The Indian Peaks Wilderness is home to seven peaks over 13,000 feet of elevation. Each are quite special to climb, and one of the most scenic and accessible to the non-mountaineer is certainly South Arapaho Peak. Sitting high at 13,397 feet, the summit of South Arapaho Peak rises dramatically above the southern half of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. As the southernmost 13er in the Indian Peaks, you need to go 12 miles south as the crow flies to find another 13er and a whopping 24 miles southwest to find Pettingell Peak, the next higher mountain. With that, you have a wonderful comparison of views with towering peaks rising above South Arapaho peak to the north, and to the south a sea of peaks that seem to be dwarfed by where you’re standing.
Beginning at the 4th of July Trailhead, which can be fairly tricky to reach in a low-clearance vehicle, follow signs to the Arapaho Pass Trail and immediately dive into the trees. Your first intersection at 1.1 miles will take you on a sharp right turn to avoid continuing to Diamond Lake. Keep with the Arapaho Pass Trail until the 2-mile mark, where you’ll reach an open field where the old 4th of July Mine, which was named for the day the claim was laid, existed from 1872 to 1937.
From the mine, turn right onto the Arapaho Glacier Trail and begin climbing up out of the trees. A balcony trail will switchback seemingly forever until a large cairn marks where the trail departs from the mountain and turns left toward the saddle between South Arapaho Peak and Old Baldy. For those not wanting to scramble the final 700 feet up over large boulders, climbing Old Baldy makes for a great alternative. The rest should turn left at the saddle and start working their way up the rocky ridge toward the summit. Be forewarned that there are several false summits, one of which is especially disheartening, so be prepared for this scramble to take some time.
Once at the summit, check out the peak identification disk and soak in the views. Those wanting an extra challenge can continue along the ridge to North Arapaho Peak, but this involves another two-hour commitment and requires a lot of technical scrambling experience because the ridge has several Class 4 moves. It is not a side trail that should be taken lightly. After enjoying the summit at your leisure, or if nothing else to avoid the afternoon storms on the way back, return the way you came.