Gibraltar Lakes, Middle St Vrain Road Trailhead - 4WD Terminus, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Gibraltar Lakes - 9.5 miles
Middle St Vrain Road Trailhead - 4WD Terminus
|Round-Trip Length:||9.5 miles (17 miles roundtrip from Camp Dick)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,655' - 11,181' (11,202' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,526' net elevation gain (+1,736' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Gibraltar Lakes - 9.5 Miles Round-Trip
The Gibraltar Lakes lie at the base of St Vrain Glaciers near the Indian Peaks - Rocky Mountain National Park boundary. This trio forms the headwaters of Middle St Vrain Creek at the top of a spectacular alpine valley.
The following description begins at the Middle St Vrain 4WD Road terminus, 3.75 miles west of Camp Dick. Only experienced drivers with adequate clearance can complete this drive; others may either walk the road or equidistant Buchanan Pass Trail from the Middle St Vrain Trailhead at Camp Dick. Plan travel time accordingly and call ahead for road conditions:
The Buchanan Pass Trail crosses Middle St Vrain Creek and bends NW through a diminutive spruce flat. It rises nominally along the creek with views of Sawtooth Mountain to the St Vrain Mountain Trail split (.7 miles : 9,832'), and continues NW in a taller forest.
Timber breaks at a large clearing, a good place to camp and look for elk and moose (1.45 miles : 9,925'). The Buchannan Pass - St Vrain Glacier Trail split is located on the far side of this meadow (1.6 miles : 9,947'); keep right on the St Vrain Glacier Trail.
The St Vrain Glacier Trail climbs steadily beside the creek in a healthy spruce-fir forest that opens across a short talus field (2.7 miles) to the first of several stream crossings (2.75 miles : 10,320').
Mild travel resumes south of the creek to a second (unaided) crossing over a wide but shallow section (3.05 miles : 10,412'). Once across the trail rises gently to a scenic meadow and cluster of four large ponds (3.45 miles : 10,552').
It crosses the creek (south) once again, this time on a log jam at the outlet of the first pond you come to. It continues past this marshy complex in a thinning forest with expanding views of the upper valley.
The trail climbs steadily to the first break in treeline (4.1 miles : 10,790') and loses clarity amid thick willow, krummholz, lingering snow and talus.
It negotiates rugged undulations to the confluence of Middle St Vrain Creek and Gibraltar Lakes' outlet stream (4.4 miles : 10,910'). Veer left (south) up a steep slope cut by the outlet.
The path can be difficult to follow, but generally traces the outlet stream to the lakes. If off course, stay close to the water and aim for glaciers on the south valley wall - the lakes are located at their base (note: a small lake to the west is a nice side trip, but not your destination).
The Gibraltar Lakes' outlet braids a wide slope carpeted by flowers. Though some maps show a clear path east of this outlet to the largest lake, it's actually quite faint and leads unnecessarily through talus.
Take the path of least resistance beside the outlet to the first Gibraltar Lake (4.75 miles : 11,181'). Just over its south shore is a second, larger lake; east and adjacent to that is the third and largest lake. A high ridge between the lakes overlooks all three, and down Middle St Vrain Creek valley.
- N40 08.229 W105 35.137 — Middle St Vrain Trailhead - 4WD Terminus
- N40 08.251 W105 35.564 — .45 miles : Trail forks and merges back with self
- N40 08.411 W105 35.697 — .7 miles : St Vrain Mountain Trail junction
- N40 08.750 W105 35.996 — 1.2 mile mark
- N40 08.968 W105 36.298 — 1.6 miles : Buchannan Pass - St Vrain Glacier Trail
- N40 09.204 W105 36.618 — 2.0 mile mark
- N40 09.365 W105 37.063 — 2.5 mile mark
- N40 09.408 W105 37.284 — 2.75 miles : Cross creek to south
- N40 09.446 W105 37.599 — 3.05 miles : Cross creek to north
- N40 09.537 W105 37.950 — 3.45 miles : Cross creek to south by ponds
- N40 09.648 W105 38.500 — 4.0 miles : Nearing treeline
- N40 09.649 W105 38.836 — 4.35 miles : Begin southward curl along Gibraltar outlet
- N40 09.436 W105 39.004 — 4.75 miles : Gibraltar Lake #1
- N40 09.377 W105 38.959 — 4.82 miles : Gibraltar Lake #2
- N40 09.340 W105 38.822 — 4.9 miles : Gibraltar Lake #3
- Middle St Vrain 4WD Road is rough. Only experienced drivers with ample clearance should attempt this road. Those who can't complete the drive will have many turnoffs and turnaround points to choose from. Always call ahead for conditions, as the road is periodically flooded or obstructed by deadfall.
- Arrive early to allow time for unplanned foot travel in the event of a road obstruction. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and get below treeline before storms develop. Anticipate lingering snow through mid-summer and faint trail conditions beyond 4.25 miles. A good map is essential to efficient route finding in the sparingly marked upper valley.
- Though the St Vrain Glacier Trail is well-defined, be mindful of social trails that differ little from the main and avoid tempting but false stream crossings. Should you miss or prematurely cross one of several that are required, simply continue beside the creek until you can assess your precise location - the main trail is never far from either side of Middle St Vrain Creek.
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 Middle St Vrain Trailhead - 4WD Terminus is located 3.75 miles west of the Camp Dick Campground parking lot. The parking lot is located 1.3 miles west of the turnoff from Highway 72. The turnoff from Highway 72 is located 17.8 miles north of Nederland CO, or 2 miles south of Highway 7. The Middle St Vrain 4WD Road is challenging. Only experienced drivers with proper clearance should attempt this drive. Alternatively, you may either walk the road or equidistant Buchanan Pass Trail from the Middle St Vrain Trailhead at Camp Dick.
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301