Caribou Pass, Junco Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Caribou Pass - 6.8 miles

Junco Lake Trailhead

Looking north across Caribou Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Looking north across Caribou Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Round-Trip Length: 6.8 miles (add 1.5 miles roundtrip to Lake Dorothy)
Start-End Elevation: 10,090' - 11,851' (11,809' at sign just below pass)
Elevation Change: +1,761' net elevation gain (+1,870' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Caribou Pass - 6.8 Miles Round-Trip

Caribou Pass (11,851') is located 3.4 miles from Junco Lake Trailhead along the Caribou Lake cirque rim between the Arapaho Creek and Meadow Creek drainages. It spans broad, sloping meadows just over a precipitous drop into the lake basin with exceptional views down each valley, and along the Continental Divide.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Caribou Pass Trail runs moderately to the Columbine Lake Trail split, then steepens incrementally through treeline to the pass. It continues around the cirque and along the Divide to Lake Dorothy (12,061') and Arapaho Pass (11,906').

The segment between Caribou Pass and Dorothy is stunning, but runs across a few narrow catwalks etched into the upper cirque rim that can be treacherous with snow and uncomfortable for some. Lake Dorothy is .75 miles from the pass and well worth the effort if weather and conditions allow:

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 Columbine Lake Trail split (1.95 miles : 10,570').

The Caribou Pass Trail veers left and steepens to the base of meadows at 2.15 miles (10,775'), 2.6 miles (11,070') and 2.78 miles (11,210'). It climbs steadily through treeline to a rickety wooden post marking Caribou Pass (3.4 miles : 11,809').

The true pass is located a few steps ahead along the rim (11,851') over Caribou Lake. Rim edges and cornices can be unstable - keep a safe distance and pets and children under control.

The trail continues SE up to a switchback (3.55 miles : 11,850'), which swings back to and just inside the cirque rim. Here it narrows on a path etched high into the cirque wall and rises to open tundra along the Continental Divide and Lake Dorothy (4.15 miles : 12,061').

A minor scramble at approximately 3.7 miles can be unsettling for some, especially with snow or ice. Use good judgment and avoid slide-prone rocks.

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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 01.823 W105 42.299 — 2.15 miles : Run along base of meadow
  • N40 01.744 W105 42.023 — 2.45 miles : Steady climb in patchy forest
  • N40 01.454 W105 41.687 — 2.95 miles : Steep push thru treeline
  • N40 01.260 W105 41.600 — 1.25 miles : Steady climb above treeline
  • N40 01.170 W105 41.459 — 3.37 miles : Caribou Pass sign
  • N40 01.091 W105 41.503 — 3.52 miles : Switchback toward rim
  • N40 01.108 W105 41.364 — 3.65 miles : Tricky scramble along rim wall
  • N40 00.979 W105 41.177 — 3.9 miles : Moderate along rim wall
  • N40 00.854 W105 40.996 — 4.15 miles : Lake Dorothy

Camping and Backpacking Information

The Columbine Lake and Caribou Pass trails pass 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.

  • There are no designated backcountry campsites along the Caribou Pass Trail. Dispersed camping only. 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

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