Lake Dorothy, Fourth of July Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Lake Dorothy - 7.3 miles

Fourth of July Trailhead

Wide, level tundra on the north shore of Lake Dorothy (12,061')

Wide, level tundra on the north shore of Lake Dorothy (12,061')

Round-Trip Length: 7.3 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,172' - 12,061' (12,094' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,889' net elevation gain (+2,053' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Lake Dorothy - 7.3 Miles Round-Trip

Lake Dorothy (12,061') is located 3.65 miles from Fourth of July Trailhead in a deep cirque between Mount Neva and Arapaho Pass on the Continental Divide. It's the highest named lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and known to hold very large but elusive cutthroat trout. Visitors will enjoy remarkable views and miles of open tundra on the hike to Lake Dorothy:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail rises steadily past the Indian Peaks Wilderness Backcountry board (.4 miles : 10,385') to a series of pitched switchbacks (.55 miles : 10,461'). In .8 miles (10,595') the trail levels across steep, open slopes with views of Mount Neva (12,814') and its distinguished east ridge. Wildflowers are particularly varied and abundant on this stretch.

The trail narrows across the midsection of a steep waterfall (1 mile : 10,650') to the Diamond Lake - Arapaho Pass Trail split (1.15 miles : 10,752').

The Arapaho Pass Trail continues west on a methodical climb up the north valley wall. The valley below is noteworthy, highlighted by a network of glacier-fed streams and ponds.

The trail moderates through a broad krummholz flat (1.65 miles : 11,110') to the Arapaho Glacier Trail split (2.05 miles : 11,236'), and continues past the historic Fourth of July Mine into open tundra. The trail is well-defined but markedly rugged once above treeline.

In 3 miles the ramp-like trail curls toward the valley-center and Caribou Pass - Arapaho Pass Trail split on a saddle atop the Continental Divide (3.15 miles : 11,906'). Enjoy commanding views over Caribou Lake before turning left on the Caribou Pass Trail.

The trail bends SW and levels in open tundra to the second of two unmarked spurs for Lake Dorothy (3.5 miles : 12,094'). The spurs are equidistant, but the second offers a more favorable approach. The intuitively followed path threads talus to the northeast shore of Lake Dorothy (3.65 miles : 12,061').

The shoreline is flat, spongy and easy to explore. Scale two hogback-like knolls east of the lake for great perspective on the lake and neighboring peaks. The Caribou Pass Trail continues northwest over the Divide to its intersection with the High Lonesome Trail and Junco Lake Trailhead.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 59.714 W105 38.052 — 0.0 miles : Fourth of July Trailhead
  • N40 00.036 W105 38.346 — .55 miles : Begin switchbacks
  • N40 00.197 W105 38.616 — 1.0 miles : Cross mid-section of steep falls
  • N40 00.252 W105 38.785 — 1.15 miles : Arapaho Pass Trail junction
  • N40 00.426 W105 39.122 — 1.5 mile mark
  • N40 00.626 W105 39.512 — 2.05 miles : Arapaho Glacier Trail junction
  • N40 00.752 W105 39.779 — 2.25 mile mark
  • N40 00.845 W105 40.073 — 2.55 mile mark
  • N40 00.897 W105 40.516 — 3.0 mile mark
  • N40 00.864 W105 40.685 — 3.2 miles : Caribou Pass Trail-Arapaho Pass Trail split
  • N40 00.842 W105 40.979 — 3.5 miles : Cairn-marked spur to Lake Dorothy
  • N40 00.775 W105 41.027 — 3.65 miles : Lake Dorothy

Worth Noting

  • Lake Dorothy is approximately 100' deep and known for good-sized cutthroat trout. A majority of its shoreline is accessible for fishing.

  • Be mindful of changing weather patterns and get below treeline before storms develop. Carry versatile layers, sun and wind protection. Snow may linger on the trail through July.

  • Lake Dorothy is accessed by a heavily used trail artery. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Binoculars are particular useful on this trail. Look for elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat in the open tundra during peak summer months.

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 4 Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.

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

  • Packstock are 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

Lake Dorothy is accessed from the Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, Colorado.

From downtown Nederland, go south on Highway 72 for .5 miles to County Road 130 and make a right. You will see a sign for Eldora Ski Resort at this junction. Continue on Highway 130 through the town of Eldora, just past which it becomes a dirt road (4 miles).

Continue on the dirt road (past the Hessie Trailhead) another 4.8 miles and take the right fork at the Buckingham Campground up into the designated parking area. Though suitable for most 2WD cars in good condition, the road between the Hessie turnoff and Fourth of July Trailhead can be rough. High clearance vehicles are recommended.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Road in was surprisingly good. Started up at 9AM. The trail was running with water frequently but no problems. The one large stream crossing required care. At the junction for the the trail up Arapahoe peaks there was more snow than dry ground going forward towards the pass. Sunglasses were very helpful. Once on the the long slope up to the pass care had to be taken to avoid postholing into the rocks beneath the snow. Also a slip could have been a serious problem. Hiking poles were a comfort. Weather on the pass was blustery as usual. Lake Dorothy was still completely frozen as were Caribou Lakes. We were back at the car at 3:15. The trail up to Arapahoe Peak (south) looked clear but we could not see beyond the east shoulder."
grayson drexel  -  evergreen, colorado  -  Date Posted: July 8, 2019
"Very pleasant hike with some nice wildflowers along the way, including Colorado Columbine, paintbrush, tall chiming-bells and a few high-elevation-only sky pilot (this has not been a good wildflower year with no real rain in months, so these were welcome sights). I had done a portion of this trail to the Diamond Lake split years ago, but the rest was new and enjoyable. It's a fairly moderate hike that never gets too tough, but is not a stroll either. The lake has some nice rocks to sit on while enjoying the scenery, and there was even a little 'iceberg' in the lake, although it started floating from close to the shore toward the center of the lake during the 30 minutes or so we snacked and socialized. I recorded 7.3 mi/1,986' total elevation gain on my GPS + 0.8 RT to/from the TH from where we parked. We arrived about 7:20a on a Sunday, and the lots were already long-since filled, so many of us parked along the road. The 4th of July Road is a bit rough with lots of potholes and rocks. A little clearance (e.g., a Subaru Forester or Outback) is helpful, but even a BMW sedan made it."
Alex C  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: July 10, 2017
"Beautiful hike, and wildflowers, especially columbine, were plentiful! A little snow before the climb to the pass, and Dorothy Lake was still mostly frozen. Snow-capped peaks and lots of waterfalls punctuated this trip. So much water, and everything was bright green with new vegetation! Road from Hessie to trailhead was rocky but manageable for a 2WD if you go slowly."
Julie  -  Colorado  -  Date Posted: June 29, 2015
"It is a beautiful lake and we had good weather so no chance of thunderstorms. My 10 year old even swam in it. There were a lot of flowers on the trail, even late in the season. It is very well graded the whole way so good for bad knees. Note, it is 6.4 miles round trip and not 7.4. It is 3 miles to the pass and only .2 to the lake each way. The road condition this year was the worst I have seen. I assume it was related to the flood. It's drivable by 2WD but ideally yours should be HC unlike mine."
Cathy Smith  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: August 18, 2014
"Great climb when the aspens are changing. Not a bad hike for beginners but just make sure to pace yourself, you are going up to 12,000ft. The lake is an awesome spot to stop and eat lunch. Start early so that you can enjoy the peace of the lake alone or with just your group."
Caleb Kruse  -  Lakewood, CO  -  Date Posted: September 22, 2012
"Started this hike at 5 AM with the headlamps showing us the way. Really enjoyed it and it's solitude. Found myself a perfect rock to lay on and brewed myself a cup of coffee and took in the view.¬if_t=like"
 -   -  Date Posted: September 10, 2012
"Beautiful hike; quintessential Colorado. The wildflowers were plentiful and gorgeous. No snow on the trail or at Lake Dorothy, but patches in the surrounding mountains made for some amazing scenery. Highly recommend this trail."
Janet  -  Monument, CO  -  Date Posted: July 12, 2012
"Glorious day for an awe inspiring hike. Indian Peaks Wilderness is simply one of the most beautiful places in Colorado! On our hike, there was no snow on the trail, though the lake was still 1/2 frozen. Wildflowers were already starting to bloom (boy that is early!) This trail has a steady incline and it is rocky in places, but otherwise it is a doable hike for most folks who are in decent shape. We went up with a 7 yr old. "
Carol Brand  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: June 26, 2012


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