Crater Lakes

Round-Trip Length:  6 miles – to lower Crater Lakes :: upper Crater Lakes add 2.2 miles roundtrip

Start-End Elevation:  9,211′ – 10,600′ (10,632′ max elevation)

Elevation Change:  +1,389′ net elevation gain (+1,523′ total roundtrip elevation gain)

Skill Level:  Moderate

Trailhead Location:   East Portal Trailhead – End of Rollins Pass Road, an 8.2 mile dirt road west of Highway 72. Rollins Pass Road is located 4.9 miles south of Nederland, Colorado.

In August by brother-in-law contacted me and was looking for suggestions for a weekend backpacking trip that had a lake, was a close drive, and was dog friendly and wondered if Lisa and I were interested in joining him and his wife for the adventure. He also wanted a level site with trees, a view, soft grass, a  babbling brook, and no wind!  I pulled out my “Hiking to Do List” and looked for possibilities that met his criteria.  After reviewing my list, I suggested a hike to Crater Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness area.

The trailhead is located at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel about 10 miles west of Rollinsville, Colorado.  The railroad tunnel is 24 feet high, 18 feet wide, and 6.2 miles long. The apex of the tunnel is at 9,239 feet above sea level. The West Portal is near the Winter Park Resort ski area.  The Moffat Tunnel opened in 1928 and finally provided Denver with a western link through the continental divide and shortened the distance between Denver and the Pacific coast by 176 miles.  The water tunnel and the railroad tunnel parallel each other; the water tunnel delivers a portion of Denver’s water supply.

East Portal – Moffat Tunnel

We started down the trail about 11:30am on a beautiful summer Saturday morning.  A few wildflowers right near the trail’s start.

A quick stop about 20 minutes up the trail for a picture!

After 1.85 miles (and about 720 feet of elevation gain) we came to the Crater Lakes trail split.  The Rogers Pass trail to the left takes you up another beautiful valley to Rogers Pass Lake and Heart Lake.  We took a right and continued on up towards Crater Lakes.

After 2.3 miles the trail takes you through a narrow slot between two large boulders.

After 3 miles we arrived at north Crater Lake, the larger of the two lower lakes, with great views of the surrounding peaks.

An elevated band of spruce separates the two main lower lakes (north and south).  The south lake is narrow and bound tightly by steep walls and timber.

We scouted around the lakes looking for a campsite.  We came across a great site on the strip of land between the two lakes which had views of both lakes and set up camp.

After setting up camp, my brother-in-law, myself, and Mesa (his labradoodle) decided to head off up the steep trail towards the upper lakes.  You can see a few other hikers heading up the steep upper trail.

Partway up the steep trail to the upper lakes, I took this shot looking back down on the lower lakes.  It’s one of my favorite shots capturing both lakes and the strip of land between the two.  Our campsite is about in the middle of the strip on the right hand side.

After continuing to scale the steep wall on the west end of the lower northern lake, the trail leveled off somewhat at the foot of a large talus field.  After scrambling over some huge boulders, I finally got to an overlook of the upper lakes.  The upper lakes are about 400 feet above the lower lakes.

Upper Lake #1

After taking in the views of the upper lakes, I headed back down to camp for dinner.  After dining on our gourmet meal of freeze-dried chicken and rice, it was time for a rousing game of UNO.  Since we were backpacking and wanted to travel light, we brought a very tiny (and I mean tiny!) deck of UNO cards!

As dusk fell, I took this one final picture of the lake.

Dusk on the south lake

The early morning light and calmness of the lakes is always the best time to get some great reflection pictures.

Early morning reflection on the south lake

Early morning reflection on the south lake

Lisa went out in the morning to capture some great pictures of the wildflowers.

We took a hike around the north lake in the morning to capture views of the lake from different directions.

We could have stayed and enjoyed the lakes all day, but it was time to pack up camp and head back down the trail.

It was a wonderful weekend enjoying the beauty of Crater Lakes and the James Peak Wilderness area!

8 thoughts on “Crater Lakes

  1. Hi Bob!
    Really enjoyed that report, some stunning photographs especially the morning lake shots. What a place that must have been for a wild camp. Your story of the tiny cards made me smile. I recall a trip where a me and a friend tried play cards in a small tent in the rain using a pack we got from a christmas cracker – the cards were only a couple of cm long

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