With the abundance of amazing backpacking in Colorado, it can sometimes be too easy to forget that there is supreme alpine scenery so close that isn’t part of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Indian Peaks Wilderness just south of Rocky Mountain National Park is a local favorite destination for hiking, camping, and snowshoeing with seven peaks over 13,000 feet and countless places to explore. Originally established in 1978, the area was originally populated by Native American tribes, specifically the Arapaho tribe until the late 1800s when mining activity began.
Thankfully for us now, little viable material was able to be mined, so the development of the high country for mining operations was abandoned.
Several roads were constructed, including Rollins Pass Road that was built as a temporary road until the Mallet Tunnel was built. In 1955 the road was opened to automobiles for public use, but this was closed due to rockfall in the Needle Eye tunnel in 1979. The pass is still accessible from the west side, where many hiking trails along the Continental Divide are available. Backcountry camping permits can be obtained by mail or in person at the Nederland or Boulder Ranger offices, but no phone or online options are available.
In the valleys and the high country a wide variety of wildflowers can be viewed from late spring through late summer. There is a huge variety that includes red Indian paintbrush, yellow sulphurflowers (Eriogonum umbellatum), yellow golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa), and the unique Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia caerulea). These are best viewed from the middle of June through early July depending on the elevation.
This is a very popular route that uses the Continental Divide passes by Rollins Pass and originates from the Hessie Trailhead just west of Nederland. The hike begins by climbing toward Devils Thumb Lake, passing several turnoffs toward Woodland Lake and Diamond Lake before passing directly by the shore of Jasper Lake. Forested for much of the climb, the shade can hold snow below treeline well into July. Above the trees, most snow will be gone by late June barring late snowstorms in May. After camping near Devils Thumb Lake around 11,000 feet, a short climb to the High Lonesome Trail along the Continental Divide will close out much of the remaining elevation gain for the loop. The final 10 feet to 20 feet of the climb can require going over a very steep snowfield until mid-July and should be taken with caution.
Turn left once you've reached the ridge and enjoy sweeping panoramas for several miles while heading south toward Rollins Pass. This part of the hike is very wide and straightforward while making your way south. Be sure to turn around occasionally to look at Arapaho Peaks in the distance. Just before getting to Rollins Pass, take a left toward Kings Lake and descend into the valley. A mixture of forest and meadows blooming with wildflowers lead you along the creek back toward the intersection near the start of the trail. Return the way you came back to your vehicle, depending on whether you used the busy paved lot or the less trafficked four-wheel drive parking area. Make sure to arrive either very early or in the afternoon due to the high volume of cars at this parking area; a free shuttle from Nederland helps alleviate this issue.