Boulder, CO: Arapaho Pass

Hike this gentle, 6.1-mile out-and-back in midsummer when an explosion of wildflowers dominates the climb to this grassy pass in the Indian Peaks.
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Hike this gentle, 6.1-mile out-and-back in midsummer when an explosion of wildflowers dominates the climb to this grassy pass in the Indian Peaks.

The Fourth of July Trailhead is just an hour from Boulder and locals know that its namesake month is prime season for hiking alongside cascading meltwater and a flush of columbine, asters, and Indian paintbrush. The trailhead is packed with Boulder- and Denver-based campers, but don't let a busy parking lot scare you away—the crowds thin as hikers branch out across the trail network that begins here.
This route begins with a steady climb under a canopy of old spruce trees with occasional creek crossings. Soon, breaks in the trees reveal the gray cluster of peaks around Mount Neva to the west and hidden lakes to the south. Just before mile 1, cross slick boulders at a break in a waterfall; if you nail the wildflower season, this will be columbine central.
Stop by the old Fourth of July Mine at mile 2; from here, you'll see the pass to the west—keep a lookout for climbers and skiers navigating the year-round snowfields on South Arapaho Peak and Mount Neva. The trees thin above the mine and the hardpacked trail gives way to an exposed, rocky path sloping one mile towards the 11,906-foot pass, a rare flat plain between craggy granite ridges of the Indian Peaks. Bonus: If the weather (and your legs) are holding, continue uphill for a quick visit to Lake Dorothy, a high alpine tarn.
-Mapped by Jenn Fields

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 9.8

Waypoints

ARP001

Location: 39.9952174, -105.6342986

From the Fourth of July Trailhead, hike northeast. In roughly 250 feet, the path swings northwest above North Fork Middle Boulder Creek. Although this trailhead is crowded in midsummer, the dirt access road leading to it (and nearby Buckingham Campground) may be undriveable into late May.

ARP002

Location: 39.9989243, -105.637291

Wilderness regulations are posted at the Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary less than 0.5 mile from the trailhead.

ARP003

Location: 40.0032513, -105.6437051

Watch your footing on slick rocks as you cross this waterfall stream.

ARP004

Location: 40.0041471, -105.6463015

Turn right @ T-junction, following signs for Arapaho Pass.

ARP005

Location: 40.0061441, -105.6503463

This viewpoint offers a peek at Mount Neva's snow-streaked slopes, 2 miles due west. Continue hiking northwest.

ARP006

Location: 40.0103763, -105.6585109

Turn left @ Y-junction and continue climbing past scraggly treeline stands.

ARP007

Location: 40.0106967, -105.6591761

Leftover equipment at the inactive Fourth of July Mine make an interesting backdrop for a photo-op. Campsites are scattered around this area in the shadow of South Arapaho Peak. From here continue west up the trail as it transitions from hard pack to loose rock path.

ARP008

Location: 40.0143144, -105.6780294

Turn left @ Y-junction to continue 100 yards to the saddle of Arapaho Pass.

ARP009

Location: 40.0146713, -105.6784744

Arapaho Pass is 11,906 feet above sea level, but a manageable 1,800 feet above the trailhead. Meander to the north side of the ridge to look down on Caribou Lake (which is accessible via a switchback path to the northeast). Due west (just a bit up the trail) is Lake Dorothy. Keep an eye out for backcountry skiers taking runs off Mount Neva. Follow the same route back to the trailhead.

Views of Mount Neva

Location: 40.0061441, -105.650239

Look due west for the prominent 12,814-foot summit of Mount Neva. © Jenn Fields

Wilderness Boundary

Location: 39.9989119, -105.6371713

Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary © Jenn Fields

Western Views

Location: 40.0019906, -105.640626

Breaks in the trees above the trailhead offer views of the Indian Peaks. © Jenn Fields

Waterfall

Location: 40.0032513, -105.6435764

Hikers crossing a waterfall stream on the Arapaho Pass trail. © Jenn Fields

Signs for Arapaho Pass

Location: 40.0041471, -105.6462049

The trail is well-marked: Follow the signs for Arapaho Pass. © Jenn Fields

Peak Views

Location: 40.0054867, -105.6484258

Summits near Arapaho Pass peek above the tree tops en route to the saddle. © Jenn Fields

Junction: Arapaho Glacier Trail

Location: 40.0103434, -105.6584144

Stay left at the trail junction, continuing toward Arapaho Glacier and South Arapaho Peak. © Jenn Fields

Fourth of July Mine

Location: 40.010631, -105.6590366

Hikers (with dog in tow) pose for photos at the abandoned Fourth of July Mine. © Jenn Fields

Below Arapaho Pass

Location: 40.0142795, -105.6775975

Looking uphill toward hikers lined up at the pass. © Jenn Fields

Caribou Lake

Location: 40.0146369, -105.6784236

A view of Caribou Lake nestled in a bowl just northwest of Arapaho Pass. © Jenn Fields

Southern View

Location: 40.0146082, -105.6783861

The flanks of Mount Neva loom above hikers on the saddle. © Jenn Fields

Northern Views

Location: 40.0146739, -105.6784478

Grassy hillsides continue climbing north-northwest from the pass. © Jenn Fields