For years now, I have wanted to visit Rifle Mountain Park and the ice caves. I tried to convince AJ to drive the extra 45 min each way out of the way (plus the time to hike and explore) on the way to Utah to visit his family multiple times. I kept dropping hints here and there this winter, and AJ finally gave in. We decided to take a quick weekend adventure down to the caves the last weekend of January.
We paired the trip with a hotel stay in Glenwood Springs along with a hot springs visit while we were there. Other local towns near the park are Rifle and Carbondale.
The caves are naturally formed by freeze and thaw cycles and can typically be seen in various stages between December and mid-March weather dependent. Cave and trail conditions will vary based on recent weather. We experienced areas of dry trail, areas of mud, spots of pure ice and packed snow. Invest in (or borrow) some ice cleats for the trail.
You will see a parking lot a bit after the entrance to the park on the left hand side. Park there and head a bit down the road towards the entrance. On the right hand side, you will see a brown wooden sign that says Koper’s Trail Ice Cave. Follow the sign, and you will begin your hike to the ice caves.
The lower cave is known as the Ice Palace- cue “Into the Unknown,” from Frozen 2. The ice gives off a blueish hue and resembles a waterfall of ice. Icicles cascade down from the cave ceiling. The inside of the cave was slippery in spots, but we felt comfortable in our cleats navigating across it.
The ice formations are delicate, so it is best to look but not touch. Also be careful if you walk under any of the icicles. On the backside of this cave is a fun punchy hill you can climb to get another look of the cave from the other side.
The hike to the second cave was a mix of snow, ice and rocks with some incline. You could see more of the mountain park as you went deeper into the canyon. The second cave requires a bit of crawling to get into if you enter it from the front side. This cave is known as The Final Curtain.
An alternative if you aren’t a fan of tight spaces is to continue on the trail past the ice falls (where you may catch some climbers) where you can enter the cave from a wider opening.
This cave is much tighter and was pure ice. Even in spikes, we ended up doing some crawling and sliding. The ice was wet to the touch, so our gloves and snow pants got wet when we were crawling around.
With exploring time, we spent about 1.5 hours at the ice caves. We definitely recommend a stop at the Rifle Mountain Park Ice Caves. We ended up getting stuck in some traffic we didn’t expect on the way there, so we weren’t able to explore Rifle Falls State Park on this trip. It comes highly recommended, so be sure to add that to your itinerary if you can squeeze it in.