Arapaho Lakes, East Portal Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Arapaho Lakes - 7.1 miles

East Portal Trailhead

The Arapaho Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness

The Arapaho Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness

Round-Trip Length: 7.1 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,211' - 11,172' (11,172' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,961' net elevation gain (+2,049' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Arapaho Lakes - 7.1 Miles Round-Trip

The Arapaho Lakes (11,172') are located 3.65 miles from East Portal Trailhead in the James Peak Wilderness. The plurality is subjective, as the two main lakes are separated by only a thin band of sedge and talus, making it possible to view, explore and even fish both simultaneously. The Arapaho Lakes access trail is no longer maintained or marked, so good map and terrain-reading skills are necessary.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

While the Forest Lakes Trail corridor is moderate, travel is considerably more difficult on a steep, eroded trail that breaks west up Arapaho Creek to its source at the lakes. Challenging terrain and navigation keep crowds light, making this an ideal choice for equipped hikers during peak summer months:

Follow signs right (north) of Moffat Tunnel to the South Boulder Creek Trail; stay on this trail and be mindful of adjacent private property. It rises west of the tunnel through mixed forest and glades to the Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail split (1.25 miles : 9,555').

The Forest Lake Trail bends north to a bridge over Arapaho Creek (1.75 miles : 9,877'). Once over it enters a thick spruce-fir forest and steepens beside the creek to a second Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail split (2.3 miles : 10,185'), which is no longer marked and blocked by sticks to discourage travel.

Anticipate this point, as the sign may be knocked down. Turn left down to Arapaho Creek. Note that social trails in this vicinity may lead to the creek, but not the precise crossing. The exact point is important to find as what lies beyond lacks clarity.

The trail crosses the creek on a dilapidated bridge to the west bank (2.65 miles : 10,299'), and levels north for a short time before making a decisive turn west that begins a strenuous push up-valley.

This vague, cluttered segment climbs nearly 650' in just .5 miles along Arapaho Creek. It's likely that you'll lose track once or twice, but easy to regain so long as you stay in audible range. A sudden left-right switchback (2.95 miles : 10,686') signals proximity to more moderate terrain.

In 3.2 miles (10,985') the forest thins and travel eases in the upper valley. A better path rises through treeline and bends sharply south across the upper-valley on a final push to the first Arapaho Lake. The main trail deposits you on its NE corner (3.55 miles : 11,172'), from which obstacle-free paths lead to higher points and the second lake.

A low ridge over the first lake's east shore yields terrific views and a glimpse of the second, which lies .3 miles west and nearly flush with the first.

Walk the first lake's flat south shore to the second, which fills a placid bowl directly below the Divide. Another social trail leads NW to a small tarn between the lakes and perennial snowfields along the Divide.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 54.181 W105 38.660 — East Portal Trailhead
  • N39 54.103 W105 38.879 — .25 miles : James Peak Wilderness backcountry board
  • N39 53.601 W105 39.628 — 1.25 miles : Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail junction
  • N39 54.072 W105 39.399 — 1.75 miles : 1st Arapaho Creek crossing
  • N39 54.435 W105 39.661 — 2.3 : Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail junction
  • N39 54.612 W105 39.938 — 2.65 miles : 2nd Arapaho Creek crossing
  • N39 54.616 W105 40.168 — 2.9 mile mark on steep ascent
  • N39 54.600 W105 40.279 — 3.0 miles : Quick switchback before leveling off
  • N39 54.601 W105 40.512 — 3.1 miles : Level off in upper-valley
  • N39 54.468 W105 40.739 — 3.55 miles : Arapaho Lake

Worth Noting

  • Though the Arapaho Lakes see fewer visitors than others in the vicinity, they are part of a heavily used trail system. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds .

  • Be mindful of changing weather conditions and get below treeline before storms organize.

  • Snow may linger throughout summer and obscure an already ill-defined trail. Carry an updated topographical map, be patient with route finding, and tread lightly to minimize erosion.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are not required for camping in the James Peak Wilderness. Contact the Boulder Ranger District (303.541.2500) in advance for the latest updates and conditions.

  • There are no designated campsites in this travel zone. Dispersed camping only. Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact.

  • Campfires are not permitted in the James Peak Wilderness. Gas stoves only.

  • Camp at least 100' away from all streams, lakes and trails.

  • Pets must be leashed at all times.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and stock combined.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado state fishing license. Contact the Boulder Ranger District for current regulations (303.541.2500).

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

The East Portal Trailhead is located at the end of Rollins Pass Road, an 8.2 mile dirt road west of Highway 119. Rollins Pass Road is located 4.9 miles south of Nederland, Colorado.

The dirt road is well-maintained but conditions deteriorate when wet.

From Highway 119, turn west on Rollins Pass Road and Keep Straight until it dead-ends at the Moffat Tunnel. Ignore turnoffs that climb toward the pass.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446


"Hard trail to find, when we did it was wet and very marshy even in August. I'd say that's why the USNFS closed the trail. Didn't see any fish either. The crater lakes trail which is shorter and easier to find is a better option, for hiking and fishing. "
LJS  -  Littleton  -  Date Posted: August 7, 2014
"Note USFS has decommissioned the trail, removing Arapaho Lakes from sign at first split and removing the sign entirely (and covering the trail with debris) at the second. Junction is about halfway from crossing Arapaho Creek on Forest Lakes trail to where Arapaho Creek and creek from Forest Lakes meet. Trail to Arapaho Lakes crosses Arapaho Creek just below confluence with Forest Lakes outlet creek. The old FS bridge is now broken in the middle-there is an acceptable crossing just upstream. Trail runs just up south side of Arapaho Creek, staying between it and outlet creek from lake 10,760+ once you encounter that creek (if you lose the trail, you can find it right at that stream confluence). Saw no fish in lake, had heard in past there was good fishing. Pretty spot and not very visited, especially now signs are out. "
Craig Jones  -  Boulde, CO  -  Date Posted: August 9, 2012
"Out of my trails so far this spring, this is my favorite. I really enjoyed the solitude it brings. The stream that follows the trail was really nice. It had nice moist, cool enviroment around it. Lots of moss and greens. You can follow more on my facebook under dizmang photography."
 -   -  Date Posted: June 17, 2012


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