LoJ: #547 (Pre-LiDAR #420) / 13,126' Kiowa Peak

Range › Front Range
Quadrangle › Ward
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 40° 02' 52.52", W 105° 37' 28.54" (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon Navajo Peak Peak Icon Arikaree Peak

Peak Summary

The summit of Kiowa Peak, like Arikaree, lies within the restricted City of Boulder watershed unit. A decades long policy has restricted access to these upper watershed peaks to only "researchers." There have been reported cases of trespassers being fined. For obvious reasons, we cannot advocate trespassing on this site so the limited information we supply here should not be construed in any way as an endorsement for "poaching" these summits. See the "route" description for further elaboration.

Note: Google Earth once again experiences serious problems with providing an accurate elevation for both Arikaree and Kiowa. The highest elevation we could measure for Arikaree using GE was 13,002 ft. Therefore GE is missing some 140 feet of mountain. This is typical with very steep, rocky or cliff-ridden summits. For Kiowa, the highest elevation we could find was 13,132 ft., making that summit 144 ft. lower than the USGS measurement. Lidar evaluation has placed it's elevation at 13,126 ft., reducing its elevation by 150 ft., and ranking to #544. It's previous elevation was 13,276 ft.

Wheeler Basin Route Route

Class 2
Short Day // A Wee Little Climb
RT From Fourth of July: 17.2mi / 3,910'
  • Trailhead
    • Fourth of July TH

      If coming from the northern Front Range areas or up from Boulder, drive to Nederland and from the traffic circle where the three main roads intersect, drive south on SH119 .7 mile and turn right (west) onto CR130 to Eldora. If coming from the south by way of SH119, this turnoff will be just south of town just after a couple of switchback curves in the highway drop you down to town level. Turn left (west) and drive to Eldora on paved road, passing the high school and the turnoff for the Eldora Ski area. From SH119, it's 1.5 miles to the ski area turnoff. Continue through the town of Eldora where the paved road ends and continue in a NW direction on CR130 to the Fourth of July Trailhead and campground which is about 7.6 more miles. The road becomes progressively rougher but does not necessarily require high clearance or 4WD, but you might be more comfortable with a higher clearance vehicle at least. Especially on weekends, the last half mile or more to the trailhead, you may see numerous cars parked along the road and may have to park some distance away, yourself. On the Trails Illustrated map, after the historical site of Hessie, this upper section of road is labelled CR111/The Fourth of July Road and ends at what the map calls the "Buckingham Trailhead."

      There is a small campground and a trailhead parking area above. There's a vault toilet available.


      Other than the small campground at the trailhead, because there's so much private property on the drive in, finding any legal, at-large camp spots is difficult. Expect the campground to be full any time around a weekend. There are about 10 tent spots for use and no water supplied, but there is a vault toilet. No fee is collected for the campground, but that can always change. "No Camping" is signed at the trailhead parking. There is an overnight parking fee. Because of the popularity of this trailhead, expect the parking area to fill up early on weekends.
    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Wheeler Basin Route

    Route Description

    Once more we reiterate that Arikaree and Kiowa Peaks both lie within the City of Boulder protected watershed and are off limits to all but watershed administrators and authorized researchers. Attempting to climb either of these two summits constitutes trespassing. By providing information on Wheeler Basin which lies west of these two summits, we are not endorsing using this basin as a means of trespassing onto the restricted area. We do think however, that this splendid and isolated basin deserves a report and so we include it here. The "Route difficulty" level that we offer here is for the trail into Wheeler Basin.
    We do want to use this site to advocate for the opening of the watershed area to at least occasional users. Here is our proposal that we think is quite reasonable: The governing authorities should open this resource at least one or two days in the summer to allow in hikers, climbers and peakbaggers. It could be called "Amnesty Day." A single access point could be assigned with a check-in station. (Perhaps some CMC members could volunteer to man this station.) Hikers would register and report their destination. Wag bags could be handed out. No overnight camping would be allowed or fires of any kind. Hikers would have a deadline by which they must sign out. We would think a highly restrictive arrangement like this should satisfy most all concerns that the city would have. Any specifically sensitive alpine areas could still be restricted.
    Now if anyone knows how and/or who to get such a suggestion to, feel free to make the attempt. We experienced zero success in finding anyone whose ear we could bend. You may even plagiarize our idea here and call it your own if you want. We would just like to see this area legally opened, even if it's on a highly limited basis. Now to the route for Wheeler Basin.
    Wheeler Basin lies within the Indian Peaks Wilderness which is fully regulated for overnight camping. In some areas, camping is only allowed in designated sites while other areas allow at-large camping. At the time of our backpack into Wheeler Basin, at-large camping was allowed. Permits are required for all backcountry camping and must be obtained in advance. You can begin your research by going to this website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea/?recid=80803.
    From the Fourth of July Trailhead, proceed up the trail used by many hikers to access South Arapaho and North Arapaho Peaks. In the vicinity of the Fourth of July mine, where the peak trail turns off, continue on the main trail/old roadbed all the way to Arapaho Pass. From the trailhead, it's three miles. The trail follows a very steady grade all the way there. On the lower half, there are a couple of sets of switchbacks and numerous little rivulet crossings. As you near the pass, the trail becomes increasingly rocky, but is still a good trail. On the NW side of the pass, the trail drops down rapidly on a series of switchbacks, losing 800 feet in elevation down to Caribou Lake where there are a limited number of designated campsites. Continuing on past Caribou Lake, the trail loses more elevation as it drops down into Coyote Park and re-enters forest. Continue down the trail. The turnoff for Wheeler Basin will soon arrive and finding the correct spot is the trickiest part of accessing this beautiful place.
    As the trail leaves Coyote Park, it begins to drop a little and also to turn from northbound to northwest. As the trail begins to make this turn, look across the creek and identify the bottom of an avalanche chute with a lot of fallen trees in a tangled mass at the bottom. You do not want to cross Arapaho Creek and come out on the south side of the debris. The best crossing will bring you out just a little north of it. As the Arapaho Trail makes its' turn to the NW, it begins to lose more elevation and the creek below begins to drop off more. At about that location, in 2012, we spotted a 4" conifer on the right hand side of the trail with a piece of blue ribbon tape tied around it. We took that as an indication of where to turn off. Head down the slope, losing up to 100 feet in elevation and locate a place to cross the creek. Looking upstream, but not too far is your best bet. Cross the creek and then head uphill to the east and begin searching for what will be a faint trail. Again, in 2012, another blue ribbon tied around a tree indicated where the trail was to be found. Once you find this trail, which will be faint at first, the hardest part is over.
    Once on the correct trail, head north to a crossing of the creek that comes out of Wheeler Basin. The trail actually heads downhill, losing 100 - 200 feet in elevation before reaching the crossing and becomes increasingly obvious. You'll likely have to cross several fallen trees. Just before the crossing, the trail heads up sharply to meet the creek. We had no problem getting across but this was in early September. Once on the other side, the still readily visible trail climbs up steeply for a while before reaching the flatter section of Wheeler Basin. Initially, the trail is easy to follow, but as you progress up the basin, it will become more elusive at times. It crosses the creek more than once and at a couple of these crossings, you'll see the remnants of some log bridges. There is also an old cabin farther up the basin. Press up the basin as far as you desire. As you do so the trail will become more difficult to follow until losing it altogether. Some of the best camping is to be found at about the 10,800 foot level. We found a good campsite here, on the edge of an open meadow and near the meandering stream: N 40° 02' 42.54" W 105° 39' 19.44". Even though it was early September, we were surprised to find much of this basin still quite wet with marshy areas all around, so finding a drier spot to camp actually required a little extra effort.

    From this campsite, if you look east, you will see a very large, prominent couloir of mostly whittish rock. At the head of that couloir and to the left is a rugged and jagged looking peak. That peak is the southern flank of Arikaree. The couloir itself is within the Indian Peaks Wilderness. At the top of the couloir, where it levels out, if one should proceed any farther, they will be trespassing onto the City of Boulder watershed property. Rock conditions for Kiowa along the east-west summit ridge are indicated to be almost exclusively medium to large-sized boulders & stacked boulders. Unfortunately, Arikaree Peak appears to be largely the same. Back down in Wheeler Basin, from the same campsite, if you look more to the NE you can actually see Navajo and Apache. Both would be a very challenging ascent from this location and may even offer a "first-ascent" route.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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