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Rainbow Lake

  4.7 ( 6 ) Favorite


8.5 mile 13.7 kilometer out and back


Ascent: 1,376' 419 m
Descent: -1,376' -419 m
High: 9,969' 3,038 m
Low: 8,745' 2,666 m


Avg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 27% (15°)


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Trail shared by Rafi Wilkinson


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An incredible hike up to spectacular Rainbow Lake!

Rafi Wilkinson

Features Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers

No motorized vehicles or bicycles within the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.


A great hike up to the spectacular Rainbow Lake. The hike will be considered moderate to easy by seasoned hikers, but is a nice challenge for flat landers from out of state.

Need to Know

No access fee. The trailhead is located at the end of County Road 22A. The dirt road well maintained. There is parking for 10-12 cars. There are no restrooms or potable water source.


The hike to Rainbow Lake follows a portion of Rainbow Lake Trail #1130, which runs from the Rainbow Lake trailhead to its terminus with the Wyoming Trail #1101 (Continental Divide Trail). From the trailhead, the trail starts through a mixed forest with moderate to severe lodgepole pine beetle kill. Many of these trees have been cut down. The trail is wide enough for ATV's at this point.

The trail will cross the Grizzly Helena Trail #1126 and enter the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. At this point, the trail will narrow into well-maintained singletrack following a ridgeline. The views get better and better as the trail steadily gains elevation. The iconic rock formation Rabbit Ears will be visible in the distance to the south. The other interesting thing to notice is that almost all the trees to the south are aspen and all the trees to the north are conifers. The trail almost perfectly splits the two.

About two miles in the trail will leave the ridge and run along the northern slope of the ridge. You'll come across a stream crossing that is easy to navigate (at least in August). Lower and Middle Rainbow Lake will be to your right but you'll not see them. At roughly three miles in the trail will flatten out and Rainbow Lake will come into view. The trail skirts the lake to the south and you'll have to leave the trail in order the explore the lake. Norris Creek between Rainbow and Middle Rainbow Lake is really pretty with a waterfall. The views are fantastic with snow on the peaks in the distance. The lake valley can be quite breezy.

Rainbow Lake is a fantastic place for lunch and a quick rest before heading back.

History & Background

Rainbow Lake lies within the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. The wilderness area was created in 1964 and is 160,000 acres in size.

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We need help with the following missing trail information:

Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Flora & Fauna


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Jul 13, 2018
Sean Dillon
Jun 30, 2018
Mike Amolsch
Jun 30, 2018
Matt Latimer
Jul 8, 2017
Luke Snow
4.5mi — 2h 00m
May 7, 2017

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 6 votes


  4.7 from 6 votes
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in Colorado


297 Views Last Month
7,855 Since Feb 9, 2016



The shore of Upper Rainbow Lake.
Feb 10, 2016 near Steambo…, CO
Getting close to Rainbow Lake. Always great to see snow in the summer.
Feb 10, 2016 near Steambo…, CO
Upper Rainbow Lake looking down the valley.
Feb 10, 2016 near Steambo…, CO
A waterfall cascades between the two lakes.
Jul 10, 2017 near Steambo…, CO
The sun rises over camp on the Rainbow Lake Trail.
Jul 10, 2017 near Steambo…, CO
Looking at Middle Rainbow Lake in the distance.
Feb 10, 2016 near Steambo…, CO


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