Best Hikes Coloradoand39;s Indian Peaks Wilderness  by Kent Dannen

Best Hikes Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness

by Kent Dannen (Falcon Guides)
Best Hikes Coloradoand39;s Indian Peaks Wilderness  by Kent Dannen
The trails and hiking goals of Indian Peaks Wilderness are understandably popular, absolutely the equal of the hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park adjacent to the north. Only the hikers are different. Colorado residents seem more common in Indian Peaks in contrast to the pedestrians drawn from all over the nation to the national park. Many of these Colorado residents are, however, rather new arrivals and as much in need of guidance as park hikers. All need to know not only how to reach wilderness goals, but also how best to share and protect the wilds. Moreover, the USDA Forest Service, which manages Indian Peaks Wilderness, has a much smaller staff with which to achieve goals very similar to those of the National Park Service within the US Department of the Interior.

© 2017 Kent Dannen/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Hikes Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness" Guide Book
46 Trail Guides

Arapaho Glacier is the most southerly glacier in the Rocky Mountains. The Arapaho Glacier Trailhead begins at the entrance to Rainbow Lakes Campground. Arapaho Glacier Trail, which climbs to unsurpassed alpine tundra views, coincidentally wanders back and forth between watershed and Indian Peaks Wilderness, and from which hikers constantly are reminded not to stray.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 12.0
Archeological speculation suggests Native American use of this pass for some 4,000 years, but the Arapaho did not show up until the late 1700s. At 11,906 feet, well above tree line, Arapaho Pass seems inaccurately described as a low point on the Continental Divide in Indian Peaks. Rather, it is the least high point over which to pass from Middle Park on the West Slope to Denver and Boulder on the East Slope.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 6.6
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Blue Lake’s name is so mundane that hikers reaching its shore for the first time may be shocked by the lake’s drama. Blue Lake is not notably bluer than Blue Lake to the north in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Glacier Gorge. The Indian Peaks Blue Lake, because it is relatively close to its trailhead, frequently receives its visitors early enough in the day to catch the reflection from the blue sky, which doubtless encouraged its naming. However, many hikers arrive early enough in the season to see the lake’s surface covered by ice and any blue in the water is scarcely noticeable. The introduction to this spectacle also is very impressive. An easy walk through magnificent subalpine forest opens on Mitchell Lake, the first of trailside vistas of Mount Toll.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.0
Bob and Betty lakes are the high points in a string of lakes perched on a loop hike below the Continental Divide. The Hessie Trailhead is a quarter mile along a road/creek bed that sometimes carries water and always is paved by cobbles hard on even booted feet. The worst parts are bordered by a trail that lifts hikers above this hassle. High clearance vehicles can make it all the way to the Hessie Trailhead and less-than-abundant parking. A bridge carries hikers across North Fork Middle Boulder Creek. Rather ironic signs near the bridge prohibit vehicles from splashing across the creek and also prohibit parking at a spot blocking an obvious vehicle ford.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 12.9
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Brainard Lake is formed by a concrete dam built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of an unsuccessful effort to end the Great Depression. The lake is not within Indian Peaks Wilderness. The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is east of wilderness boundaries. Brainard Lake is the wilderness gateway used by the largest number of visitors. However, perhaps not all of these visitors want to climb to the top of Navajo or Pawnee peaks. Perhaps they do not even care to circumambulate Long Lake. For these folks, there is a flat, often broad and smooth trail following the south Brainard Lake shoreline.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.8
The shortest route to Buchanan Pass begins at Beaver Reservoir and leads to a tundra- covered pass below Sawtooth Mountain and over to the western side of Indian Peaks. The least-lengthy approach to Buchanan Pass begins on the north shore of Beaver Reservoir. (The Buchanan Pass Trail from the Middle Saint Vrain Creek to the north is long; the Buchanan Pass Trail from the west to the pass on the Continental Divide is longer.) From privately owned Beaver Reservoir, walking up a 4WD road lifts hikers along a comparatively gentle grade through lodgepole pines. Here and there, actual beaver reservoirs built by busy rodents add interest and mosquitoes to this route.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 14
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Caribou Pass is west of the Continental Divide and is described in the West Slope section account of climbing Satanta Peak. But, the trail from Arapaho Pass in the direction of Caribou Pass is so dramatic that it needs to be experienced by hikers approaching from the east, if snow is not blocking it. If you see a caribou (reindeer) at Caribou Pass, presume that lack of oxygen at high altitude has fogged your brain badly and retreat to tree line. Although the name Caribou attached to every conceivable geographic formation is scattered across an Indian Peaks map, Santa Claus never could have recruited his most noteworthy draft animals here.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 8.0
The blue columbine, Colorado’s state flower, appropriately grows along the trail to Columbine Lake. To enjoy columbine and many other flowers, ascend the Caribou Pass Trail, which leaves Junco Lake Trailhead between two branches of the High Lonesome Trail.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.0
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Coney and Upper Coney lakes, surrounded by masses of rock rubble from icy sculpture, feature piles of stones and natural gardens, perfect habitat for the diminutive, cute critter for which the lakes are named. To reach the Coney Creek Trail and the lakes of the same name from Beaver Reservoir, begin by hiking up National Forest System Road (NFSR) 507. This road to Coney Flats is described by the Forest Service as “a rocky, 4WD EXTREME route for experienced drivers only with a high clearance 4WD vehicle.” This description is generous. The road is tough for 4WD vehicles, tougher for hikers, and impossible for normal passenger cars. The large rocks kicked up by 4WD vehicles are hard on booted feet.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 13.8
The “song dogs” commonly appear in brushy areas spotted with trees or along the edges of grassy valley floors such as Coyote Park. Caribou do not appear anywhere in Indian Peaks despite their frequent appearance on the map. Coyotes trot away from hikers everywhere in Indian Peaks except the highest rocky summits. Campers have a reasonable hope of hearing these song dogs howl and yip at night: the theme song of the West. To reach Coyote Park and Caribou Lake, the west end of the Arapaho Pass Trail starts along the right side of Monarch Lake. Some 1.5 miles later, the High Lonesome Trail branches right. Continue left along the Arapaho Pass Trail to a bridge crossing Arapaho Creek.
Estes Park, CO - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 18
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Devils Thumb Lake is named for a sharp rock spire that dominates the slope above the lake. The Hessie Trailhead is a quarter mile along a road/creek bed that sometimes carries water and always is paved by cobbles hard on even booted feet. The worst parts are bordered by a trail that lifts hikers above this hassle. High clearance vehicles can make it all the way to the Hessie Trailhead and less-than-abundant parking. A bridge carries hikers across North Fork Middle Boulder Creek. Rather ironic signs near the bridge prohibit vehicles from splashing across the creek and also prohibit parking at a spot blocking an obvious vehicle ford.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 10.9
The Devils Thumb rises from the east side of the Continental Divide above Devils Thumb Lake. Two glaciers carved the Devils Thumb column from the Continental Divide. Winds prevailing from the west carried ice-age snow to dump in the shelter on the east side of the Divide. After it accumulates approximately 250 feet thick, the ice began to flow, carrying away rock frozen in the ice. The rock remaining between these two glaciers is Devils Thumb. Had wind direction permitted another glacier to form on a third side of the column to cut a third wall, Devils Thumb would be what climbers call a horn.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 9.2
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You have to squint to see a diamond shape in this lake, but the area around the lake presents the most spectacular wildflower display I ever have seen.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 5.4
Although presumably played out now, beginning on Independence Day, 1872, this site marked by rusting mining equipment produced lots of silver. On Independence Day, 1872, prospector C. C. Alvord proved the virtue of working on holidays when he discovered silver deposits on the south side of South Arapaho Peak. The resulting excavation he called Fourth of July Mine. Today rusting mine remnants still mark the site. Some hikers maintain that the name identifies the date when snow finally melts enough to open dry-shod access to Arapaho Pass while watering impressive trailside displays of subalpine flowers and ground-hugging tundra flowers. The Arapaho Pass Trail climbs from the Fourth of July Trailhead in a narrow track of consistent grade, clinging to the very steep north wall of the valley of North Fork Middle Boulder Creek. Views across the valley to Mount Neva are impressive.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 4.0
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Fox Park is a hanging valley along Buchanan Creek. The Buchanan Pass Trail beyond the junction with the Gourd Lake Trail follows gently up Buchanan Creek until switchbacks lift it to an inevitable higher level into Fox Park. The detour to Gourd Lake is rightly tempting, but descending from Gourd Lake 1,280 feet to the Buchanan Pass Trail to either visit Fox Park or climb beyond to the pass involves an intimidating loss and regaining of altitude. There is a better way. From a long forested ridge next to Gourd Lake’s southeastern shore, an informal, but mostly clear trail leads to a meadow just above Fox Park. Sometimes the path climbs steeply in order that hikers do not have to cross steep rock. Elsewhere, the path crosses avalanche runs that can be dangerous in spring.
Estes Park, CO - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 16.32
On a map, Gourd Lake has an outline resembling a gourd enough to justify the name. To trek to Gourd Lake, leave Monarch Lake Trailhead to follow the Cascade Creek Trail, branching left around the lake beyond the east end of Monarch Lake willow wetlands are watered by Buchanan Creek. Continue left where a trail circling Monarch Lake to link with the Arapaho Pass Trail turns right. After a series of switchbacks between two fairly level stretches, Cascade Creek Trail heads right, and Buchanan Pass Trail proceeds left along Buchanan Creek. Shortly after the switchbacks, an easy-to-miss track descends from Hell Canyon along the creek from Long Lake.
Estes Park, CO - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 16.32
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The Irving Hale Divide hike passes from the trail branching to Watanga Lake (Hike34) over the ridge between Roaring Fork and Hell Canyon. Whatever the references to Hell on the initial climb from the trailhead or while puffing and panting up the right fork from the Watanga Lake Trail split in the valley containing Roaring Fork, colorful wildflower species far exceed infernal puns as hikers gasp to the broad saddle below Mount Irving Hale. Once on the Divide, the trail descends slightly through fields of glacier lilies fed by deep snow banks melting in June. A fine view of the Continental Divide to the east rises above the flowers. At the top of Irving Hale Divide, satisfied hikers rejoice in the floral wonder and retrace the steep slope down the Roaring Fork Trail back to their cars, which is easier than descending into Hell Canyon.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 8.2
Jasper Lake is a reservoir with a barely noticeable dam and sometimes barely noticeable water. Normally, its three obvious forested shores and glacier-carved ridge, rising to the north, proclaim that frozen water in the distant past was always present. The first part of the road begin at junction of Colorado Hwy. 72 and 119 in Nederland. From the south edge of Nederland, half a mile from the joining of these highways, turn right on CR 116, toward Lake Eldora Ski Area. Where the road forks uphill (left) stay on the lower fork and continue through the community of Eldora. Its pavement ends shortly. A mile past Eldora, the road forks again. The left fork leads on to a cobbled road rough enough to discourage use of normal passenger cars, which can be parked along the south edge of the road from Eldora.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 10.5
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King Lake should be part of a loop past Woodland Lake, Skyscraper Reservoir, and Betty and Bob lakes. It is only a 0.8-mile detour after Betty Lake, and the lush tundra bordering the lake leading to a large perpetual snowbank between the Continental Divide and the lake’s western shore is worth the extra distance. The Hessie Trailhead is a quarter mile along a road/creek bed that sometimes carries water and always is paved by cobbles hard on even booted feet. The worst parts are bordered by a trail that lifts hikers above this hassle. High clearance vehicles can make it all the way to the Hessie Trailhead and less-than-abundant parking.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 13.7
Lake Dorothy is the highest named lake in Indian Peaks and is likely 100 feet deep. Most likely, Lake Dorothy was named after the granddaughter of Henry Lehman, who ranched along the South Fork of the Colorado River below today’s Monarch Lake Trailhead. When the family had to travel to Denver, they rode over Arapaho Pass, skirting Lake Dorothy, hanging impressively below Mount Neva. It is an easy walk from Arapaho Pass over tundra and rocks on a spur trail to Lake Dorothy. Wildlife: Mule deer, elk, red squirrel, mountain chickadee, white-tailed ptarmigan, bighorn sheep, and even mountain goat reported.
Estes Park, CO - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 7.3
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State Log Book

Feb 2019