Crater Lakes, East Portal Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Crater Lakes - 6.0 miles
East Portal Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||6.0 miles (to lower Crater Lakes | add 2.2 miles RT to upper Crater Lakes)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,211' - 10,600' (10,632' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,389' net elevation gain (+1,523' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Crater Lakes - 6.0 Miles Round-Trip
The Crater Lakes are a cluster of 5 lakes spread about a rugged valley that forms a major tributary to South Boulder Creek. They offer excellent fishing and diverse backcountry camping experiences apart from the crowds.
A third lake is concealed by timber nearby, accessible by following either the lower lakes' outlets or established social trails. A strenuous route continues west up a steep wall to the talus-bound cirque of upper Crater Lakes. Carry a good map to maximize time in this feature-filled basin.
The following description details mileage to the first set of lakes, followed by general routing to the third lower lake and two upper lakes:
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 past the tunnel through intervals of aspen, spruce and meadow to the Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail split (1.25 miles : 9,555'), and steepens up rugged terrain to the Crater Lakes Trail split (1.85 miles : 9,930').
The Crater Lakes Trail bends north and twists steeply up a cluttered forest. In 2.3 miles (10,095') it banks sharply right, then left on switchbacks marked by rather anonymous cairns; it continues through a slot between two large boulders and exits left to regain the trail.
Rugged terrain resumes to a footbridge (2.45 miles : 10,240'), past which travel moderates in stages in a thinning forest to a trail sign along the south lake's outlet stream (2.85 miles : 10,543').
The trail leads north over the outlet to a thin, elevated band of spruce separating the two main lower lakes (2.9 miles 10,630'). Spurs branch off through tightly-spaced trees to the respective lakes - 3.0 miles : 10,575' (south) and 3.05 miles : 10,600' (north).
The south lake is narrow and hemmed by steep walls and timber; in contrast the north lake is large and accessible. Social tracks circle the lake to wide views of the basin and good lakeside campsites.
The outlets of each lower lake can be traced east to a third Crater Lake hidden from the main trail. To reach it, backtrack on the main trail to the aforementioned trail sign and follow the stream a few hundred yards east. There are also several social trails in the area leading to this lake.
No maintained trail leads to upper Crater Lakes, however you can follow the northern-lower lake's inlet to them. The route is very steep and may be impassible when wet or iced over.
Scale the steep wall on the west end of the lower northern lake. The climb levels off at the foot of a large talus field, from which you'll see the upper lakes and a direct (albeit difficult) line to them. Allow extra time for route-finding and negotiating rugged talus around the lakes.
- N39 54.181 W105 38.660 — 0.0 miles : 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 53.408 W105 40.127 — 1.95 miles : Crater Lakes Trail junction
- N39 53.410 W105 40.302 — 2.3 miles : Switchbacks through boulder slot
- N39 53.463 W105 40.360 — 2.45 miles : Cross right over foot bridge
- N39 53.504 W105 40.427 — 2.6 miles : Trail momentarily levels
- N39 53.681 W105 40.494 — 2.85 miles : Trail Sign at outlet stream crossing
- N39 53.726 W105 40.526 — 2.95 miles : Thin glade between lower lakes
- N39 53.706 W105 40.546 — 3.0 miles : Crater Lake (south)
- N39 53.844 W105 40.421 — 3.05 miles : Crater Lake (north)
- A good map will help you explore this feature-filled valley.
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 is permitted with a valid Colorado state fishing license. Contact the Boulder Ranger District for current regulations (303.541.2500).
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.
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301