Caribou Lake via Arapaho Pass Trail

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Indian Peaks Wilderness

Caribou Lake via Arapaho Pass Trail is a 8.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Nederland, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from June until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 8.8 miles Elevation Gain: 2,601 feet Route Type: Out & Back

dogs on leash

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

nature trips

forest

lake

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

historic site

Users have reported that the road to access this trail head, Fourth of July Road, is subject to weather related closures. 4WD with high clearance is also highly recommended when the road is open. This hike takes the the Arapahoe Pass Trail from the Fourth of July Trail Parking lot over the Continental Divide and down into Caribou Lake. Caribou Lake is picturesque and feels very remote. The trail from the divide down into the Caribou Lake bowl is very "switchy." Looking back down in to the bowl from atop really gives you a sense of awe!

Still too much snow to make it the last mile ( give or take ) over the ridge and down to the lake.

hiking
7 months ago

Amazing hike! The switchback back up was a challenge but doable. We also saw a moose in the meadow!

hiking
8 months ago

I did this with Dorothy Lake! Last 1-2 miles downhill the rock & slim ridge is challenging, but it’s amazing and coming up looks daunting but you got this. I took my pup with me and we hit this before Dorothy. Def get to the TH no later than 7:15 on a wkd, it’s windy for sure and careful of your pups paws with the rocks - it’s no joke!

hiking
rocky
8 months ago

Hiked this trail Sunday, per reviews tried to get there after the 8am parking rush as the trailhead is quite the drive up a dirt road. Headed up around 1030, the park ranger at the bottom advised us parking at the top is full and would hate for us to go all the way up to have to turn around. We figured some of the morning hikers would be heading back so we’d just wait for a spot and we only waited about 30 mins for our parking spot. The trail is well marked and starts in a forest will lots of pines and aspens. The hike continues with small stream crossings and treks through green meadows with colorful wildflowers. The climb to caribou lake is steady and rocky, I wore my hiking boots and would highly recommend wearing ankle protecting shoes although there were many wearing just tennis shoes and seemed to do just fine. It is quite the climb up to the lake and cuts right across a mountain with no coverage, so it does get very windy by the end of the hike, good to pack a wind breaker. The views from the top of the mountain are spectacular, you can see mountain tops all around you and meadows and lakes below. Caribou lake is beautiful and surrounded by craggily rocks all around it. My earlier thoughts in the day of taking a dip in the lake were quickly brushed away as my hands felt like they were getting frost bitten just from testing the temperature of the water. For us the whole hike took 6 hours, this included a short picnic at the top, too windy this day to stop longer, and frequent , catch your breath, stops on the way up. The scenery is spectacular, especially from the top of the mountain. Would definitely come back to this area and do this hike again.

hiking
no shade
rocky
8 months ago

hiking
8 months ago

I hiked this trail yesterday (8/30) starting around 11:30. From start to finish was 5 hours and 40 minutes with a 30 break at the lake. I somehow missed the “obvious” turn off to Lake Dorothy and ended up at Caribou Lake. Other than my confusion, the hike was spectacular. The lower portion of the trail has meadows, shade and some stream crossings. The ascent is steady and not difficult. Once on the Arapahoe Pass Trail, the trail climbs to above tree line, and, not surprisingly, is rocky and windy. I suggested a windbreaker with a hood as I nearly lost my hat several times. Thank goodness for ponytails that catch hats! The descent into the lake basin is steep and winding with a few slippery spots. It isn’t anything to worry about unless you have an eager pupster pulling on the leash. (I’m not complaining though, she did a good job pulling me back up on the hike out.). The miniature alpine flowers were gorgeous and the wildflower meadows in the basin were in full bloom. Lots of picas barking in the rocks and some amazingly fast birds near the lake. Fortunately, the wind let up as I hiked down to the lake and the sun came out. Beautiful. Just a note on parking. I hike here frequently and parking is always an issue. I don’t even try to park at the trailhead on weekends. The parking also can be tight during the week but arriving 10:30-12:00 seems better than 7:00am. I think the early-birders have left by that time. The road is rough but any car with decent clearance driving slow can make it.

hiking
9 months ago

Super windy conditions this weekend but beautiful hike! Lost my Apple Watch on this trail on 8/17. If anyone happens to find it please reach out and let me know. ( phone number should show on screen when turned on) Thank you!

hiking
9 months ago

love this hike!! I couldn't make it all the way to caribou lake due to wind conditions. Be prepared for the wind it's no joke. Other than that, absolutely beautiful. There are colorful wildflowers everywhere!

hiking
9 months ago

we didnt end up getting to do this hike because every parking option was completely full. we got there by 7a so if you plan to hike this get there by no later than 530/6a on a weekend in the summer!

backpacking
bugs
no shade
9 months ago

Went for a 2 night backpacking trip. Sunscreen, and bug spray, are a must. A few water crossings but able to successfully cross with just hiking boots. Beautiful wildflowers. We saw moose, marmot and bear poop :)

hiking
9 months ago

First 2 miles of the trail are thru sloping fields blanketed in wild flowers. After that, the next mile or two are above tree line and you’re left quite exposed—sunscreen, hat and water are imperative. Once you’re at the crest, you’ll turn right to approach the rocky switch backs that will take you down to the basin where Caribou lake sits. Take in the views from up here as they are breath taking ! The lake itself is gorgeous.

hiking
11 months ago

I love this hike, but I'm mostly writing to disagree with others who have claimed that you need 4WD/AWD. YOU DON'T NEED 4WD/AWD if you have a) reasonable clearance and b) a willingness to drive slow. I've driven this road 3-4x in our FWD VW wagon with no issues. Trail itself is gorgeous. Great wildflowers in the spring, we've spotted a moose right around the tree line, and great views throughout of the valley.

snow
Sun Apr 21 2019

4th of July Road is still closed to vehicles because of snow cover, and snow shoes would've made traveling along it easier. After the 4 mile hike in to the campground/trailhead, the trail was impossible to find without GPS, and passage beyond the campground wasn't feasible without snowshoes at this time. I'll definitely come back later this summer to try again.

hiking
Fri Sep 07 2018

- need suv/4wd to reach trailhead if you don't want to walk miles along the dirt access road. - expect and be prepared for sudden changes in weather. as we re-summited the pass to return back, we were caught in a lightning/hail storm while totally exposed on the ridge. not fun (in the moment, anyway). have a plan in mind. the storm passed pretty quickly but things could've been way worse. - this is an absolutely spectacular hike, and a nice challenge. save some energy to switch back up out of the bowl if you choose to descend to the lake (which you should).

hiking
Wed Sep 05 2018

As some folks have said, the drive-up to the trailhead needs a vehicle with clearance. The parking may be tight, and the path to get to the upper-lot... really needs clearance :) The hike starts as woods, and soon turns into a carved-in shelf type of hike that follows the ridge. You cross some waterfall streams, and the trail soon opens up and widens for a while before turning into a carved-in shelf along a rock garden. It's almost otherworldly as you arrive past tree line and see the trail continue along the rock garden as far as your eye can see... perched on the side of the mountain, a thin ledge for you to walk along. I was actually kind of glad to see some other hikers in the distance. At times the drop is steep and the shelf is narrow, but it's never harrowing. That is, until you encounter a few spots on the switchbacks going down to the lake if you choose to do that ;) I did, and I almost didn't. Tips: Go slowly. Lean uphill. Going uphill is naturally easier (in terms of sketchiness, not effort!), so rest easy that it won't get worse as you white knuckle it down. If you feel like you might slip, don't feel bad if you lean uphill with a hand until you reorient. I made it back up the switchbacks in 35 minutes. I was a bit spent, but honestly, it's not as tiring as some people seem to be saying. Keep an eye on the weather. This is one of the few hikes I've done where "getting out" requires you to re-summit and cross a major pass. The thunder started just as I got below treeline ~1pm. I could see dark clouds forming as I came back-up the switchbacks and it was disconcerting for sure. All-in-all, the views are quite grand, and if you can get past the drive-in, parking, and "hiking on a shelf" thing... it's good!

fishing
Mon Sep 03 2018

This was absolutely spectacular. The hike up to the continental divide wasn't too difficult, just very rocky. Going down the switchbacks to Caribou Lake is a breeze, but going up was extremely difficult. Overall it took me about 2.5 hours to do the entire trek in, and that was with frequent stops to take pictures or admire the wildlife (there's about 4 million pikas and alpine chipmunks. I also saw a handful of marmots and they were yelling at a coyote. On the way back I saw a large bull moose near the trailhead). Parking is fine if you get there around 6am, but I would guess it gets really busy around 9. The lake itself was gorgeous, and if you're fishing they'll hit any caddis pattern size 14 and smaller. I caught a few fish around 15 inches, and saw two others that were probably around 20 (not exaggerating). Be prepared for a passing rain shower or thunderstorm, and frequent wind direction switches and strong gusts. In addition, it's going to be about 20 degrees cooler than it is in Nederland, so be prepared. Pack gloves and an extra jacket. It's worth the extra weight to have a great time!

hiking
Sun Sep 02 2018

We had an amazing time on this hike! We showed up by 6am and were rewarded with great parking. The hike was full of views and creaks and great for dogs. There were great places to explore at the top including glaciers!

hiking
Mon Aug 27 2018

YOU NEED A 4WD/AWD VEHICLE. I didn’t know this and drive my Dodge Avenger and the road to the trail head was a 30 min nightmare. I made it down and back, no damage but would never do it again. The hike on the other hand was just incredible. We started hiking about 6:45a on Saturday (no issues parking) and basically had the entire trail to ourselves. The views were spectacular. I loved this hike and am anxious to do other in the Indian Peaks!

backpacking
Sat Aug 18 2018

This place is gorgeous and that means anywhere in Colorado you will always expecting the parking lot around TH will be full before 6am on weekend, so even if you have a godly level of entitlement you should be ready to do an extra walk if you wake up late, unless you're chosen to be lucky. Well maintained trail and doable in the dark. Amazing view from Arapahoe Pass to any directions. My wife and I camped at Caribou Lake. We got what we want: stunning views and a great peaceful weekend.

hiking
Mon Aug 13 2018

I actually ended up hiking this path while trying to find Dorothy Lake, but am very happy I found this gem. If you’re brave enough to descend the mountain, there is a beautiful valley that you’ll likely get all to yourself. There were only a couple of birds in the area – otherwise it was completely silent and still. The trees and lake in the valley are pristine. Bring a blanket and enjoy a picnic to enjoy the valley. You’ll want your energy for the hike back up the trail. It’s a series of very steep switchbacks with quite a bit of wind and sun exposure. All in all, it took about 6 hours for two semi-experienced hikers to hike the entire trail to Caribou Lake. While it’s a challenge to climb up and endure the return walk after the valley, the trail is rewarding. Bring plenty of water.

hiking
Tue Jul 24 2018

Did this last Saturday. We got to the trail head around 9:30am. Parking was sparse, but it wasn't a "parking emergency" as someone had previously stated. I'd recommend an AWD/4WD for the road (or at least a car with decent ground clearance), but I saw a couple of sedans that managed to make it up, so it's not impossible. If you get to the trail head past 9am, expect to add at least a quarter of a mile to your hike due to parking further down the trail head. The hike is absolutely gorgeous. We were lucky to go when the wild flowers were in full bloom. The views were unreal and kept getting better every minute. Once you reach the top of the pass, you're greeted with 360 degree views of the landscape. You'll have the choice to make the descent down to Caribou lake, which is essentially a series of steep switch backs. When we first reached the initial descent trail, our first thoughts were "man, this is going to suck coming back up." However, we proceeded on. The trail wasn't too bad going down. The view at the lake is absolutely breathtaking, and does feel slightly remote- a nice change of pace from the pretty populated trail. After the lake, we started back up the seemingly vertical 1200ft ascent to the top of the pass. The ascent back up took around 45 minutes and was definitely not easy. However, unless you're sprinting it, it really isn't that bad. You'll definitely get a workout in, but the views at the lake are 100% worth the 1200ft descent/ascent from the pass.

Mon Jul 09 2018

Bring your big boy (or girl) pants for this one! Sketchy trail down to Caribou lake but you'll be rewarded with the most scenic Oasis in Mount Mordor. You'll have it to yourself and few others because everyone has to make that conscious decision to actually trek down the mountain to the lake, I'd say 80 percent say hell no. Lots of trout, flowers and just beautiful surroundings. We loved this place until we had to make the long trek back, it's a tough one. I already complained about the train wreck of a dirt road car pile up on the lake Dorothy page, I won't repeat.

Sat Jul 07 2018

The hike itself is exceptional. This review relates directly to parking logistics and the dangers currently present at the top of Fourth of July trailhead. By 10 A.M., more than 200 cars were parked illegally, stopping all incoming and outbound hiking car traffic on the road. Local residents were running around screaming at folks who parked on the side of the road, blocking traffic. It took more than an hour and a game of musical trails to ensure we could make it off the mountain this morning. Parking logistics are at an emergency status on this trail. Park services must take action now.

hiking
Thu Jun 14 2018

Trail is in pretty good condition as of June 14. There are still a few small snowfields covering some of the well-made switchback trail down to the lake from the top of the pass, but they are manageable.

hiking
Mon Jun 04 2018

As of June 2nd, about half of the trail is still covered in snow. I would recommend bringing yak tracks or micro spikes along with you to ensure you don't slip when hiking over the hard-pack snow. Hiking boots with proper ankle support is key (I don't know how many people I saw trying to do this hike in gym shoes). To get to the trailhead you must drive roughly 4 miles down a dirt road. I would recommend getting there early as this trail gets very busy by 10am. The hike itself is very beautiful and somewhat challenging. The vertical is gradual, instead of switchbacks. About halfway through the trail turns more or less into a goat trail, so take your time as it is pretty sketchy. The views from the lake and by the pass are absolutely stunning, albeit a bit windy. I would highly recommend this hike for anyone looking for a challenging hike and to avoid the craziness in other National Parks.

hiking
Mon Aug 28 2017

Awesome hike! Unfortunately, too many people agree, so expect a ton of traffic on 4th of July Rd and the rest of the trail until it breaks off for diamond lake. The further you go, the less traffic. I wouldn't dare hike this area over a weekend, unless there's lots of snow and traffic's thinned.

Sun Aug 20 2017

Such a great hike with beautiful views. It's definitely a great workout.

hiking
Fri Jun 30 2017

I did this more as an accident. I meant to go to Dorothy Lake but ended up here instead. It was a great mistake. I had the entire valley around the lake to myself. Huge Greenback Cutthroat in the lake and Arapaho Creek! getting there was not difficult, but getting back was tough. The switchbacks up to the pass wore me out. The wind gusts were strong and knocked me into the side of the mountain a couple times. Views were stunning at all times with many areas of wild flowers. Marmots and Picas running all around too. There were only a few snow fields that required crossing on the back side headed down to the lake. Wet and muddy around the lake.

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