Rainbow Lakes Trail
The Rainbow Lakes Trail is a nice family-friendly hike that will - in a short amount of time - take you to four scenic mountain lakes. The trailhead leaves at the Rainbow Lakes Campground, so if you want to plan a trip with the kids, this is a great activity to wear off all those s’mores you ate the night before.
To get to the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead, from Nederland, take the 2nd exit onto West 2nd St. at the traffic circle. Continue onto CO-72 for 10.9km. Take a left to Rainbow Lakes on CO-Rd. 116. Follow the gravel road for around 8.0km to the parking.
|When to do|
Early June to Late September
Rainbow Lakes Campground or backcountry with permit
Out and back
Rainbow Lakes Trail
Rainbow Lakes Trail Description
After entering the Rainbow Lakes trail from the trailhead, bear left and follow the path that curves through the dense forest. As the trail gently ascends, you’ll soon arrive at the first lake. Continue on the well-traveled path to reach the second lake.
You have to go over a log crossing to get past a creek (the water level changes depending on the snowmelt). Then, you’ll need to hike over a rocky section. Ultimately this will bring you to the third and fourth Rainbow lakes. Each of the four mountain lakes has a scenic backdrop of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
The trip back is the same way you came in.
Hiking Trail Highlights
The Rainbow Lakes are a series of picturesque lakes and beaver ponds in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Colorado. Although this hike takes in the four main lakes, there are actually a total of nine lakes in the region, some of which are inaccessible on the main trail but can be seen occasionally from the path. Surrounded by dense forest, lively creeks and lush marshland, with nearby peaks rising in the distance, this idyllic spot is a wonderful place for a family hike.
This lush, green region is a haven for local wildlife, including moose, which like to conceal themselves in the tall reeds that surround the lakes. It’s also a common area for bears, so make sure to take precautions when hiking or camping. Plenty of wildflowers line the trail in summer and the aspen forests are simply gorgeous in autumn when the leaves turn and the trees are ablaze in a riot of colors.
The Rainbow Lakes region is one of the most popular parts of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, and the trail can get quite busy in the peak season. Come early in the morning to avoid the crowds or at sunset to catch the last rays of light on the water.
Rainbow Lakes Campground
The Rainbow Lakes Campground is situated just next to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, at the end of Rainbow Lakes Road. Open between mid-June and mid-September, this is an excellent base for exploring the region and is well equipped for hikers. There are plots for tents and small trailers and come with fire grates and bear lockers. If you want to extend your trip to take in some of the longer hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, such as the challenging Arapaho Glacier Trail, this campground is a great place to stay.
Unimproved camping is available along Co Rd. 116 if Rainbow Lakes Campground is full. (Wildlife Alert: Bears are common in this area, proper storage of food and supplies is required, otherwise expect to have guests!)
Altitude sickness is a concern here, bring plenty of water, stay hydrated and don’t party too hard the night before!
Overnight permits are required to camp in the Indian Peaks backcountry. Overnight permits are limited and must be obtained in advance for camping dates 6/1-9/15. Visit the Indian Peaks visitor website for more details.
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