Rainbow Lakes. What a great name for a series of lakes in the forest. After years of hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I had to explore the Rainbow Lakes.
The Rainbow Lakes Trail is at the Rainbow Lakes campground, about 10 miles from Nederland (directions below). Park at the trailhead and not the campground.
The e trail starts from the center of the parking lot. A sign says Rainbow Lakes Tr No 918 and Jct Arapahoe Glacier Tr No 905 1/4. The 1/4 refers to the distance to the junction.
The dirt trail winds up above the parking lot and into the forest. You’ll have short ups and downs as the trail winds around the campground to a trail split about a third of a mile from the parking lot.
At the split, hikers going to the Arapahoe Rim overlook and Arapahoe Glacier turn right. Hikers going to Rainbow Lakes turn left. A few steps from here is a second junction — this one for the campground. Just stay right on the dirt trail.
The trail follows a trail above the campground passing a reforestation area and turning right. About a half mile from the parking lot, you’ll come tothe Indian Peaks Wilderness sign and a sign explaining the rules here, including the rule that dogs are required to be leashed.
Turn left here and follow the trail as it continues through the forest. There are lots of “social” and animal trails here, do your best to stay on the main trail.
The rocky, dirt trail gets skinny at times and at times, it’s wide like an old mining road. You’ll pass a meadow here and there, but the trail is mainly in the forest.
It’s about 0.8 miles from the parking lot to the first lake. While the trail doesn’t go right next to the lake, you’ll see it in the trees. Take one of the social trails over to the lakeshore. The first lake is more pond sized, but there is a distant peak of sorts you can use in your photos.
Back on the main trail, it’s a quarter mile to the second Rainbow Lake. This one is bigger and is closer to the peak so the pictures are a bit better here.
Back on the main trail, continue hiking through the forest. There’s a meadow along the way that has a pond in it, but you’ll need to slog through a marshy, bog-like area to get there. If you have a GPS, it will help you manuever to the pond, otherwise I recommend staying on the main path.
There’s one muddy crossing that has several boards and rocks to get you through the mud and about 0.3 miles from lake 2, the trail turns slightly left and arrives at lake 3. Now you can really see that nearby hillside in your photos.
Right next to lake 3, take a few steps in the rocks and you should see lake 4. Lakes 3 and 4 are right next to each other. At lake 4, I heard a cascade of sorts, so I did some extra exploring to find it, but be careful here, it’s mainly a scree field in this area.
There are about nine lakes and ponds in this area. The main trail only goes to four of them. To see the others, I highly recommend a GPS or map to help you explore. Be aware, there are lots of animal and camper trails that don’t really go anywhere. A map and GPS will help you find the other lakes and ponds.
Details: the hike to the 4 lakes/ponds on the main trail is about 2.7 miles with about 400 feet of elevation gain. Add more mileage of you decide to go exploring. I saw 5 lakes/ponds and I circled around the 2nd lake on my explorations.
Note: Quite honestly, this is an OK hike, but in this area, I would recommend the glacier overlook instead.
If you’re looking for more hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, don’t miss Lost Lake, Mitchell & Blue lakes, Woodland Lake & Skyscraper Reservoir, Forest Lakes and Heart Lake. Find more Indian Peaks Wilderness hikes and Colorado hiking trails in this list of 400+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Denver, take US 36 to Boulder. Turn left/west on Highway 119/Canyon Blvd and take it to Nederland. In Nederland, at the traffic circle, head west on Colorado Highway 72 for approximately seven miles. Look for the Rainbow Lakes campground sign and turn west onto National Forest System Road 298. This route is gated during the winter. This road is a five-mile, rough, dirt road. A high clearance vehicle is recommended.