If you live in Colorado or visit the state regularly, you already know it’s a state shaped by remarkable natural landscapes found in places like the Garden of the Gods and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But the numerous ice caves that can be found across the state are awe-inspiring destinations even by Colorado’s lofty standards.
Located throughout the mountain regions of the state, many of these spectacular natural wonders can be easily accessed, but at least one requires a steep climb up a frozen waterfall. For those interested in checking out Colorado’s ice caves, here’s a list of the state’s more notable destinations:
Grottos Trail near Aspen
Located on the Independence Pass southeast of Aspen, a short hike on the Grottos Trail and a manageable six-foot climb down into a cave transports you to an otherworldly geologic phenomenon. Shaped by smooth walls and massive boulders, this palatial ice cave is known to feature vast ice formations, which can be seen often even into the summer months.
Due to the ever-changing nature of ice, it’s a place that looks remarkably different every time you visit. The word has been out about the ice cave on the Grottos Trail for a long time, and it’s typically crowded with visitors. However, if you get up early on a weekday, you’ll have a decent chance of being able to explore the cave on your own.
Rifle Mountain Park
Formed every year typically between December and February, the ice caves in Rifle Mountain Park are marked by stunning, larger-than-life walls of ice that look like movie sets. There are four ice caves to be found in the park: Ice Palace, Soul on Ice, Stone Tree, and The Final Curtain.
Formed by the natural freeze and thaw cycles that occur every winter, a modest entry fee and easy hike is all it takes to see these miraculous ice caves. Rifle Mountain Park is located sixteen miles north of downtown Rifle and I-70, about a thirty minute drive.
Piedra Falls/Ice Cave Ridge
Located north of Pagosa Springs in south-central Colorado, the ice caves found at Ice Cave Ridge are comprised of vast chasms that extend 50-70ft down so deep that they’re said to be always freezing no matter what time of the year it is. At the bottom of the deep fissures, you’ll find snow and ice, which is an especially nice treat if you’re hiking through the area during the summer.
But be warned, wherever there’s ice, there are slippery and somewhat dangerous conditions to contend with. Repelling down into these caves safely using rope is recommended as opposed to venturing down on foot. An easy one-mile hike will bring you to the Piedra Falls, and from there, it’s just another 300 yards up the Piedra River Trail to the caves.
The Spiral Staircase – Vail
The vast majority of those reading this will never see the ice cave that’s located behind the Spiral Staircase climbing route near Vail, more than likely. That’s because to get to this spot, you’ll need to climb straight up an 80-ft frozen waterfall.
According to MountainProject.com, it’s one of the best beginner ice climbs in the area, but while many are more than fine with going on modest hikes to get to Colorado’s ice caves, most won’t be up for this challenge.
Those are among Colorado’s favorite ice caves to explore. Could there be others to uncover, probably?