Ice Climbing Colorado

Adventure Travel Blog

The Best Locations for Ice Climbing in Colorado

Some of the best ice climbing you can get in the world is found in Colorado, particularly in locations such as Ouray. Colorado lies almost in the centre of the United States and has a diverse landscape which ranges from arid deserts and snowy topped mountains.

This diversity lends the state to a wide range of outdoor activities including ice climbing with adventurers coming from across the globe to tackle some pretty serious gradings during the winter months.

Here we look at the best locations for ice climbing in Colorado and what to expect when you visit this amazing state.

Ouray Ice Park

If you are looking for everything in one place, then Ouray Ice Park probably ticks all the right boxes and, what’s more, it’s free for public use. It’s a manmade park specially built for ice climbing and encompasses more than 150 different climbs and routes, with something for all levels of ability. You do, however, need some experience, preferably at WI4 or better.

Where Is It?

The ice park is built into a natural gorge some two miles long near the town of Ouray which is about 40 miles south of Montrose. The rugged landscape means that round trips can be quite long and arduous, especially during the winter months so staying in Ouray itself is the best option.

The city has a population of just over 1,000 and most employment in the area is geared to supporting the ice park and the thousands of tourists who visit each year. That includes the bars, restaurants and hotels in the area. Ouray originally grew from a mining town and because of the amazing scenery has been nicknamed the Switzerland of America. 

What Climbs Are There?

There are hundreds of different climbs and the gradients vary between WI2 and WI6 and M4 to M9. Many of the climbs are technically difficult and require specialist equipment and a huge amount of experience.

Each route is given a quirky name such as Chinpokomon and Berserker. For example, Whitt’s World has a WI4 classification rising 139 feet and is a short pillar climb with solid ice while Duncan’s Delight is a more varied climb of about the same length with a gushing ravine below. It’s impossible to get around all the climbs in one go and there is often competition for places during busy periods.

When Can I Go?

The park opens between 8 am and 4 pm most days and the best time to visit is between January and March when the ice is at its best. The climbs are less busy during the weekdays, even during the high season than at the weekends when more local people come to the area.

Where Can I Stay?

While isolated, Ouray has made a good fist of developing for the influx of climbers to the ice park but it’s a good idea to book early. Places like the Ouray Main Street Inn and Beaumont Hotel and Spa are stylish and affordable though prices increase dramatically during the high season with prices normally starting at around $70 a night.

Pikes Peak

During the summer, Pike’s Peak is an amazing place to visit. If you don’t fancy the climb up 14,000 feet, you can drive right up to the visitor’s centre and the views are spectacular. During the winter, you’ll find this area something of a mecca for ice climbing enthusiasts from all around the world.

Where Is It?

Pike’s Peak isn’t too far from Colorado Springs and there’s a toll road up to the site. It’s a fairly isolated location but popular with the climbing fraternity so is generally busy even during the summer months.

What Climbs Are There?

You’ll need prior WI4 climbing experience to handle the slopes and there are around 13 different routes that you can tackle which vary from WI3 to WI5 and M4-6. Total Abandon and Blind Assumption are some of the most challenging climbs, with the latter you need to make your way through 3 pitches before you reach the plateau after 400 feet.

When Can I Go?

Because of the elevation, you can expect significant ice for climbing early in the winter season that stretches right into late spring.

Where Can I Stay?

There are plenty of small towns around Pikes Peak and the surrounding national park and options include the Cliff House and the Green Mountain Falls Lodge. There are also smaller, low-budget options including cabins and houses that you can rent out for the week.

Clear Creek Canyon

Clear Creek Canyon is one of the most idyllic spots in Colorado and is very popular as a hiking area during the summer attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. Once winter hits, however, it becomes covered in snow and the ice climbers come from all around to try their hand at the sheer cliffs in parts of the canyon.

Where Is It?

Clear Creek Canyon lies on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado and so is easily accessible most times of the year. With affordable accommodation nearby, it’s one of the more popular places for ice climbers of all abilities to set up and just a short jaunt out to the canyon by car.

What Climbs Are There?

There are 6 recognised climbs in Clear Creek Canyon that vary from WI2 to WI5 and M5 to M7. The area often attracts those new to ice climbing because there is less of a straight out challenge than you’d perhaps find in an area like Pikes Peak.

The climbs can still be challenging, however. The Coors Lite route, for example, is 300 feet of flowing ice spread across 3 pitches. For beginers, the Secret Waterfall is a lot less demanding and has a gentler slope running for just 75 metres.

When Can I Go?

There’s a shorter window for the ice in Clear Creek Canyon. You can expect it to start forming around December but it begins to dissipate fairly quickly around February and March.

Where Can I Stay?

With the proximity to Denver, there are plenty of places to stay whatever budget you are on. Closer to the canyon itself you have places like Juniper Mountain House and the Lawson Adventure Park and Resort which are good places to set up for a week or two of ice climbing.

Silver Cascade Falls

Silver Cascade Falls is a waterfall that is a one-off challenge that many ice climbers have tried their hand at over the years. During the spring, summer and autumn, this area of Colorado is very popular with hikers and climbers, it’s only during the short winter months that the intrepid ice climbers have their moment of glory.

Where Is It?

Silver Cascade Falls is at the top of Cheyanne Canyon near Colorado Springs and you can drive most of the way. It’s just a short walk to the falls which freeze over during the winter months above St Mary’s Creek.

What Climbs Are There?

There is only one climb here, up the falls to the top, a distance of about 165 feet with two distinct and difficult bulges to navigate along the way. Most of the technical climbing is in the first part of the ascent after which you’ll find yourself traversing snow rather than ice.

While vertical in many parts, it’s not a massively difficult climb but is a good place to practice if you are just starting to get into ice climbing.

When Can I Go?

As with Pikes Peak, there’s a short window when the falls freeze over and they’re suitable for climbing, usually during late December and January.

Where Can I Stay?

Colorado Springs is a major tourist destination and so there is plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets around. This includes the Broadmoor Cloud Camp which has amazing views of the surrounding countryside as well as a range of low-budget cabins and AirBnBs.

Durango

Durango is another focused ice climbing venue in Colorado that doesn’t leave you disappointed. With a range of sport, top-rope and trad routes to choose from, it’s no wonder that thousands visit the area every year.

All through the seasons, there is something to do and see in this amazing part of Colorado, from hitting the stratosphere in a hot air balloon to attending concerts at places like the Balcony Backstage. In short, the food, accommodation and entertainment are fantastic and the ice climbing isn’t too bad either.

Where Is It?

Durango, Colorado is in La Plata County to the southwest of Colorado and is probably most famous for its Purgatory Ski Resort and Snowdown Festival.

With a population of just under 20,000, the region is mostly focused on tourism and helping to make the thousands of skiers, ice climbers, hikers and other adventurers welcome throughout the year. There’s some stunning scenery here with the La Plata Mountains as a backdrop and peaks up to 12,000 feet.

What Climbs Are There?

There are some 33 different ice climbs in the Durango area ranging from gradients and degrees of difficulty of WI3 to WI5 and M4 to M5. Lower Haflin Creek Falls is a good place to start for beginners with a near-vertical but relatively short ice wall to master. A little further on, Upper Haflin Creek Falls is a little longer and harder and a good one to progress onto.

For more experienced ice climbers, El Pero Loco is a lot more challenging and is a straight-up 80 feet climb of moderate to challenging difficulty. One of the central areas is Cascade Canyon where you’ll find pretty much everything set up for a good ice climb including bolts. One of the best things about Durango is that it’s not so obviously on the radar – yes, it gets busy but not as overrun as sites like Ouray Ice Park.

When Can I Go?

If you’re visiting Durango for ice climbing then the best times to book accommodation and get your gear packed are from December through to the end of February. Most of the ice climbing venues are about 25 miles north of Durango and easy to reach from the climber’s trail.

During the winter seasons, you’ll be able to find a host of professional guides and there are courses for newbies run throughout by various companies based in the city. As always, it’s a good idea to book your accommodation and find the right guide company well before you arrive.

Where Can I Stay?

The good news is that Durango is one of the bigger cities in Colorado and it has all the amenities that you would expect. The hotels vary from the budget-friendly to the more luxurious and there are often groups of ice climbers socialising in the bars and restaurants that you can get to know.

If you’re on a tight budget and saving your money for climbing, a good budget option is the Spanish Trails Inn which comes with a lounge and kitchenette so you can be fully self-sufficient. If luxury is more your thing, The Strater is probably the most high-class establishment in the city but a single guest room could set you back as much as $300 a night.

There is a range of options when it comes to dining out. You can decide to cater for yourself but places like the local market have excellent food halls and there are hundreds of bars and restaurants to choose from in the area.

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls lies in the Rocky Mountains National Park and is one of the more popular venues for locals in the area and well worth a visit. For ice climbers, you can be almost guaranteed that the ice is in good condition and several different routes are suitable for all grades of experience, including beginners.

Where Is It?

Located in the Wild Basin, the one thing Hidden Falls isn’t is ‘hidden’. It’s one of the most popular places for ice climbers in the whole of Colorado and forms around a towering crop of rock that you reach through a horse trail some 4 miles from the main park.

If the trek doesn’t wear you out during the winter months, there’s plenty to expend your energy on when you reach the falls themselves. During the summer this is also a great place to hike and there are some amazing sites along the way. It’s a great place to spend the day whether you’re a beginner or an expert.

What Climbs Are There?

There are about 10 different climbs on Hidden Falls and most are WI4 category up to a height of about 75 to 90 feet. It may be small compared to other sites in Colorado but it is perfectly formed and there are some pretty big challenges.

The main Hidden Falls route covers 90 ft and includes a lower bulge that is rated WI2 and a more challenging upper column that is rated WI4.

When Can I Go?

The best times are during the winter period between December and the middle of February. Even during milder winters, the ice forms pretty solidly here and you are always likely to find other ice climbers there when you arrive to set up.

Where Can I Stay?

There are some small towns nearby like Allenspark which is about 12 miles south of Estes Park and which has a few hotels and boarding places for ice climbers. With a population of just over 500, however, amenities are limited. In general, the Hidden Falls route is a one or two-day experience and many ice climbers either set up in one of the Estes Parks hotels or come from further afield for a half-day from places like Boulder.

Loch Vale Gorge

Lock Vale Gorge is another great location for ice climbing in the Rocky Mountains National Park and probably has the greatest array of different climbs in the area.

It’s a favourite with local ice climbers and is visited by people from all over the world. One of the things that makes this a great location is the stunning scenery, especially during the winter months.

Where Is It?

Like Hidden Falls, Loch Vale can be reached from Estes Park and there’s a 5-6 mile round trip through some amazing countryside to get there.

What Climbs Are There?

There are 17 different climbs ranging from WI3 to WI5 and M4 to M5 in the degree of difficulty. One of the best routes, when it’s in good condition, is Mixed Emotions which is 100 feet of sheer climbing up the ice face.

Another great option is the Loch Ness Monster, also about 100 feet, which is one of the first climbs you see as you enter through the trail.

When Can I Go?

The winter in the Rocky Mountains is best for ice climbing between the beginning of December and the end of February.

Where Can I Stay?

As with Hidden Falls, the local option in towns is limited so most people either stay in Estes Parks which has numerous hotels and cabins or they come from further afield from Boulder. With Loch Vale Gorge, there are plenty of different climbs so booking in for a week or so locally makes sense and places like the Peak to Peak Lodge are reasonably priced.

Summary

There’s no doubt that there are a lot of choices when it comes to ice climbing in Colorado. Pick the right time of year and there’s a real sense of community with other climbers and camaraderie that can’t be beaten. The climbs vary from the simple to the devilishly difficult so there’s something for everyone here and some spectacular scenery thrown in for free.  

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