7 miles round-trip 1889-foot elevation gain Trailhead: From Nederland, take Highway 119 west to Rollinsville. Turn right on the gravel County Road 16 (also called Rollins Pass road). Follow it seven miles to a T-junction. Turn left and it's one mile to the parking lot near the Moffat tunnel. Dogs allowed, must be on leash inside wilderness boundary.
The Forest Service says it will no longer maintain this trail so they asked me not to encourage people to go here, however the trail is still on their web site.
Lots of parking Good and plentiful signs Beautiful scenery Good forest hiking
No port-a-potty at the trailhead The occasional sounds of a train and/or the tunnel fans, even when youre miles away from the tunnel
Its back to the James Peak Wilderness for the third time this summer. We really just love exploring this area. Today were heading to Arapaho Lakes. Weve done part of this trail, because we attempted to hike to Forest Lakes in early season last year. Note, do not attempt to hike in this area too early in the season, unless youre willing to hike in snow and do some route finding. The snow typically melts a bit late here. I actually gave up on the Forest Lakes hike in early June 2006 because of the deep snow, my boyfriend made it to two of the lakes. We also hiked to Heart Lake in early July 2007 and had to do some route-finding because of all the snow. (To read about that hike, click here
The hike starts at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel. This is a good trailhead with plenty of parking. To find the trail, walk to the north side of the tunnel and the parking area and youll see the signs for the South Boulder Creek trail. This trail leads to several other hiking trails; Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Crater Lakes, Roger Pass, Rogers Pass Lake and Heart Lake. Last year we hiked to Crater Lakes, its one of my 10 favorite hikes. (For a list of my favorite hikes and even some ideas from our readers and staff, click here
.) Moffat Tunnel. This is the trailhead for the South Boulder Creek trail. The hiking trail goes to the north around the tunnel property.
The trail to all the destinations in this area is the same for the first mile. It winds past the Moffat Tunnel, past the James Peak wilderness signs and over several water crossings. Look closely along the trail to see the remnants of an old cabin and some kind of metal, possibly an old car.
After the first mile, youll come to a large meadow with a sign. Turn right here and go up and over a bridge for Forest and Arapaho Lakes. (You can continue on the South Boulder Creek trail for the other destinations in this area.) This meadow is also a good place to explore as there are two old cabins here.
We made the turn and started climbing. This is where we begin some serious elevation change. As you climb up what appears to be an old road through the forest, youll come to an open area where you can look east east back to the trailhead and tunnel. About a half mile up youll cross another creek on a well-made bridge. This is another good spot for waterfall/cascade photos in spring and early summer.
After you cross this bridge and move into the forest onto a single track trail, watch carefully for the trail. Its been rerouted and there are social trails in the area. There are several trails that have been covered in tree branches and boughs to keep people from hiking the wrong trail.
This is a very nice area to hike. Theres several places where youll hear and even see cascades. I also like hiking through the dense trees because it feels very remote.
At the 2.5-mile mark from the trailhead, youll come to another sign at a trail junction. Turn right for the Forest Lakes, turn left for the Arapaho Lakes. We went left.
At one point the trail came to a creek crossing with a broken bridge of sorts. Yes, youll need to cross this bridge or walk through the water to continue on. I read several trip reports and Web sites before this hike that said the trail was hard to follow to Arapaho Lakes, however we didnt have any problem following the trail. But we did agree the trail would be tough to find in the snow. Yes, you need to cross this broken bridge on the Arapaho Lakes trail.
The trail was easy to moderate from before the last junction and for awhile after the junction. The trail guides say its only one mile from the last junction to the lakes so we thought it wasnt going to be tough. We were wrong. A bit after that broken bridge crossing, the trail changes and begins climbing. In some places the cascade next to the trail had some beautiful drops which meant the trail had some steep climbing. This section took some time because we needed quite a few breaks to catch our breath.
We arrived at a basin and thought wed made it to the first lakes. Wrong. Ahead we saw another braided waterfall and figured wed be climbing up into that basin to see the lakes. Wrong again.
It turns out, the trail bends south (left) and after a little more hiking we arrived at one of the Arapaho Lake. We crossed some rocks and walked on the north side of the lake only to find the lake we were looking at was actually two lakes with a bridge of land between them.
This was a great spot for a break and a snack. According to the map, there are two other lakes here. One to the east and one to the west above us. The view at the top of the saddle between Arapaho Lakes & Crater Lakes. Look closely for a man in a red jacket to give you an idea of how large this area is.
Instead of turning around and heading back the way we came, we decided to do something else. We got adventuresome and decided to climb the saddle on the south side of the lakes. Looking at the map, it appeared that Crater Lakes was just on other side. So up we went. Its quite a climb. More than 400-foot elevation change in maybe a quarter mile. This section is steep and probably dangerous; I would not suggest this for anyone else. I know other hikers have done this, but if you do this, its at your own risk. Arapaho Lakes is a beautiful destination on its own and a good hike.
At the top of the saddle, the views were amazing. To the north we could see around to the Needle eye tunnel, a place we had hiked to before. To the south and down below us, we could see all four of the Crater Lakes. The view was great and so was the next part of the adventure. After some scouting, my boyfriend, Bill, found a route down to the upper Crater Lakes. Now I should tell you, this side is even steeper than the side we came up. It is also a lot more dangerous. The Arapaho Lakes side is grassy with willows, small plants and occasional rocks. The Crater Lakes side is mainly rocks with a little vegetation. The rocks are very loose, even large ones that look stable came loose and bounced hundreds of feet down. Have I mentioned the danger? Again, attempting this is at your own risk. Looking down at three of the four lakes that make up the Crater Lakes.
When we arrived at the upper Crater Lake, we had to take some time to remove our boots and then remove all the little rocks we had accumulated inside our boots and on our socks.
After some lunch and photos, we started the 3.5-mile hike back to the trail head on the Crater Lakes trail.
Crater Lakes features four different levels on two levels. There are two upper crater lakes. Then you follow a trail downhill to two lower Crater Lakes. Many people camp at the Lower Crater lakes not even knowing there are two more up above. Take the time to explore the trail between the lower and upper lakes because there's a beautiful cascade along the way.
As I mentioned earlier, Crater Lakes is one of our favorite hikes, so this was a treat to see it from a different angle.
We saw a couple tents and a couple people at the lower Crater lakes, a crew of trail workers and then just five other hikers on the hike down. Doing this on a Friday was a great choice to get a little solitude.
We're now trying to figure out how to get to Iceberg Lakes in this area. Its on the map, but we haven't seen any kind of trail. If you have advice on that hike, questions, comments or other hiking trail suggestions, Id love to hear from you, just e-mail me. firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the Arapaho Lakes trail, click here
for the Forest Service Web site.
Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star)
, Mallory Cave*
, Marshall Mesa
,Heil Valley Ranch*
, South Boulder Peak*
, The Boulder Flatirons*
, Walker Ranch*
, Bear Peak*
, Rabbit Mountain*
, Bald Mountain*
, Betasso Preserve*
, Wonderland Lake*
, Chimney Gulch*
, Apex Park*
, Elk Meadow*
, Chicago Lakes
, Chief Mountain
Rocky Mountain National Park:
, Twin Sisters
, Bierstadt Lake
, Chasm Lake
, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone
, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier
, Sandbeach Lake
Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness:
King, Bob & Betty Lakes
, Forest Lakes
, Mitchell & Blue Lakes
, James Peak Area
, Heart Lake
, Devil's Backbone*
, Lake Agnes
Summit & Eagle Counties:
, Missouri Lakes
, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls
St Louis Lake
, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch
, Granby Ranch
Exploring Fulford Cave
, Our Favorite Hikes
, Our Favorite Bike Rides
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