Rainbow Lake Trail, 449, begins at the Rainbow Lake Trailhead immediately outside of the southern West Elk Wilderness boundary. This trail leads northward into the West Elk Wilderness and connects with Coal Mesa and Sun Park Trails. There is no water available and little signage along most of the route so use care following this trail.
The Rainbow Lake Trailhead lies at an elevation of 10,982 feet. From this starting point the tread leads up, climbing steadily for the first two miles. A short distance from the beginning of a steep descent, Rainbow Lake Trail intersects the West Elk Rim Trail, 446.
Descending the steep ridge that contains South Baldy, Middle Baldy and North Baldy Mountains, Rainbow Lake Trail drops 1,400 feet in two miles. This descent brings users into the steep West Elk Creek drainage. The trail crosses the creek, forks and climbs the other side of the gulch. The right fork brings hikers to Sun Park and Coal Mesa Trails within two miles. The left fork follows the northern shore of the stream for one mile then ascends the ridge that leads to Coal Mesa Trail, 451.
Directions from Gunnison: Drive approximately 14 miles west of Gunnison on Highway 50. When you reach Forest Road 724 turn right, north, and drive 12 miles to the Rainbow Lake Trailhead.
Directions from Coal Mesa Trail: To reach Coal Mesa Trail drive 26 miles west on Highway 50 from Gunnison. Turn on to State Road 92 and drive a half mile to Forest Road 721. Turn right on to 721 and drive seven and a quarter miles to Forest Road 824. Turn right on to 824 and travel one half mile to Soap Creek Campground. The trailhead for Coal Mesa Trail lies immediately north of the campground. The north end of Coal Mesa Trail, 451, intersects with the north end of Rainbow Lake Trail.