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
- Distance: 2.7
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.
Location: 40.0104752, -105.5722351
The signed trailhead leads uphill from behind some parking spots at the west end of the camping area.
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.
Location: 40.0125618, -105.5804825
A second lake view to the south. You may encounter picnickers and more fishermen here too.
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.
Location: 40.0094723, -105.5687428
The fee station kiosk has information about the area and trail conditions.
Location: 40.0103927, -105.5720043
The trailhead is marked and easy to find at the west end of the campground area.
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.
Location: 40.0118061, -105.5766821
A short spur from the main trail offers this western view of Caribou Peak from the lakeshore.
Location: 40.0125237, -105.5786667
Use caution crossing and watch your footing this creek’s slippery log bridge.
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.