Columbine Lake, Junco Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Columbine Lake - 6.8 miles

Junco Lake Trailhead

Grassy meadows on the south side of Columbine Lake (11,060')

Grassy meadows on the south side of Columbine Lake (11,060')

Round-Trip Length: 6.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,090' - 11,060' (11,076' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +970' net elevation gain (+1,220' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Columbine Lake - 6.8 Miles Round-Trip

Columbine Lake (11,060') is located 3.4 miles from Junco Lake Trailhead on the west side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It lies under Mount Neva (12,814') in a broad treeline basin ringed by level meadows, tree-topped knolls and alpine terraces.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Caribou Pass Trail rises gently along Meadow Creek to the Columbine Lake Trail, which turns SE on a moderately steep, shifting path to its source at the lake. Several large meadows along the way provide great views of Neva and places to camp.

The trail is well maintained and heavily traveled, though snow may linger into July and conceal quick, counter-intuitive turns on the Columbine Lake Trail segment.

A well-formed trail that doesn't appear on most maps continues .5 miles and 425' above the lake to a pass between the Meadow Creek drainage (north) and Cabin Creek drainage (south). Views are exceptional and worth the effort. 

The lake is shallow (8' max depth) and holds rainbow and cutthroat trout. Though not particularly large, most of the shore is accessible and anglers will find ample room apart from lunching day hikers.

Columbine Lake is a family-friendly destination that sees heavy traffic throughout the summer. Stay on designated trails and avoid trampling vegetation around the lake. Camping permits are required and limited. Fires are not permitted at Columbine Lake:

The trail begins on a rocky jeep road that steepens to an unmarked fork; keep left (1.0 mile : 10,350'). It rises to a large meadow at the Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary, past which dogs must be leashed (1.28 miles : 10,420').

The trail arcs around the meadow, veers left at a re-vegetation sign (1.55 miles) and switchbacks up to the Caribou Pass - Columbine Lake split (1.95 miles : 10,570').

The Columbine Lake Trail twists up to another large meadow (2.4 miles) and levels to a smaller meadow framed by a steep rock wall (2.7 miles : 10,750).

It turns right and crosses the meadow to join the creek, where it steepens on a shifty path through a high alpine forest to Columbine Lake (3.4 miles : 11,060').

To reach the pass, continue to the SW corner and look for a trail heading up. This unofficial but well-defined path winds steeply to a small saddle with stunning views over the Cabin Creek drainage (4.05 miles : 11,485').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 02.668 W105 43.923 — 0.0 miles : Junco Lake Trailhead
  • N40 02.389 W105 43.598 — .5 miles : Fast travel on rocky road bed
  • N40 02.075 W105 43.268 — 1.0 miles : Keep left at fork
  • N40 01.933 W105 43.070 — 1.28 miles : Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary
  • N40 01.820 W105 42.802 — 1.55 miles : Fork
  • N40 01.782 W105 42.530 — 1.95 miles : Columbine Lake - Caribou Pass Trail split
  • N40 01.549 W105 42.274 — 2.4 miles : Skirt meadow
  • N40 01.420 W105 42.091 — 2.7 miles : Cross meadow
  • N40 01.278 W105 42.182 — 2.9 miles : Steep, shifting trail
  • N40 01.148 W105 42.070 — 3.2 miles : Hop creek
  • N40 00.989 W105 41.910 — 3.5 miles : Far end of Columbine Lake
  • N40 00.943 W105 41.917 — 3.6 miles : Steep climb; look for cairns
  • N40 00.761 W105 41.983 — 3.85 miles : Steep climb up headwall
  • N40 00.733 W105 42.056 — 4.05 miles : Columbine - Cabin Creek Pass

Worth Noting

  • Get an early start to avoid crowds and secure choice campsites at the lake. Large, scenic meadows between the Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary and lake provide excellent places to camp apart from the crowds. 
  • Camp only in established sites in the Columbine Lake vicinity. Avoid trampling sensitive vegetation in outlying meadows and honor marked revegetation areas.

Camping and Backpacking Information

The Columbine Lake Trail passes through the Arapaho National Forest and Indian Peaks Wilderness. Camping rules are specific to each:

Backcountry Camping in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

  • Permits are required for backcountry camping in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, June 1 - Sept. 15. Permits are limited.
  • Permits are $5 per party. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) or Boulder Ranger District (303.541.2500) in advance to secure a permit.
  • Click here to download the Indian Peaks Wilderness Permit Application.

  • Permits must be picked up in person at either Ranger Station, or ordered in advance by mail. There is no online reservation system for permits.

  • 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 stock combined.

  • Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact. Camp at least 100' away from all trails, lakes and streams.

  • Fires are permitted in the Arapaho National Forest and within the Indian Peaks, however fires are not permitted at Columbine Lake. Additional seasonal and location-specific restrictions may apply, and will be posted at the trailhead. Fires are not permitted at or above treeline, or within 100' of any lake, trail or stream.

  • Falling trees are a potential hazard, especially in areas with high concentrations of beetle kill.

Backcountry Camping in the Arapaho National Forest

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Arapaho National Forest.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.

  • Campfires are permitted for dispersed backcountry camping, with potential seasonal and elevation restrictions.
  • Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact.

  • Camping is limited to 14 consecutive days in one location. After 14 days, the campsite must be moved a minimum of three miles.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted at Columbine Lake and along Meadow Creek with a valid Colorado fishing license.
  • Columbine Lake contains cutthroat and rainbow trout.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $5 day use fee to access the Junco Lake Trailhead. Use the self-service pay station on County Road 84, 6.3 miles from the turnoff from Highway 40. The pay station is on the left side of the road.
  • Pets must be leashed at all times within the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

The Junco Lake Trailhead is located 11 miles from Highway 40 on a spur just off County Road 84.

From Highway 40, turn onto County Road 83 at the sign for Meadow Creek | Devils Thumb Ranch. Turn left at forks for Indian Peaks access and County Road 84 (.4 miles and 1.2 miles from HWY 40, respectively).

Continue on CR 84 (Meadow Creek Road) to a short spur for the Junco Lake Trailhead (10.9 miles from HWY 40). This short spur is rough; park along the main road if lacking ample clearance.

Remember to pay the Day-Use Fee at the self-service pay station, which is 6.3 miles from Highway 40 on the left side of County Road 84.

County Road 84 (Meadow Creek Road) is an improved dirt road suitable for passenger cars in good condition, though high clearance vehicles are preferable.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
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.


"Drone footage of the top:"
JC  -  Granby  -  Date Posted: December 2, 2017
"This is one of the prettiest lakes in the Indian Peaks - I wish it wasn't such a long drive! I recommend heading up to the pass described in this article. It's not that difficult and so very worth it. Beautiful views."
Elizabeth O  -  Erie  -  Date Posted: July 23, 2017


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