower Ice Lakes Trail and the lower Clear Lake Road (National Forest Service Road 815). The South Mineral Road (NFSR 585) is closed from a new gate past the Goldenhorn camping area to where the road crosses Clear Creek past South Mineral Campground, a news release said.
The Ice Lakes Trail, which is 7 miles round-trip, climbs several thousand feet from an elevation of 9,840 feet to the two lakes. On a busy day, more than 200 hikers would make the trek.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people have sought time outdoors, a typical day could see 400 to 600 hikers.
The Ice Fire has weakened some trees, causing them to fall in lower sections of Ice Lakes Trail and Clear Lake Road. Trees, rocks and boulders continue to fall across the same road, the news release said.
“We have these trees that are fire-weakened,” Williams said. “They fall and they are extremely dangerous.”
Exposed soils – devoid of vegetation because of the fire – are saturated by precipitation and are loose, unstable and prone to erosion events, particularly during the usual high-elevation afternoon thunderstorms.
“In a burn area, the soils have been impacted and there is often no vegetation to help hold soil in place,” Williams said. “People trampling it would absolutely cause more erosion than it would already face.”
The closure applies to all public entry, including hikers, mountain bikers, snowshoers, skiers and all motorized use. Violations of the regulations are punishable as a misdemeanor and a fine of not more than $5,000 per person.
“It’s definitely a concern that folks are going to push past that closure,” Williams said. “If people are caught back there, they will be fined.”
The trail closure will not affect the Hardrock 100 in July. The famed ultramarathon is scheduled for July 16-18 after two consecutive years of cancellations – in 2019 because of heavy snow that caused avalanche debris to pile up on sections of course along with high water and in 2020 because of COVID-19.
The Hardrock 100 works closely with the San Juan National Forest and will have permission to use the trail for the small amount of time the 140 skilled mountain athletes need to complete that portion of the race. Hardrock 100 athletes will not be permitted to use the trail for any training runs ahead of the event.
For more information about the closure, call the Columbine Ranger District at (970) 884-2512.
Herald staff writer John Livingston contributed to this report.