Boulder, CO: Rainbow Lakes

In the shadow of Caribou Peak and Bald Mountain, this easy 1.6-mile out-and-back leads to a pot of gold—a cluster of Rainbow Lakes.
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In the shadow of Caribou Peak and Bald Mountain, this easy 1.6-mile out-and-back leads to a pot of gold—a cluster of Rainbow Lakes.

Just over an hour away from Boulder, the Rainbow Lakes area is an easy access dayhike destination for novice hikers or families looking for a taste of Colorado’s alpine scenery. This rocky 0.8-mile one-way climbs 300 feet to a smattering of lakes surrounded by stubby, just-below-treeline pines in the shadow of 12,310-foot Caribou Peak. Bring a fishing rod, a picnic, an extra layer, and your raincoat—even in late summer, hail isn’t uncommon. The trail begins at the western edge of the Rainbow Lakes campground area and follows a wide, rocky path. A small sign marks a left-hand turn 200 feet from the trailhead and the pine and aspen cover gets thicker as the trail continues climbing northwest toward your first lake view. As it winds uphill, the trail stays within earshot of a gurgling creek, but doesn’t offer a glimpse of still water until after one-third of a mile. There is one easy creek crossing after the second lake—watch your step on loose rocks and the slippery split-log bridge—but the trail tops out at a lake scattered valley shortly thereafter.-Mapped by Kristy Holland and MacKenzie Ryan

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 2.7

Waypoints

RBL001

Location: 40.0095177, -105.5690308

The Rainbow Lake Campground fee station is on the eastern edge of the campground and has posted information about camping, local hazards and trail conditions; it's also near the pit toilets.

RBL002

Location: 40.0104752, -105.5722351

The signed trailhead leads uphill from behind some parking spots at the west end of the camping area.

RBL003

Location: 40.0122032, -105.5777206

The first glimpse of still water along trail. Go straight to continue toward other lakes, or turn left to wander the grassy lakeshore, or join fishermen along the muddy banks.

RBL003

Location: 40.0125618, -105.5804825

A second lake view to the south. You may encounter picnickers and more fishermen here too.

RBL004

Location: 40.0130501, -105.5837784

The trail is more difficult to follow over large rocks and boulders as it nears its destination: a cluster of valley-trapped lakes perfect for fishing and exploring. Use Caribou Peak's imposing form and look for distinguishing shoreline details to orient yourself and help you find the trail for the return trip.

Fee Station

Location: 40.0094723, -105.5687428

The fee station kiosk has information about the area and trail conditions.

Trailhead

Location: 40.0103927, -105.5720043

The trailhead is marked and easy to find at the west end of the campground area.

Lake View

Location: 40.0120362, -105.5774546

This view is the first of the Rainbow Lakes along the trail. Head a few feet downhill for a close-up of the shoreline.

Lakeshore

Location: 40.0118061, -105.5766821

A short spur from the main trail offers this western view of Caribou Peak from the lakeshore.

Log Bridge

Location: 40.0125237, -105.5786667

Use caution crossing and watch your footing this creek's slippery log bridge.

Caribou Peak

Location: 40.0126607, -105.5847073

This mid-afternoon view of Caribou Peak is obscured by an approaching late-summer hail storm. Be sure to pack an extra layer and be prepared for alpine conditions year-round.