Family Weekender: Denver

James Peak Roosevelt National Forest
By Bill Scanlon
Go Guide: James Peak
Activities: Backpacking
Age Levels:
Hours from Denver: 1
Getting There: Take U.S. 6 west to Colorado 119. Take 119 north to Rollinsville. There, take the Rollins Pass Road, 16 Rd, west to East Portal. Start at the East Portal trailhead.
Contact: Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest, 970-498-1100 or
Extra Treats: A half-mile climb from Rogers Lake to the saddle of Rogers Pass is rewarded by a dramatic view of what the family just climbed.

For astonishing beauty without the crowds, the adventurous family can't do better than James Peak, about 50 miles west of Denver, rising spledidly above the Roosevelt National Forest.

Take the South Boulder Creek Trail past remnants of old cabins in a wetlands area where Arapaho and Boulder creeks spill from higher lakes. On your left is the inappropriately named Nebraska Hill, which at more than 11,000 feet is more mountain than hill, and looks nothing like Nebraska.

After a mile, look for a fork to the right which leads up to the jaw-dropping beauty of Crater Lakes. Surrounded by heavy timber, this is a great place to camp. Explore the spectacular waterfalls and plunge pools.

Otherwise, wend your way through spruce and fir and over stream rivulets to a trail fork at the three-mile mark. Follow the creek to your right to Heart Lake. After an 800-foot climb, level off and trek through a forest of twisted wood, wrought by howling winds sweeping off the Continental Divide.

Another quarter mile hike to the south brings you to Rogers Lake. Camp at least 200 feet from the lake. To the south looms 13,294-foot James Peak. Back at camp, send the kids fishing. Relax, enjoy, reflect on the privilege of living in Colorado.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »