Have you ever heard of the James Peak Wilderness? It’s not as well known as its neighbor, the Indian Peaks Wilderness. However, it features several peaks over 13,000 feet and more than a dozen sparkling alpine lakes. Two of those sparking lakes are the destination on this hike.
The hike starts at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville (directions below). Hikers park just feet away from the railroad tracks. It’s likely you’ll see a train or at least hear one as you hike in this area. If you hear a loud buzzing noise as you hike, that caused by fans clearing the air in the tunnel between trains. For history buffs, the Moffat Tunnel opened in 1928. It is 6.21 miles long. Read more on the state of Colorado website.
The hikes in this area all start in the same place, just north of the tunnel on South Boulder Creek Trail #900. Signs point hikers the right direction. The first 1.25 miles of the hike wind through the forest on a rocky trail, over several bridges to a large meadow. As you hike, look closely in the nearby trees and small meadows for a large house and other smaller remnants of people who lived here decades ago. In the meadow, there are the foundations and partial walls of at least two cabins.
The meadow is the first trail split, hikers going to Forest and Arapahoe lakes turn right. For this hike, continue straight ahead through the meadow and back into the trees. This is where the trail begins to get steeper. The trail switchbacks as it climbs through the thick forest to the Crater Lakes turnoff about 2 miles from the trailhead. At this point, you’ve gained 700 feet in elevation gain, but there’s another 1,400 feet to come. Don’t worry, as you hike, there are plenty of picture/rest stops along the way. This section of the trail continues through the thick forest with occasional cascades and fields of flowers. About 3.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail crosses a wide section of cascades and waterfalls. Take a moment to let the sound of the water fill your ears and the images fill your camera. There are lots of different cascades here to photograph.
After the creek crossing, the trail gets steeper, but it’s only a half mile to the shore of Rogers Pass Lake. This scenic lake sits at the base of Haystack Mountain and the snow on the surroundings cliffs can help you create beautiful pictures of the reflections in the water.
Rogers Pass Lake is a wonderful destination by itself, but notice the trail on the north side of the lake that leads up a rise. Heart Lake is just up that hill. It looks steep, and it is, but you’re so close, take the time to hike up to Heart Lake. At the top of the hill, you’re not quite there, hike a little further to the shoreline, find a rock and enjoy lunch. Look around. You may spot a fisherman. And look at the cliffs just south and west of the lake. There’s a trail there that leads to the top of Rogers Pass. Some even hike that trail over to James Peak.
On your way back down, take some pictures of Rogers Pass Lake from the top of the ridge.
As you pass back by Rogers Pass Lake, you may notice a third lake in the trees to the east. We enjoyed exploring this surprise, unnamed lake before heading back down the main trail.
Details: The hike to Heart Lake is about 4.4 miles each way with an elevation gain of about 2,100 feet. Add more mileage for exploring around Heart Lake, Rogers Pass Lake and possibly that surprise lake if you spot it.
Directions: From Boulder, take Canyon Blvd/Highway 119 to Nederland. At the traffic circle in Nederland, turn left/south on Highway 119 to Rollinsville. In Rollinsville, turn right/west on the dirt Rollins Pass Road. This road is typically OK for passenger vehicles. It’s 8 miles to the trailhead at the Moffat Tunnel.
To find more hikes in Colorado and through the west, check out my extensive list of great hiking ideas.
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