8 miles RT to the lower and upper lakes Elevation:
Approx. 1,650 ft. Starting elevation: 9,250 ft. Upper Lake: 10,900 ft. Location:
James Peak Wilderness, near Rollinsville (directions below) Trailhead:
parking spaces, that's it Dogs:
Allowed on leash Hiking partners:
Kristin, her dog Romeo, Monica, Hal, Dennis, Ron, Brad, Lynnette, Carolyn, Steve and Steve's friend whose name I have forgotten. Members of the meetup: Boulder Hiking Group.
After hiking Heart/Rogers Pass Lakes
, Crater Lakes (twice) and Arapahoe Lakes
, the last trail to tackle on the South Boulder Creek trail in the James Peak wilderness was Forest Lakes. I've done part of the Forest Lakes trail hiking to Arapahoe Lakes, I also tried to hike Forest Lakes in early summer one year and got turned around by the snow. Today I tried again.
The trailhead is at the Moffat Tunnel/East Portal near Rollinsville. There's very little here. Tons of parking spaces and occasionally some trains, but that's it. Our group arrived and it was time to hit the trail.
The trail starts on the right side of the Moffat Tunnel, look for the small sign for the South Boulder Creek Trail. The trail winds around the tunnel to a few signs.
From the trailhead, the first mile is the same for all the trails in the area. There are several stream crossings on bridges, several places you just walk in the water and a few historic relics. A metal building/home is easy to spot along the trail. Not so easy to spot are the remnants of a cabin (I think it's easier to see on the way down) and some metal laying in the grass (I'm not sure what the metal was before, now it's just pieces on the ground).
After the first mile, you'll come to a trailsplit. Go straight for Heart Lake, Rogers Pass Lake and Crater Lakes, turn right for Arapahoe and Forest Lakes. On the left side of the trail you'll see the remnants of what appears to be two old cabins. Every year the cabins seem just a bit more caved in. If you like cascades, especially early in the summer, it's worth the time to walk a few yards on the Arapahoe & Forest Lakes trail to a bridge over Arapahoe Creek.
That was our trail today, so that's the way we headed. From here, the trail climbs up what the Forest Service calls an abandoned road. It's steep, so take your time. Since we were the first people up the trail on this morning, the hikers in the front of our group found themselves wiping away spider webs as we walked along. It appears the spiders had been very active overnight. Bridge over Arapaho Creek
There are several creek crossings along the trail, one of them over a fairly good sized bridge. This is a nice spot to catch your breath and listen to Arapahoe Creek crashing over the rocks and downed trees. In the early summer, there are some great pictures to be taken at this cascade.
While the trail continues to climb, it eventually enters a meadow. Several hiking books and articles mention that the trail is hard to find here. The articles said the trail is on the right side of the meadow, not through the marsh in the middle. Our group had no problem finding and staying on the trail.
About 2.5 miles from the trailhead you'll come to the next trail split. The sign says Arapahoe Lakes to the left, Forest Lakes to the right. When I wrote about Arapahoe Lakes last year, the Forest Service told me the trail is not maintained and they do not recommend the trail anymore, but the sign remains. A member of my hiking group said he had skied in the area over the winter and thought the sign might have been buried in the snow. It was easy to spot today so we took the path to the right. At this point, my GPS said we had climbed about 1,000 feet, leaving us another 700 feet and about a mile to go. Lower Forest Lake
When we arrived at Lower Forest Lake, we found the trail actually skirts around the lake. After years of hiking, I had a feeling we were at the lake, long before we saw it. The trail goes near the lake, then kinda swings away from it to a bridge over a creek crossing. We crossed the creek and when we spotted the lake, we went off trail for a better view. We spent a few minutes enjoying the peaceful lake, then decided to continue on and take our lunch/snack break at Upper Forest Lake.
From Lower Forest Lake to Upper Forest Lake is about 0.75 of a mile, but only another 200 feet of elevation gain. As we came around Lower Forest Lake, the trail actually dropped down to a marshy area. When you start to walk over the marsh on the boards, look right for a view of Lower Forest Lake, look sightly left for a view of a pretty cascade up ahead. The trail actually follows the right side of that cascade. Even in August, the cascade was flowing so strongly you could hear the crashing water before you reached it. After a quick picture stop, we climbed the trail to find some very pretty fields of flowers. Cascade between the lower and upper Forest Lakes
The next landmark of sorts was a small boulder field. There are cairns here to help you route find, but our group didn't seem to have any problem staying on what appeared to be the trail.
At about 4 miles from the trailhead we found Upper Forest Lake. Watch closely, there's a trail split here. Fortunately, someone in our group spotted the lake and made the correct turn to the left. I assume continuing on the trail would take you to the upper trailhead along Rollins Pass Road. (Yes, you can drive Rollins Pass to the upper trailhead and hike down a 1/2 mile to the Upper Lake instead of hiking 4 miles from the East Portal.)
The Upper Forest Lake is a beauty. It sits in a pretty cirque below the Continental Divide. The lake was so clear, I felt like I could just step out into the water and walk across the boulders on the bottom. There's a small rock island just a few feet from shore that even has a tree growing on it. Despite our chatter, you could hear a waterfall in the distance. We spotted the cascade across the shore, below the peaks, coming from a melting snowfield a little higher up. Several members of the meetup: Boulder Hiking Group
We found just one other hiker at the lake on a Thursday. She said it was her third try this year to get to Upper Forest Lake. She came on snowshoes in June and didn't make it. She hiked the trail in July and made it to the Lower Lake, but then was stopped by snow. Today, early August, she made it all the way.
The Forest Lakes are a nice dayhike to a pretty area. Both lakes are good picnic or camping spots. If you only do one hike in this basin, I would send you to Crater Lakes, but Forest Lakes is a nice hike. (While I haven't written specifically about the Crater Lakes hike, you can find information in the circle hike I did to Arapahoe and Crater Lakes
One note: the Moffat Tunnel is, of course, a train tunnel. After each train goes through, fans come on. The fans are loud enough that we heard them (in the distance) as we left Lower Forest Lakes.
As always, I appreciate your comments, questions and hiking trail suggestions, just email me email@example.com
From the Boulder turnpike, U.S. 36, drive into Boulder. At Canyon Road/Highway 119, turn left. Set your odometer to zero. You'll drive up the canyon to Nederland, about 17.4 miles. At the traffic circle in Nederland, stay on Highway 119 (left) another 4.8 miles to the turnoff to Rollins Pass Road/County Road 16 on your right. (About 0.2 of a mile is a blue sign for public restrooms, a portapotty) You'll drive on this dirt/gravel road about 8.2 miles to the trailhead. (Just before the trailhead, the road appears to dead end at a sign for "East Portal left, Rollins Pass right". Turn left.) The trailhead is at the Moffat Tunnel, outside the railroad property barriers.
Want to read more about Rollinsville, Tolland and the area you're driving through, try this Web site
I hiked with a group from meetup.com It's a good web site to find hiking groups. Just type in "hiking" under interest and your zip code. I've joined several groups to give me options when I'm looking for a hike.
If you're looking for a hiking dog, consider the Dumb Friends League Hiking Buddies program. Hikers who complete a training program may borrow an adoptable dog to hike with at the Glendale Open Space Trail or the Rock in Castle Rock. The Buddy Center staff will give you with all of the necessary equipment including an Adopt Me vest for the dog and a fanny-pack with pet waste pick-up bags, water bowl, water, leash and first-aid kit. You and the dog get a work out and your four-legged friend may get a new home. For more information, contact Matt Levien at 303-751-5772 ext. 202.
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
, Arapaho 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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