Distance: 4.2 miles (source: Forest Service) Elevation gain: 2,089 feet Rating: more difficult South Boulder Creek Trail #900 James Peak Wilderness, Arapahoe & Roosevelt National Forests Trailhead near Rollinsville at East Portal to the Moffat Tunnel
Two beautiful lakes Trail follows South Boulder Creek Camping spots, for those who camp
Trail can get crowded in the afternoon Trail can be tough to find in the early season, even July, due to snow Getting to Heart Lake from Rogers Pass Lake means a 240-foot climb up at the very end of the hike
This is a hike for your hiking boots -- no tennis shoes here unless you don't mind them getting soaked. Heck, your hiking boots may get pretty wet and muddy. This trail not only follows South Boulder Creek, it crosses lots of little creeks on boardwalks and on just plain rocks. We actually got into a traffic jam on the trail because some people were really taking their time, picking their way across one larger muddy section. You'll find nearly a dozen boardwalks and bridges on the trail to Heart Lake.
Heart Lake and Rogers Pass Lake are in the James Peak Wilderness, a 14,000-acre wilderness area created in 2002. It's south of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and quite a bit of it is over the Moffat Tunnel. (For more information on the name and history, click here
.) The James Peak Wilderness is a quarter the size of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, so it doesn't get as much attention.
The trailhead for today's hike is right at the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel, so you can sit and watch the coal trains and even Amtrak go by as you put your gear on at the car. Then head to the north side of the tunnel to pick up the trail. About a 1/4 mile down the trail you'll see the sign board with the map, the typical animal warnings and a few yards later is the sign for the James Peak Wilderness.
As you hike along the trail, you'll see boardwalks. One hiker said she counted nearly a dozen on the way to Heart Lake, but still expect to get to wet. Not every water crossing had a boardwalk or bridge.
At mile one, you'll come into an open meadow and a signed turnoff for Forest Lakes and Arapahoe Lake. Consider a short side trip on this trail for a couple hundred yards to a bridge/creek crossing. It's a pretty place for a couple waterfall shots. Back in the meadow, take some time to walk to the ruins of two old cabins and take a couple pictures.
Then it's back on the main trail as it begins to climb through the forest. This area is very pretty and temperature cools off a bit in the dense tree cover. You'll hike another mile to the next signed cutoff. A turn here takes you to Crater Lakes. Crater Lakes features three lakes and a beautiful cascade. Hikers can follow the faint trail up that cascade. It's a tough climb but the waterfall/cascade pictures along the way and the beautiful lakes at the top make it worth the climb. It is definitely a hike to put on the list for another day. A waterfall along the South Boulder Creek trail.
But today we are staying on the South Boulder Creek trail another 2.2 miles to Heart Lake. About a mile up, we came to a very large cascade/waterfall on South Boulder Creek. (see photo to the right) At this point, even the first weekend in July, there was a lot of snow. I crossed the creek, my hiking partner did not, so I came back. There were footprints on both sides of the river in the snow, but another hiking group from Colorado Mountain Club climbed up on the right side of the waterfall in this area so we followed them. We found the trail again and keep going. Turns out, the rest of the hike would be that way. Lose the trail, take your chances in one direction or another, find the trail. At one point, we even jumped over a small stream crossing. I don't know if we went the right way here, but on the way back we came down a different way and ended up on the other side of this stream, so you could probably go either way.
There are several articles on the internet and even on the Forest Service web site that say there are actually two Heart Lake trails at this point. A more northerly trail that goes directly to Heart Lake and a more southerly trail that goes to Rogers Pass Lake first. The northerly trail supposedly has a good sized tree fall and some other issues, so we tried to head more southerly. We came across lots of large snow fields here. Some we were able to walk around on the trail, others covered the trail, but we managed to find our way past several beautiful cascades and arrive at Rogers Pass Lake. Rogers Pass Lake, just below Heart Lake.
Rogers Pass Lake is surrounded by mountain peaks, some of them with unique looking summits. This is definitely worth a stop for its beauty and to rest before the next climb. We found evidence of camping here and thought maybe we were at Heart Lake. But this lake is square shaped and the trail continued so we did, too. At the other side of the lake we found the trail and oh boy, it's a climb -- 240-feet in elevation change. If you're like me and need to take your time for something like this, then just think of this part of the trail as a good opportunity to take lots of scenic shots of Rogers Pass Lake below.
When he hit the top of the hill, the climb was worth it. Heart Lake is semi heart shaped. But to get that picture you'll need to hike around to the east side of the lake. We were on the south side and decided it looked good enough from here for photos, lunch and even a nap. While we were done with hiking and ready to turn around, make sure you take a good look at Rogers Pass to the west of the lake. We watched about a half dozen people making their way up the switchback trail from Heart Lake to the top of Rogers Pass (11,900 feet) and back down again. While that may only be a 600-foot climb, it sure looked like a lot more, but the trail looks pretty good if you decide to continue on. A panorama picture of Heart Lake in the James Peak Wilderness.
At Heart Lake you can search for the trail you didn't take up, or go back the way you came. We decided to take the same trail back down to Rogers Pass Lake. As we passed the lake, we spotted yet another large lake to our east. We decided to make our way there. There was a trail of sorts, but this lake was not on our topo map so we don't know if it's a seasonal lake or permanent. It was a beauty and worth a couple pictures. We made our way around the south side lake and while we didn't find a trail, we did manage to end up back at that spot where earlier we had jumped a stream crossing, so we weren't complaining.
There are supposed to be red dots on trees to lead you in the right direction on the way up. We saw plenty of those when we were on the main trail, but when the snow started and the trail started coming in and out, we couldn't spot any red dots. So either the dots stopped or we were definitely in the wrong place.
Either way, we made it to Heart Lake and you should, too!
If you have questions, comments or hiking trail suggestions, e-mail me email@example.com
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
, Arapaho Lakes
, Mitchell & Blue Lakes
, James Peak Area
, 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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