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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.

Trip Tools

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

To Trailhead

From Boulder, drive 15 miles west on Canyon Blvd./CO 119 to Nederland. Take the second exit at the Nederland traffic circle to join the Peak to Peak Highway. Follow the Peak to Peak Highway north for 7.1 miles and turn left onto CR 116, a dirt road marked with a sign for the University of Colorado's Mountain Research Park. Over the next 4 miles, you’ll pass the Sourdough Trailhead, a turn-off for the Caribou 4-Wheel Drive Road and several designated campsite areas before reaching trailhead.

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