“One of the most popular and worthwhile summits in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.”
— Tom Robson
Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Though somewhat difficult, this hike will prove a welcome challenge to most adventuresome children.
This route has it all - woods, meadows, waterfalls, views, wildflowers, and marmots. This is a classic hike and a must-do for visitors and Boulder County residents alike.
If you hope to have a parking spot at the upper trailhead (closest to the start of the hike) be sure to get an early start. Even though this area is harder to get to than the Hessie trailhead, it's still one of the most popular in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Need to Know
Lowered 2WD vehicles will have trouble making it up the Fourth of July Road, but take your time navigating the occasional pothole and singular medium-size rock and you will get there just fine in just about anything. For reference, Fiat 500s have been parked at the trailhead and can make it just fine. If in doubt, just park at the Hessie Trailhead and either hike or hitch a ride to the trailhead. You can also reach the Hessie Trailhead via shuttle from the RTD parking lot
If you're lucky enough to get a parking spot near the Fourth of July trailhead, navigate your way to the obvious start of the Arapaho Pass Trail
. the wooded, northern slope of the North Fork, Middle Boulder Creek drainage into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It eventually intersects with the Diamond Lake Trail
#975 before continuing onto the Fourth of July Mine (elevation 11,245 feet).
In June and early July, significant snowfields and high water crossings exist along portions of this trail. At the mine, the Arapaho Glacier Trail
#905 intersects. From here, the Arapaho Pass Trail
continues west 1.2 miles to Arapaho Pass (elevation 11,906 feet).
Instead of continuing onwards to Arapaho Pass proper, turn right at the sign for the Arapaho Glacier Trail
. The trail can be difficult to find at first look as it's set within a boggy area that could clearly become more hidden after heavy rain or during Spring snowmelt.
After navigating through the marsh, you'll find yourself ascending through sparse pine trees on generous switchbacks. Not too long after you notice the trees starting to thin, you'll be above treeline and the views of Mt. Neva and Mt. Jasper to the west will come into full swing.
Continue along the well worn trail and be sure to stop every now and again to absorb the views across the wildflower ensconced alpine meadows. After a little huffing and puffing, you'll finally reach some respite at South Arapaho's southwestern saddle. Stay left here, turning away from Arapaho Glacier Trail
's continuation, and begin the ascent of South Arapaho Peak Southeast Ridge
For the most part, this is a Class 2 ascent that most would consider a walk up. Be sure to stop and look across the Indian Peaks - the views here are amazing. On a clear day, you'll be able to see Longs Peak in all of its 14er glory. The push from this point is simply a matter of following cairns and slogging through some loose rock. If you're looking for something a little more adventurous, choose your own line to the top - it's all good.
At the summit (13,326') you'll have one of the best 360 views on the Front Range. To the north, you'll see Longs Peak. To the south, you'll see Winter Park Ski Resort and maybe even Pikes Peak. If you're unsure of what peak you're looking at, there is a sighting disk with most major peaks listed on it - a very useful tool!
Once you've had your fill of views, simply turn back around and head back the way you came. If you're still
in the mood for something a little more hardcore, you can traverse from South Arapaho to North Arapaho. Be aware, the traverse is considered a Class 4 traverse and proper precautions should be taken you'll most likely be climbing at some points.
Flora & Fauna
All of the wildflowers you could dream of and a few small stands of aspen. Additionally, we saw quite a few Marmots and some Pika.
History & Background
This trailhead is named "Fourth of July" because miners marked this claim on Independence Day 1872. You can see the mine itself just a little ways past the intersection of Arapaho Glacier Trail
and Arapaho Pass Trail
on Arapaho Pass Trail
. Take note of the very heavy
mining equipment they lugged up to this spot!