Sometimes High and Sometimes Lonesome – Devil’s Thumb Loop, Indian Peaks Wilderness

The Indian Peaks Wilderness are the mountains I’ve always considered to be in my backyard. With roughly an hour’s drive, I am at a  trailhead that brings me to the Continental Divide. Glacier can be seen, wildflowers are blooming, and the mountains always impress.

I considers these my home mountains and always look forward to spending time in them.

D-low and I had planned a quick backpacking weekend.  Nothing too strenuous (about 12 MPD), not too far of a drive and would offer great scenery.  The Devil’s Thumb loop came to mind.

We pulled up to the Fourth of July TH to see the usual hordes of crowds. No matter…. We knew once we were past the magical five mile mark, the day hikers would cease and we’d be among the few, if any, other backpackers out. The time commitment of even a weekend backpacking trips makes the deeper backcountry an almost private treasure.

Along the way up to our first pass, we saw evidence of many wildflowers in bloom. The hill sides were dotted with paintbrush, blue columbine and an abundance of glacier lilies.


We pushed further up the snowy trail and steadily passed other hikers.

We attained the 11900′ Arapaho Pass and gazed upon panorama of the mountains before us.

Not too long after Arapaho Pass and before Caribou Pass, we went to the shores of Lake Dorothy and enjoyed the quiet at this high alpine lake.

We the descended to the High Lonesome trail which is part of the CDT.  The trail itself is not so high, but is lonesome. We saw no other people on this trail after the Junco Trailhead.

The trail was lush and went through many meadows and had the divide high above it.

Along the way, we saw three northbound CDT hikers.  I think the thru-hiking ‘costumes’ d-low and I were wearing through them for a bit of a loop!  Was nice to chat with people on their wilderness journeys.  It also, truth be told, made me a bit wistful for the journeys of my own that I have taken in the recent past.

After hiking along with seeing no one, we started our climb to Devil’s Thumb Pass.

Just at tree line, we made a nice camp that afforded amazing sunset views.

As we sat in camp and drank a little medicinal whiskey, both d-low and I made the observation that no matter how much we enjoy our other outdoor activities, there is something just so satisfying about backpacking. Being out in the woods for even a night is rejuvenating. You really get to feel the rhythm of the mountains by being in them for from sunrise to sunset.  And the worries of the day to day life seem to melt away.

A restful night was had as the rain pelted my shelter and lulled me into deep slumber.

The following morning we are on the trail by 7:30 and made our way up to the divide and to the pass. More snowfields were crossed.

We made it to the divide and enjoyed the views around us.

D-low and I continued over to the pass and Devil’s Thumb Lake and enjoyed more of the mountain views.

As we made our way down the trail we saw an old thru-hiker buddy named Goof out with his someone Melissa.  After a pleasant talk (and tentative plans to meet up in the nearby town of Ned), we continued down to Jasper Lake.  The first way wave of day trippers in the form of runners were seen.

We let the main trail and headed up and over the lonely and little visited shoulder of Chittenden Mountain.

At a saddle, d-low and I took a break before heading into the snow and some navigational challenges down to Diamond Lake.

At Diamond Lake we followed the well packed trail and saw more people in one 2.5 mile stretch than we saw all weekend.

No matter; the wildflowers were still gorgeous and cold beer awaited us in my truck!

After a relaxing beer, we made it down to Ned, waited out a massive hail storm and enjoyed the BBQ at Wild Mountain Brewery.

Good and Melissa showed up about half-way through our meal and the four of us enjoyed talking, reminiscing about our recent hike and plotting our next return to the mountains.

A great weekend and so close to home.

All the photos


The route: The route can be found at this link.  We did not do the Columbine Lake option, so our route was perhaps 4k ft+ elev gain and 24 miles R/T.  Start at the Fourth of July TH.

Map:  Trails Illustrated Map #102 Indians Peaks/Gold Hill has the info needed

Permits:  You will need a permit if you are camped in the Indians Peaks Wilderness. If you are outside the IPW, no permit is needed. Consult the map for areas outside of the IPW.  I find that backpacking is not as popular as it used to be and that permits are easy to get (really close area near the trail head are, as always, the exception).

Post Trip Nosh: Wild Mountain Brewery in the town of Ned is less than a half hour from the trailhead. It has BBQ. It has beer made on the premises. . It has a wonderful outside deck in good weather with a view of the mountains.  ’nuff said.

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12 years ago

Backpacking is my favorite outdoor activity, too; it even gets top billing over “just” hiking. I guess I like backpacking because I can see more, go more, do more…and with fewer people. I am still not crazy about sleeping in a tent (gasp! sacrilege!), but that would never deter me from a backpacking trip! Awesome wildflower pics, by the way.

12 years ago


12 years ago

Great post and beautiful photos. My friends and I were planning on doing this exact loop, although in the opposite direction, this weekend. I was wondering about the condition of Caribou Pass, especially the narrow section between Lake Dorothy and the pass proper. Is it really snowed in? Did you have ice axes? The rangers my friend talked to today when getting a permit made it sound like it’s in really sketchy condition.

Thanks for any info you can share!

Tony Fleming
Tony Fleming
9 years ago

Hi Paul,

Fellower BPLer here. We are coming out to hike a variation of your loop over labor day weekend. My question is, have you ever gone off trail between Mt. Neva and Devil’s thumb? Is this doable or should we just plan on taking the Caribou pass trail to the High Lonesome? If doable, what time do the afternoon thunderstorms usually roll into this area? I wouldn’t want to be caught on the ridge in a storm.

Thank you,


Tony Fleming
Tony Fleming
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks so much for the response Paul. I had read your off trail route article earlier. But, when you mentioned Mt. Jasper I thought you had gone further south, thinking it was close to Jasper Lake and did not read the post close enough. Mt. Jasper is not marked on my map. I now see it stands at 12,923′ and is just north of Upper Storm Lake and NW of Upper Diamond Lake. I have re-read your trip report and hope I have a pretty good idea of what you are talking about. This will be a great route, although… Read more »

6 years ago

Looking into doing a trip like this in early October this year. Anyone know how the weather is around that time? Also, hoping to take in some fly fishing along the way. Any good spots along the route?