Rainbow Lakes, Rainbow Lakes Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Rainbow Lakes - 1.9 miles

Rainbow Lakes Trailhead

One of nine 'Rainbow Lakes'

One of nine 'Rainbow Lakes'

Round-Trip Length: 1.9 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,010' - 10,280' (10,315' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +270' net elevation gain (+362' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Rainbow Lakes - 1.9 Miles Round-Trip

The Rainbow Lakes are a series of 9 lakes and beaver ponds linked across a broad flat between Peak to Peak Highway and the Continental Divide. These well-stocked lakes are popular with anglers, and the easy hike in is well-suited for families and backpackers.

While the main trail doesn't reach every lake, well-defined social trails and a good map will help you explore this relatively small and accessible area.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail officially enters the Indian Peaks Wilderness a few dozen yards from the parking area and bears left. It rises gently through spruce and aspen to the first lake (which is more of a pond) on your left (.35 miles : 10,202'), and continues easily to a second (.6 miles : 10,230').

Two more lake-ponds are hidden by trees 100+ yards south that see fewer people. The trail passes north of a marshy meadow (.8 miles) to another small but accessible lake.

It keeps west and undulates with less clarity to an elevated rock pile between juxtaposed lakes (.95 miles : 10,280'), from which social paths branch to outlying ponds in the area.

The main trail continues NW of the last major lake to nowhere in particular, gradually fading in the forest along Rainbow Lakes' primary inlet.

You can follow the inlet to its source at a snowfield on the drainage's headwall. Terrain is rugged but passable, easing once through a talus field at treeline. It levels on an alpine bench (1.85 miles : 10,730'), where a second push leads to a tarn with terrific down-valley views (2.05 miles).

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 00.631 W105 34.331 — 0.0 miles Rainbow Lakes Trailhead
  • N40 00.728 W105 34.640 — .35 miles: First Rainbow Lake
  • N40 00.746 W105 34.838 — .95 miles: Begin series of Rainbow Lakes 2, 3 and 4
  • N40 00.784 W105 35.273 — 1.35 miles: Rocky ascent past Fourth Rainbow Lake

Worth Noting

  • This trail is located in the Glacier Travel Zone of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Camping, day hiking, and packstock are permitted in this area but no open campfires are allowed.

  • Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brook trout are found in these lakes.

  • Abundant summer wildflowers and turning aspen make this a particularly colorful 3 season trail.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.

  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

  • Campfires are prohibited east side of the Continental Divide, as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.

  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.

  • Packstock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.

Directions to Trailhead

The Rainbow Lakes Trailhead is located 5 miles west of Highway 72 on Rainbow Lakes Road (a.k.a. County Road 116 - National Forest System Road 298). Rainbow Lakes Road is located 7.35 miles north of Nederland, CO.

Turn west from Highway 72 on Rainbow Lakes Road and keep straight past the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station access road and Caribou 4WD turnoff, through the Rainbow Lakes Campground to the small parking area at the road's terminus at the trailhead.

High clearance vehicles are recommended, though 2WD vehicles should have no problem when conditions are clear.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301

Summer Hours:
Mon-Thur 8 - 4:30
Fri 8 - 5:30
Sat 9 - 3

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Such a beautiful and easy hike to the lakes from the campground. Road still open to the trailhead and no snow. "
tandy  -   -  Date Posted: November 10, 2016
"Small amount of snow to the TH. Completely do-able with a compact car, the road in was not too rough at all, only concern would be if there is too much snow, which currently there wasn't. Road was open all the way to the TH, none of the gates were closed. Got to the TH at 8:15am and were the first ones there. By the time we left there was only one other car in the parking lot. Bathrooms at TH were open. Trail was covered in a few inches of snow, slightly icy in a few spots, but not enough to warrant microspikes, and definitely not deep enough to justify snowshoes yet. "
David Tennant  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: November 2, 2015
"beuatiful and very easy. Its breathtaking once you find the first lake, then you just want to keep going because it gets better and better. Water so clear you can see the fish."
JAN A PAYER  -  Denver CO  -  Date Posted: June 25, 2014
"We read several reports that this is a great snowshoeing trail so we headed up with our two kids on our first snowshoeing adventure. When we arrived the road to the camp ground was closed for the winter season. We hiked up the road, but it adds about 1.5 mile to the hike."
Kristina R  -  United States  -  Date Posted: December 30, 2013


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