Caribou Lake, Fourth of July Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Caribou Lake - 9.3 miles

Fourth of July Trailhead

View of Caribou Lake (11,167') from Arapaho Pass

View of Caribou Lake (11,167') from Arapaho Pass

Round-Trip Length: 9.3 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,172' - 11,167' (11,953' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +995' net elevation gain (+2,768' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Caribou Lake - 9.3 Miles Round-Trip

Caribou Lake (11,167') is located 4.65 miles from Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It occupies a large, secluded basin 750' below the west side of Arapaho Pass.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

This challenging hike follows North Fork of Middle Boulder Creek to the Continental Divide, and continues steeply down shifting switchbacks to Caribou Lake. The attractive basin is braided with streams and dotted with ponds and tree-topped knolls.

Much of the trail runs above treeline, and the return hike requires a strenuous climb back over the Divide. Plan travel time accordingly, and get an early start to avoid afternoon storms:

The trail rises steadily past the Indian Peaks Wilderness Backcountry board (.4 miles : 10,385') to a series of pitched switchbacks (.55 miles : 10,461').

In .8 miles (10,595') the trail levels across steep, open slopes with views of Mount Neva (12,814') and its distinguished east ridge. Flowers are particularly abundant and varied on this stretch.

The trail narrows across the midsection of a steep waterfall (1 mile : 10,650') to the Diamond Lake - Arapaho Pass Trail split (1.15 miles : 10,752').

The Arapaho Pass Trail continues west on a methodical climb up the north valley wall. The valley below is noteworthy, highlighted by a network of glacier-fed streams and ponds.

The trail moderates through a broad krummholz flat (1.65 miles : 11,110') to the Arapaho Glacier Trail split (2.05 miles : 11,236'), and continues past the historic Fourth of July Mine into open tundra. The trail is well-defined but markedly rugged once above treeline.

In 3 miles the ramp-like trail curls toward the valley-center and Caribou Pass - Arapaho Pass Trail split on a saddle atop the Continental Divide (3.15 miles : 11,906').

Bear right on the Arapaho Pass Trail, which turns north up the saddle with great views down the west side of the Divide, and the steep, winding course you'll take to Caribou Lake.

The trails crests at 3.4 miles (11,953') and turns sharply down narrowly-cut switchbacks to the rolling basin floor (4.15 miles : 11,342'). Once down it moderates on a fairly direct line to the lake. Though you may no longer see the lake, its location is fairly intuitive.

The trail forks at an unmarked split (4.45 miles) and veers left to Caribou Lake (4.65 miles : 11,267'). Caribou's shore is open and easy to explore. Honor re-vegetation efforts and avoid travel in these marked areas. Social trails lead west to a large tarn above Caribou Lake in the valley's SW corner.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 59.714 W105 38.052 — 0.0 miles : Fourth of July Trailhead
  • N40 00.036 W105 38.346 — .55 miles : Begin switchbacks
  • N40 00.252 W105 38.785 — 1.15 miles : Arapaho Pass Trail junction
  • N40 00.426 W105 39.122 — 1.5 mile mark
  • N40 00.626 W105 39.512 — 2.05 miles : Arapaho Glacier Trail junction
  • N40 00.845 W105 40.073 — 2.55 mile mark
  • N40 00.864 W105 40.685 — 3.15 miles : Caribou Pass - Arapaho Pass Trail split
  • N40 00.960 W105 40.523 — 3.4 miles : Trail apex; begin descent on switchbacks
  • N40 01.053 W105 40.557 — 3.75 miles : Travel down switchbacks
  • N40 01.121 W105 40.668 — 4.15 miles : Trail moderates on rolling valley floor
  • N40 01.329 W105 40.811 — 4.45 miles : Unmarked spur to Caribou Lake
  • N40 01.325 W105 40.906 — 4.65 miles : Caribou Lake

Worth Noting

  • The narrow switchbacks between Arapaho Pass and Caribou Lake may prove difficult to follow and safely descend with snow or ice. Call ahead for trail conditions.

  • Be mindful of changing weather and get below treeline before storms develop. Carry versatile layers, sun, and wind protection. Snow may linger on the trail through July and return by late September.

  • If time and weather permit, consider a side trip to Dorothy Lake, a relatively quick one mile roundtrip excursion from Arapaho Pass.

  • Binoculars are particular useful on this trail. Look for elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat in the open tundra during peak summer months.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.

  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

  • Campfires are prohibited east side of the Continental Divide, as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.

  • Camping is prohibited in the 4 Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.

  • Packstock are prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted at Caribou Lake with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

Caribou Lake is accessed from the Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, Colorado.

From downtown Nederland, go south on Highway 72 for .5 miles to County Road 130 and make a right. You will see a sign for Eldora Ski Resort at this junction. Continue on Highway 130 through the town of Eldora, just past which it becomes a dirt road (4 miles). Continue on the dirt road (past the Hessie Trailhead) another 4.8 miles and take the right fork at the Buckingham Campground up into the designated parking area. Though suitable for most 2WD cars in good condition, the road between the Hessie turnoff and Fourth of July Trailhead can be rough. High clearance vehicles are recommended.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Trail had moderate traffic, but most people do not make it past the Arapahoe fork where you split to visit Cariboo lake. Very well marked, little to no need for a map, but was strenuous. Took me 4.5 hrs to Cariboo and back with a lunch break, probably 4 hours hiking time. I'd expect most people to take 5+ hours as I was the fastest on the trail, at what I'd call a medium/slow pace. About 2800 feet of total elevation gain (you do 7-800 from Cariboo lake floor back to the Ridge). Very strong winds, Costant 60mph on Arapahoe pass Ridge, gusting to 80 with mostly sunny skies. Would recommend getting out a bit early as the Ridge take all wind from both valleys during a storm. Great hike, lots of water for filtering and good variety of scenes. Well maintained, expect snow in June on trail!"
Jon fast  -  Boulder, co  -  Date Posted: June 27, 2017
"great trail. i got to the 4th of July trailhead around 730 on a Saturday and only saw a couple people going up to the pass and down to the lake. amazing view at the top of ARapahoe Pass and the lake is really nice. the climb out of the basin is steep but not awful. i did this whole hike in about 3 hours, plus about a 20 minute break at the lake. maybe my favorite hike so far in Colorado"
steve  -  denver  -  Date Posted: August 22, 2016
"This is easily my favorite hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. So beautiful and JUST challenging enough. "
Eileen  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: February 18, 2013


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