Up and Around Rainbow Lakes

August 28, 2018 GMT

If you go

To the trailhead: Out of Nederland, access the Peak to Peak highway (Colo. 72) for several miles before turning left (west) on Rainbow Lakes Road. (Hwy. 116). Follow the dirt road 5-plus miles to where it ends at the campground and trailhead.

Distance: 1.9 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation gain: About 360 vertical feet

Dogs: Yes, on a leash

Information: Boulder Ranger District, 303-541-2500

A hike hugging the nine Rainbow Lakes nestled snugly in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area nurtures the soul like no other.

The short trail echoes of Colorado’s rugged beginnings and voices of nature. The moderate climb peaking at about 10,315-feet above sea level at the uppermost lake showcases our state’s magnificent landscape.


You’ll start the hike at the Rainbow Lakes campground, north and west of Nederland via Rainbow Lakes Road off of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. Locate the trailhead kiosk near the public facilities and ample parking area.

While the route is easily identifiable, visitors may want to carry along the National Geographic Indian Peaks Gold Hill #102 outdoor recreation map — but you really don’t need it. Using your cell phone, snap a picture of the map posted on the kiosk.

Right away before entering the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area (where the dogs on leash rule is strictly enforced), visitors will be presented with a fork. Go left.

The right fork will lead you along the strenuous Arapaho Glacier Trail — save that scenic trek for another day.

You’ll climb only about 362-vertical feet in just under a mile to the upper lake. The lakes are located to the left of the trail the entire distance with two, smaller lakes to the right where the footpath terminates in the boulders. There are no confusing trail intersections along the way.

At the lake of your choosing, have a snack and take some pictures before returning the way you came.

Bette Erickson is the author of “Just for Visitors - Where the Locals Hike” ( Amazon.com ). Contact her at bette_erickson@hotmail.com .