Why we love it: This trail alternates between ascents and descents, giving you short breaks for air between thigh-busting sessions of switchbacks.
When to go: As with any good high altitude adventure you’ll want to start early. Pack yourself a power lunch to each beside the lake, then make it back down before thunder clouds start shaking things up.
As a recent Midwest transplant I was eager to accomplish my first alpine expedition as a definitive Colorado resident. I knew anything I did would knock out my lungs and leave my thighs begging for mercy, but I needed a dose of that Rocky Mountain High. So, when several companions mentioned a trip up to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I impolitely invited myself, dusted off my stiff leather hiking boots, and headed out for my first trek as an official Boulderite.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness area has more than 76,000 acres and 110 miles of trail, which provide plenty of choose-your-own adventures. Study a topographic map before you head out to select the right route for you. We launched from the famous Fourth of July trailhead and took our trek up Caribou Pass, (4.2 miles, one way).
From the trailhead, you'll pass pine trees and miniature snowmelt streams. Above the treeline, you'll have sweeping views of the surrounding peaks. The trail levels out as it moves northwest towards Arapahoe Pass. There are lots of small stream crossings, and sections of extremely rocky terrain in this area, so be sure to wear waterproof boots with full ankle coverage.
At the top, I peeled off my boots, soaked my soles in an ice-cold alpine lake, and nibbled on a smooshed sandwich. With the sun on my face and mountains all around, I knew exactly why I, like so many desperate Midwesterners before me, had moved to Colorado: that Rocky Mountain High.
Getting there: From Nederland, head south on Colorado Highway 119 for 0.6 miles. Turn west onto County Road 130 towards Eldora. Follow the paved road through town, until the pavement ends. Then proceed on the unpaved road until you reach the designated parking area.