Upper Diamond Lake, Fourth of July Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Upper Diamond Lake - 8.1 miles
Fourth of July Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||8.1 miles (distance will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,172' - 11,738' (11,758' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,566' net elevation gain (+2,380' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Upper Diamond Lake - 8.1 Miles Round-Trip
Upper Diamond Lake (11,738') is located in a slender cirque under Mt Jasper (12,923') in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. While Diamond Lake is among the area's most popular destinations, few hikers look past or above it to this seldom-visited lake.
No trail leads to Upper Diamond Lake, nor is it intuitively reached by following Diamond Lake's inlet - it lies in an adjacent drainage. Cross-country travel and good navigation skills are required.
There are several viable routes: the most efficient one follows the Diamond Lake Trail to meadows just before the lake, then veers off on a steep push through treeline to intercept UDL's outlet, which leads across expansive meadows right to the lake.
Terrain is fairly moderate, save several steep pitches and tangled patches of willow and krummholz. Travel eases considerably above treeline across airy meadows laced with streams and tarns. While Upper Diamond Lake is exceptional, the alpine approach is arguably the most scenic part of the route.
Only experienced hikers should attempt Upper Diamond Lake. Proficiency with maps, compass and/or GPS is required to safely reach and descend from the lake. Distances will vary by route. Avoid trampling sensitive alpine vegetation and walk on rocks whenever possible to minimize impact.
The route described here travels about 1.6 miles and 800' (vertical) off-trail, each way. Much of this time is spent above treeline and travel can be slow, even when terrain is mild. Get an early start to avoid storms and allow plenty of time for the descent:
The Arapaho Pass Trail rises past the Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary (.4 miles : 10,385') with a good look at Diamond Lake's outlet-waterfall across the valley.
It narrows across the midsection of a steep cascade (1 mile : 10,650') to the Diamond Lake Trail split (1.15 miles : 10,752').
The Diamond Lake Trail turns south and drops to a bridge over North Fork Middle Boulder Creek (1.7 miles : 10,602'). It levels through a damp, rooted area (1.85 miles) and turns sharply uphill in a north-facing forest. This steep, twisting segment may be obstructed by deadfall and snow well into summer.
The trail emerges from timber and levels across a large, damp meadow just before reaching Diamond Lake (2.45 miles : 10,940'). It's important to have a good understanding of the route from this point.
You'll need to head NW out of the Diamond Lake basin to intercept UDL's outlet in the adjacent drainage. Finding it is key to reaching the lake.
Leave the trail here (GPS Point #8) and cross the meadow to the far side (2.6 miles).
Weave through patchy forest and turn up steep, boulder-strewn slopes with great views over Diamond Lake and across the valley to the Arapaho Pass Trail (2.95 miles : 11,250'). Grades moderate into thick krummholz, which you'll have to punch through to reach more open terrain along UDL's outlet.
Navigation is much easier once along the creek (3.2 miles : 11,390' | GPS #12), though you'll have to clear some willow before emerging by a tarn in postcard-like meadows (3.35 miles : 11,540').
UDL's location is now obvious, and travel eases across expansive meadows to a perennial snowfield just below the lake (3.75 miles : 11,580 | GPS #14). Scale the snow or scramble up talus on either side.
The right (north) side is subjectively preferable. Once above you'll crest through a talus field and drop to Upper Diamond Lake (4.05 miles : 11,738').
Keep close track of your route and mark / record as many points as possible. While you'll have some directional latitude on the way up, the descent back to Diamond Lake must be more precise - especially through willow and krummholz that can obfuscate your original path.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N39 59.714 W105 38.052 — 0.0 miles : Fourth of July Trailhead
- N40 00.036 W105 38.346 — .55 miles : Begin switchbacks
- N40 00.197 W105 38.616 — 1.0 miles : Cross mid-section of steep falls
- N40 00.252 W105 38.785 — 1.15 miles : Arapaho Pass Trail junction
- N40 00.191 W105 39.234 — 1.7 miles : Bridge over N. Fork Middle Boulder Creek
- N40 00.102 W105 39.142 — 1.85 miles : Marshy travel beyond creek crossing
- N39 59.859 W105 38.979 — 2.25 miles : Steep climb to lake
- N39 59.727 W105 38.926 — 2.45 miles : Leave trail for meadow
- N39 59.696 W105 39.085 — 2.6 miles : Far end of meadow
- N39 59.701 W105 39.181 — 2.75 miles : Pick through alpine glades
- N39 59.696 W105 39.292 — 2.93 miles : Steep climb
- N39 59.613 W105 39.472 — 3.17 miles : Cross and follow creek
- N39 59.547 W105 39.620 — 3.35 miles : Level across alpine tundra meadows
- N39 59.478 W105 40.002 — 3.75 miles : Begin final steep climb
- N39 59.504 W105 40.274 — 4.05 miles : Upper Diamond Lake
Camping and Backpacking Information
- 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.
- 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+stock combined.
- Campfires are prohibited east of the Continental Divide in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (including Diamond Lake), as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls on the west side of the Divide.
- Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Travel Zones.
- Camping is prohibited in the 4 Lakes Travel Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.
- Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.
- Packstock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.
- Fishing is permitted at Diamond Lake and Upper Diamond Lake with a valid Colorado fishing license. Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brook Trout are stocked.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Directions to Trailhead
Upper Diamond Lake is accessed from the Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, CO.
From downtown Nederland, go south on Highway 72 for .5 miles to County Road 130 and make a right. You'll see a sign for Eldora Ski Resort at this junction. Continue on Highway 130 through the town of Eldora, just past which it becomes a dirt road (4 miles).
Continue on the dirt road (past the Hessie Trailhead) another 4.8 miles and take the right fork at the Buckingham Campground up into the designated parking area. The road between Hessie and Fourth of July Trailhead is rough. High clearance vehicles are recommended.
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301