Arapaho Lakes, East Portal Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Arapaho Lakes - 7.1 miles
East Portal Trailhead
|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)|
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 The Arapaho Lakes access trail is no longer maintained or marked, so good map and terrain-reading skills are necessary.
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.
- 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
- 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 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.
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446