Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Diamond Lake; Fourth of July Trailhead, Eldora Colorado

Waterfall at bottom of trail before going uphill
The Fourth of July Trailhead has been on my hiking 'to-do' list all year long; I had tried to hike here a few months ago, but ended up at the Eldora ski area, Jenny Creek trail, after forgetting my directions.  Yesterday I had my directions and I was ready to hike; as I drove up Coal Creek Canyon I chuckled to myself, 'this has been the summer of the Indian Peaks Wilderness,'  because I have spent more time hiking in this wilderness than anywhere else this summer.  It's only about an hour to an hour and a half drive to most trailheads in the wilderness and it offers lots of different scenery and really big mountains.  
The Fourth of July trailhead is known for it's waterfalls, wildflowers and snow!  It's been said that you can't hike the Fourth of July trail until July because of the deep snow that doesn't melt until the middle of the summer; or because the trail looks like fireworks on the 4th with all the wildflowers lining the trail.  Either way, the trail is beautiful and it's worth the drive up the bumpy road to reach this unique area.   

Getting there:  It took just under an hour and a half to reach the trailhead from my home near Golden, Colorado.  Drive toward Nederland and just outside of Nederland take a left turn at Hwy 130/Eldora Road west  toward the Eldora ski resort (also toward High School); continue on this road for 3 miles to the town of Eldora.  Do not take the fork in the road which takes you to the ski resort.   Drive through the town of Eldora, (watch your speed) to the end of town, where the road turns to dirt.  This is Fourth of July Road; continue on this road for 5 miles when it dead ends at the parking lot for the trailhead. 
Runoff from Diamond Lake & hike destination
The road is bumpy, but does not require a 4wd vehicle and there were numerous cars at the parking lot; it took me about 25 minutes from the town of Eldora to the trailhead due to the slow, bumpy road.  Click here to see google map of area.   
Specs:  There is a pit toilet at the parking lot, which is also parking for Buckingham Campground, a primitive campground with just a few sites.  
The trail to Diamond Lake is stated as 2 miles per the sign, however I estimate it's closer to 2.5 miles after hiking it and reading some other information regarding the trail. 

The Journey:  I was ready to hit the trail when I made it to the parking lot before 8am; I quickly used the pit toilet, put on my pack and got the dogs leashed up.  It was just 44 degrees as I started up the shady trail and I was glad that I had brought mittens and my headband ear warmer, as well as the 4 layers of shirts that I quickly began to shed.  The sun hadn't risen above the mountains yet and it was a little dark under the canopy of trees, but I really enjoy hiking early in the morning and it felt great.  The trail has a path of boards to walk on in numerous places, I thought it must be really wet here in the early summertime.  Walking on the boards reminds me of hiking in Michigan near the shores of the Great Lakes.
Looking back at Diamond Lake, wildflowers line the trail
As the trees part, you can see a large waterfall across the valley falling from high up on the mountain, that waterfall is the runoff from Diamond Lake, my hiking destination.  At about .7 of a mile, the trees part and give you a straight on view of the waterfall and surrounding Indian Peaks Wilderness.  
Along the trail there are numerous other waterfalls that were still running fairly high in mid-August and the wildflowers grow rampantly beside the waterfalls making the photography shots pretty amazing!   The trail continues gradually up the mountain until you reach a trail split with a sign pointing left toward Diamond Lake.  Shortly after the sign, the trail starts downhill and you hike all the way to the bottom of the valley to the main river, before regaining this elevation to hike up to the lake.  When you reach the bottom of the trail at the river, look to your right and see a very large waterfall (top photo above), I stopped here and took several shots before continuing up the trail.  There is one bridge that is broken, but still usable, once you reach this bridge the trail splits again with no sign, keep left here and follow the main trail up the mountain.  Due to the scenic area, there are many small side trails that can distract from the main trail; the main trail is wide and rocky with numerous bridges and boards, keep this in mind if you find yourself on one of the scenic trails.  
Diamond Lake from above
After the large waterfall, it took about 30 more minutes of hiking uphill before coming out to a beautiful sunny meadow full of wildflowers before you reach the lake.  Diamond Lake is a very large lake by Colorado standards and truly beautiful; even though I have hiked all over Colorado, I still gasped at the scenery in front of me when I first saw the lake.  
There are 10 back-country campsites and signs direct the camper where to camp, only camp in designated areas.  I had my dogs off the leash as we hiked past the lake so that I could snap photos along the way and happened to run into a forest ranger who apparently patrols the lake-shore.  He scolded me about the dogs being off-leash, but fortunately didn't give me a ticket, and I noticed he patrolled the lake the entire time I was there, so be aware of this if you are in the area.  
If I thought there were lots of wildflowers along the trail, it was nothing compared to the fields of flowers surrounding the lake; sunflowers, daisies, orange paintbrush, snapdragons, parry's bellflower and lots more.  
I continued to hike beside the lake to the far end of the lake, and then hiked up the trail above the lake to the wilderness beyond.  There is another high altitude lake past Diamond Lake, but I wasn't able to find it, so I turned around to go back to the lake for some lunch.  I picked out a bluff overlooking Diamond Lake and ate my cheese and crackers with the dogs while we checked out the scenery.  It was only about 10:30am at this time, so I decided to continue to hike around to the other side of the lake to a great viewpoint where I snapped some more pics and then decided to call it a day around 11am when I started back down the trail.  
Views along the trail on hike back
The sun was high in the sky and I got pretty warm as I walked back in my t-shirt and hiking pants; several other hikers came up the trail as I was hiking down and they asked me a lot of questions regarding the trails in the area; I often get have lots of people stop me to chat, maybe it's because I am a solo female and seem easy to talk to.  I made it back to my car about 12:30; making this a 4 hour hike for about 6 miles round trip with the additional mileage walking past the lake up the mountain on the far side.  
It was a fairly easy trail to hike with some elevation gain and loss but nothing major with no shortage of beautiful scenery along the way.   I highly recommend coming to this trail in late July when all the flowers are in bloom and waterfalls are at their peak.  
Click on map below to get personal directions to trailhead and if you'd like to be updated with other hikes in this area and surrounding areas, click here to join our mailing list.  

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  1. I just stumbled on your blog the other day when looking for a new hike I love it! I live in the golden/lakewood area and enjoy hiking, your blog is motivating me to find new places to go. I have lots of weekdays open if you ever want a hiking buddy. My blog is a little old now but you can check me out I am not a crazy stalker lady... Looking forward to reading about your trails and hike reviews!

  2. I am so glad you found my little blog and it was helpful to you :) i continue to hike and update each week, so keep checking back!
    In my 'spare' time i also work at a local hospital in oncology, i like the hospital review idea.

  3. I would be down for some hikes this fall for sure!

  4. Steve H ( 21, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    I'm 58. As a Boy Scout in 1967, 1968, my Troup went up into the area around the 4th of July Trail. The first time my brother and I took canned spaghetti for our rained and we couldn't heat it. Our tent was two old military ponchos (WWII surplus) snapped together. One year we made our own rope and built a rope bridge across the N. Fork Middle Boulder Creek. My last and happiest memory was going up near the mine with my older brother. We found a wooden box from dynamite with the top missing, and scared my mother to death when we came home an announced we found, "3/4 a dynamite box!" He left for the service after that trip and our relationship was never the same. A part of my soul still lives in that area of the mountains, and I dream of the day I can return. Thanks so much for your blog, and the picture of the waterfall...I still remember my climbs around it....and it brings tears to see it again!

  5. Thanks for posting Steve, what great memories! While the times have changed, the mountains sure haven't ~ Hopefully you can make it back someday!

  6. Been to diamond lake plenty of times as a kid. Great trout fishing and breath taking views. I live in the boulder area so will be making a visit up there shortly.

  7. I want to take my two boys and surprise my husband Saturday (day before Father's Day) with a half day hike. What time do you think we would have to reach the parking lot by to actually get parking. If we arrived later in the morning, say 11am, is there other options for parking?

    1. I have only been to Diamond Lake during the weekday, not on the weekends. But this is a beautiful time of the year to hike there! TONS OF WILDFLOWERS! Laura, if you do go, please post your parking information for the readers if you don't mind!

    2. I have hiked the Fourth of July trail many times in the past, but haven't been up for over 7 years (sad, I know). My wife and I arrived around 9:30am yesterday. We found a parking spot easily after bouncing along the dirt road for a few miles. But, we did not have to make that drive. There are free shuttles now at Nederland High School. I don't know how long they have been available, but it is certainly a nice option. Hopefully they are available on the weekdays as well.

    3. Thanks for the information Hugh, I googled it and came up with this. Looks pretty convenient!

      Laura, hope your hike went well!

    4. Hi, Thanx for the site for the free parking, so helpful! Looking forward to going up tomorrow!

  8. I live in Golden Gate Canyon and love local hikes. So glad I ran across your blog! You have awsome pics!