Day hikes

One of the most satisfying ways to experience our area is by hiking the many trails that lead through the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

The nearest trailheads are found at Hessie and at Buckingham Campground (Fourth of July Trailhead) west of Eldora. There are trailheads in the Brainard Lake area and elsewhere along the foothills and high country. Some of the trails are also excellent for mountain biking, though all vehicles - including bicycles - are not permitted in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

Hikers, as well as backpackers and mountain bikers, should never go off without a good map, which are available at many shops in town. John E. Heasley's Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness (Fort Collins: RAS Pub., 1999) is an excellent guide to the trails in our area, providing maps, photos, and statistical data on all trails in our area. Virtual Trails also provides detailed information about trails in our area.

Here are some of the most popular hikes in our area:

FROM THE HESSIE TRAILHEAD (elevation 9,000') See Map

Lost Lake (Easy)
Starting at the Hessie Trailhead a mile and a half west of Eldora, cross the bridge over the creek and climb up a switch back through the aspen. Within half a mile, the trail forks. Take the left fork to the King Lake Trail (which also says ¾To Lost Lake Trail²) and in another few hundred yards, there is another fork to the left that goes to Lost Lake. This is about a 3-mile round trip with 800' of elevation gain, lots of aspen viewing, and a series of waterfalls just off the trail. Remnants of the area's mining history remain at Lost Lake. This makes an excellent ¾first hike² for visitors just arriving from lower elevations.

King Lake (Moderate)
As you enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area at the Hessie Trailhead, you will notice signs at every fork in the trail inviting you to choose from among several destinations higher up toward the Continental Divide. King Lake (elevation 11,648') is an outstanding 5-mile hike (each way) that ends at a peaceful glacial lake just below Rollins Pass, which is a short half mile walk beyond. Along the way, you will pass the turnoff to the nearby Bob and Betty Lakes. The trail winds through dense spruce forests, broad alpine meadows, and the headwaters of the South Fork Middle Boulder Creek. Look carefully for the many ptarmigans that live above timberline.

Woodland Lake (Moderate)
Shortly after leaving the Hessie Trailhead, hikers will notice a sign pointing the way to Woodland Lake (elevation 10,972'). This is a slightly shorter version of the King Lake Trail with vistas as rewarding and a route through spruce, meadows, and remnants of former mining attempts. Just a short one-third of a mile west of Woodland Lake is Skyscraper Reservoir (elevation 11,220'), built between 1941-1947 by Everett Long of Boulder who later sold the reservoir and water rights to the City of Boulder in 1966.

Devils Thumb and Jasper Lake (Moderate to Difficult)
The longest of the trails from the Hessie Trailhead takes hikers nearly seven miles north and west to the intersection of the Corona Trail at Devils Thumb Pass (elevation 11,747'). The views from near the Continental Divide are breathtaking and well worth the effort. Before reaching the Pass, hikers pass by Jasper Lake (elevation 10,814') and Devils Thumb Lake (elevation 11,160'). The trail follows Jasper Creek through meadows dotted with wild huckleberries in the summer, as well as portions of an old mining road.


Diamond Lake (Easy to Moderate)
This 7-mile round trip hike begins about a mile from the trailhead. It winds its way through dense spruce forests and often wet meadow areas before crossing the North Fork Middle Boulder Creek and ending at Diamond Lake (elevation 11,000'), a camping area very popular with backpackers. This is a gentle hike with often a good deal of foot traffic mid-summer.

Arapaho Pass and Lake Dorothy (Easy to Moderate)
Equally popular with day hikers is the trail from the Fourth of July Trailhead to the Continental Divide at Arapaho Pass (elevation 11,942'). In the first two miles hikers pass through spruce forests, cross several seasonal streams, and finally emerge at timberline near the site of the Fourth of July Mine marked by several pieces of rusted mining machinery and tailings. The top of the pass is visible from the mine: just follow the trail that leads another two miles along the exposed side of the mountain.

Hikers who go an extra few hundred yards will be find the alpine solitude of Lake Dorothy, a small gem of a lake with great views and ptarmigans certainly hiding in the rocks around the lake.

South Arapaho Peak (Moderate to Difficult)
Those who would seek the challenge - and rewards - of a few hundred yards of non-technical scrambling up the side of a mountain will find the views from South Arapaho Peak (elevation 13,397') as spectacular as those from Longs Peak or Mount Audubon. To the east you can see the plains of Colorado (and maybe Kansas on a very clear day?), as well as the Arapaho Glacier just below. To the north and south are the other peaks that makeup the crest of the Continental Divide. Take mittens and a hat (as well as your camera), even in the summer. Take the trail from near the Fourth of July Mine that heads north up the side of the mountain.

Close by is North Arapaho Peak (elevation 13,502') which can be reached be crossing the narrow ridge that spans these sister peaks.

FROM BRAINARD LAKE (elevation 10,000')

Fourteen miles north of Nederland on Highway 72 is the town of Ward. A National Forest Sign on the west side of the highway will direct you to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, five miles from the highway on a paved road. Visitors will be charged a $8 for a five-day pass and $35 for a seasonal pass. Holders of Golden Age, Golden Access, Golden Eagle, America the Beautiful Senior, and Annual pass holders are admitted free of charge. Camping at Pawnee Campground is extra and reservations are advised.

On the west side of Brainard Lake, directly opposite Pawnee Campground, are parking areas for three trailheads: Beaver Creek, Long Lake, and Mitchell Creek. Each leads hikers to a variety of beautiful landscapes and breathtaking vistas.

Beaver Creek/Mount Audubon Trail (Easy to Moderate)
The popular Mount Audubon Trail forks off from the Beaver Creek Trail which begins at the north paved parking area. The summit of Mount Audubon (elevation 13,223') is about 4 miles from the parking area. This makes an excellent and rewarding day hike for those seeking the exhilaration of standing atop a peak with a 360 degree view of lakes, rivers, plains, and neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail begins gently through spruce groves and soon emerges above timberline where the terrain is steeper and rocky. For the last half mile to the summit the ¾trail² follows rock cairns across the talus and boulders covering the peak. This is not a technical climb, but it can be physically demanding. Along with your camera, take a hat and gloves, even in mid-summer: the winds on top can be fierce! Always be alert for an incoming thunderstorm.

Long Lake Trailhead
Jean Luning Trail (Easy)
Isabelle Lake and Glacier (Easy to Moderate)
Pawnee Pass Trail (Moderate)
A few hundred yards from the south paved parking area is Long Lake, an easy stroll through fir and spruce to the east end of the lake. The view across the lake to the west may be satisfying enough for those who want a great photograph and nothing more: the snow-capped peaks, the deep blue sky, and the clear waters of Long Lake may be enough for some visitors.

However, for others, the trail beckons. The Jean Luning Trail is a level mile that encircles Long Lake providing information on alpine plants and animals.

A little over a mile west of Long Lake is Lake Isabelle, one of the most beautiful spots in the Rockies and a setting that has graced many postcards. Lake Isabelle sits in a cirque surrounded by Pawnee Peak, Shoshoni Peak, Isabelle Glacier, Apache Peak, and Niwot Ridge. This round trip hike can be done by most hikers in half a day, and the views of the surrounding peaks are astounding.

Beyond Lake Isabelle is the Isabelle Glacier that feeds the lakes below it. The trail to the Glacier is more challenging, but worth the climb. Leave yourself about six hours to make the round trip hike to the glacier - longer if you decide to try climbing or sliding around on it!

Near the beginning of the Lake, the trail to Pawnee Pass (elevation 12,541') splits off to the north, and steeply and steadily climbs well above timberline to the top of the Continental Divide. Expect strong winds and a view that will take your breath away. Hikers should plan about 3-4 hours to reach Pawnee Pass from trailhead at the parking lot.

Mitchell Creek Trailhead (Easy)
This popular trail begins in the north paved parking area and follows Mitchell Creek 2.4 miles to Blue Lake (elevation 11,352'). The first mile or so of the trail is flat and wide. A short side trail takes you to Mitchell Lake, a total of about a half hour from the parking area. Blue Lake is another mile and a half up the trail which crosses a wide stream, grassy meadows, marshy areas (with boardwalks to cross on), and finally rocky areas and snow fields where the trail comes close to timberline. Blue Lake sits in a cirque below Mount Toll (elevation 12,979'), Piute Peak (elevation 13,088') and Pawnee Peak (elevation 12,943').


The entire Indian Peaks Wilderness region and Rocky Mountain National Park to the north abound with well marked trails and hiking opportunities that run the gamut of easy walks like the Switzerland Trail, to the challenge of Longs Peak. Check with the Visitors Center in Nederland for suggestions and conditions.

One area to the south of Nederland is worth mentioning for its beauty, accessibility, and popularity with hikers:

Heart Lake (Easy to Moderate)
Five miles south of Nederland on Highway 119 is the town of Rollinsville. From there drive west (a sign will point you toward Rollins Pass) on a well maintained graded road about eight miles to the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel. Across the tracks from the parking area is the East Portal Trailhead (elevation 9,211').

The trail follows the drainage of South Boulder Creek which is in a fairly large valley. Like most trails in the area, this one climbs steadily from the trailhead, and after three fairly easy miles it gets steeper as you climb to tree line. As the trail breaks into the open and most of the trees fall away, you will have a view of Rogers Pass Lake (elevation 11,860'). Heart Lake (elevation 11,320') is north of Rogers Pass Lake. Round trip time for this hike is approximately one full day, and the distance is about 8 miles with 2,100' of elevation gain. From these lakes, it is possible to climb to Rogers Pass and the Continental Divide, but watch out for thunderstorms during the summer months.

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