Lets take in the fall colors on a beautiful hike to Crater lakes! This is a moderate hike that will will do at a comfortable pace for everyone with stops every 15 min. to talk and giving time for anyone needing to catch up or rest a few minutes. when we reach the first set of lakes (3.0 miles) we will stop for lunch, conversation, sharing and reflection or if the group agrees we can lunch at the upper lakes if the group agrees to continue onward to the lakes.
There are five valleys here filled with scenic lakes: Forest Lakes, Arapahoe Lakes, Crater Lakes, Clayton/Iceberg Lakes and Heart Lake. The trails to all the lakes start just north of the tunnel. Look for the sign that says "East Portal Trailhead, South Boulder Creek Trail No. 900." The single-track trail goes around the tunnel to the official trailhead sign.
The trail to all the lakes is the same for the first mile. Hikers walk through the forest, crossing South Boulder Creek several times. Most of the crossings are on bridges, but come early in the hiking season and you'll find plenty of places where the stream runs right over the trail. As you hike along the first mile, you may even spot the ruins of a wooden home or building, a metal building of some sort and even a still-standing home that likely was abandoned many years ago.
The first trail split is in a wide, open meadow. Here, the trails to Forest & Arapahoe Lakes turn off. It is worth taking a short jaunt on this trail to the nearby bridge and waterfall for a picture stop. Return back to the meadow to explore the ruins of two to three buildings. At least one appears to have been an old homestead. After exploring, continue on the main trail.
From here, the trail becomes more rocky and moves into a wetter, thicker forest. The trail also starts to gain more elevation.
The junction for the Crater Lakes trail is 2 miles from the trailhead. Here, the trail gets much tougher as it takes hikers on a series of switchbacks, over bridges, even through a slot between two boulders.
At the valley holding the Lower Crater Lakes, the trail levels out a bit. However, in late June, we still found tall snow fields between the lakes. Having a GPS can be a big help to find your way around.
There are three lower Crater Lakes, two on the main trail, one slightly lower. There is a trail between the main lower lakes, you can also hike around their shores. The scenery around both lakes is a treat. You may even spot fishermen trying their luck in one of the lakes.
As you enjoy the lake views, you'll likely see and hear a large waterfall. There is actually a trail next to that waterfall that takes hikers to the two Upper Crater Lakes. While the trail is steep and difficult to find at times, it is worth the time and effort to enjoy this waterfall up close. Come early in the summer and the waterfall will be gushing. Come mid- to late-summer and enjoy the wildflowers that grow on the waterfall's banks.
At the top of the waterfall, another valley waits with two amazing lakes. Come on a still day and your photos may reflect the snowbanks on the nearby mountains in the water. While many hikers and campers visit Lower Crater Lakes, few make the effort to visit the Upper Crater Lakes, making it a quiet place for a lunch stop.
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 72. Rollins Pass Road is located 4.9 miles south of Nederland, Colorado.
The dirt road is well-maintained but conditions deteriorate when wet.
Round-Trip Length: 6.0 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
Dogs Allowed: Yes
We can set up carpooling from the Denver area and the Boulder area.
From Highway 72, turn west on Rollins Pass Road and Keep Straight until it dead-ends at the Moffat Tunnel. Ignore turnoffs that climb toward the pass