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Rainbow Lakes and Slide Lakes

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  • Rainbow Lakes area
  • Upper Slide Lake
  • Slide Lake
  • Mount Ethel from Slide Lake
  • small lake above Upper Slide Lake
  • Upper Slide Lake from above

Photos by SQ

Upper Slide Lake

Area Steamboat Springs
Park/Forest Mt Zirkel Wilderness
Trailhead Rainbow Lakes
Distance Roundtrip 11.0 Miles
Elevation Start 8740 ft
Elevation Gain ≈ 2060 ft
Features Lakes, Vistas
Dogs Allowed? Yes, on leash


The Rainbow Lake Trail leads to several beautiful lakes in the Mt Zirkel Wilderness. The Rainbow Lakes are a popular day hiking destination and camping spot. Slide Lake and Upper Slide Lake make for a nice backpacking destination. Both destinations are an out and back hike starting from the Rainbow Lake Trailhead.

On the first part of the trail there are some areas of aspen and some areas of devastated pine forest. The trail is mostly forested until Rainbow Lakes with occasional views. You might not see Lower Rainbow Lake but Middle Rainbow Lake is right by the trail. You can see where Rainbow Lake drains into it and can continue along Rainbow Lake. This is a very pretty area with great views of the lakes and mountains. Rainbow Lake is at about 3.5 miles from the trailhead and at about 9900 ft.

Continuing up to Slide Lakes- At the end of Rainbow Lake, if there is still a lot of water, the trail can be confusing to follow while finding a suitable place to cross. Shortly after the stream/waterfall you will take a left up a steep trail that goes along the stream/waterfall. Once you pass the stream/waterfall the trail goes through forest and lovely mountain meadows with streams running through them. You will eventually cross a larger stream/waterfall that comes from above you on your right. That is the drainage from Slide Lake. You don't actually see Slide Lake from the trail. If you continue on the trail you will skirt the far edge of Upper Slide Lake. Most of the camping spots are on the west/southwest side of both lakes as the east sides are very steep and the north sides marshy. Both lakes are really nice and scenic with Mount Ethel rising above them. Above Upper Slide Lake there are some pretty and small unnamed lakes and some outcroppings that are close by the trail that have stunning views. The area above Upper Slide Lake can make for a nice day trip if backpacking but not a good camping area as it is really exposed. Both Rainbow Lakes and Slide Lakes are great backpacking destinations.

Directions info

Get Directions in Google Maps →
About 19 miles southwest of Walden, CO off Co Rd 22. It can be a little difficult to find as some roads leading to trailhead are not well marked.


Forest Service Trailhead Page


The link to 'Directions in Google Maps' will open in a new window and give you directions from your current location to the trailhead. You can also change the starting location in the top field of the directions area. Note that for some rural trailheads the directions could route you to the nearest address it has, which could be a half mile down the road.

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