Lake City experienced brief fame in 1875 when expedition guide Alferd Packer notoriously returned to town after surviving in the snowy backcountry and having eaten the rest of his prospecting party.
Today, Lake City’s fame is again on the rise thanks to its outstanding winter recreational opportunities. Considered the most remote place in the lower 48, Lake City in the San Juan mountain range, offers access to endless miles of trails, 21 public campgrounds, five fourteeners, three National Forests, one BLM district, and four wilderness areas, and two wilderness study area.
Most notable, however, is the town’s Ice Park, which draws climbers from all over Colorado and beyond.
Lake City’s Ice Park was created in 2005 when a group of local climbers formed Lake City Ice Climbs, a grassroots organization that used water donated from the city to create a manmade ice wall. More than a decade later, Lake City’s Ice Park is now managed by the town, and it’s easy to see that the ice park has hit its stride.
The water used to create the ice is formed from the city’s water tower and piped over the edge of the cliff above Henson Creek. Bolted anchors and abundant trees mean you won’t need ice screws, but they’re set fairly far back from the edge of the cliffs, so you’ll want a static 60-meter rope for anchors to avoid having to pick apart the frozen water knots in your webbing at the end of the day.
Most routes are about 60 to 100 feet, though a couple of shorter routes offer a chance to warm up or try out a new pair of ice tools before committing. The approximately 15 routes are mixed grades, WI 3 to 5. When compared to its famous neighbor, the Ouray Ice Park, these routes are considered slightly easier.
Lake City’s Ice Park features hundreds of collective feet of climbing on high-quality farmed ice. Top rope access means it’s approachable for those putting on crampons for the first time, but experienced climbers will relish the opportunity to top rope a tricky mixed route. Plus, with the ice so easily accessed, this park is an ideal location to learn to ice climb or work on advanced skills and techniques before heading up with your guide to check out one of the big backcountry ice or alpine climbs.
The Lake City Ice Park is located, with permission, on BLM landLi and it’s FREE to use, although climbers must sign a release. These waivers are available at several spots around town, such as the Chambenesr of Commerce Tourist Center, Lake City Auto, and Sweet Peaks goodies shop, which offers local info and killer cookies, by the way. And while many other Colorado ice parks suffer from large crowds, at Lake City’s ice park, you won’t be waiting around in a line.
Without the name recognition of other ice climbing parks, you won’t have to fight crowds to get on the ice. In fact, lines are rare, even during February’s Ice Climbing Festival, which features top-roped and lead speed events, men’s & women’s categories, and awesome prizes for the best climbs.
The majority of the climbers at Lake City’s ice park come from Colorado, more specifically the Denver/Boulder area and Gunnison. It’s not uncommon to meet a lot of Western State College students giving the ice wall a try.
The atmosphere at Lake City Ice Park is incredibly friendly. It’s not uncommon to see kids and dogs running around and other friends and family members hanging out in the warming hut. And while the ice park just blocks from Lake City’s quaint downtown, it feels a world away. From the ice, you can walk three minutes and be at the brewery or you can walk three minutes in the other direction and be surrounded by wilderness. Imagine climbing a few, walking to a warm meal and a locally brewed beer, and then strolling back to the ice for a couple more climbs. That’s what you get in Lake City.
Lake City also features some of the most amazing natural ice climbs in Colorado. Aside from the town’s ice park, climbers can check out Sherman Falls, a 4-pitch W15 line backcountry waterfall, and North Clear Creek Fall, an easy climb rated as W13+.
Some say that Ouray and its ice park are starting to feel like Boulder West, if this is your opinion, consider visiting Lake City and its low-key ice park and superb backcountry climbs. Not only is Lake City closer to Denver than Ouray, but it’s also uncrowded and unassuming.
Lake City has a reputation for being a small town with few amenities, thanks to the ice park, this is changing. Lake City’s businesses are starting to stay open year-round as more climbers come to check out the ice park and other outdoor enthusiasts explore the more than 100 groomed trails ideal for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.