Backpacking Tips n Tricks From a Trail in Colorado

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While taking the summer off to drive across the country in my RV I made a spur of the moment decision to head to Colorado. I couldn’t visit such a beautiful state without backpacking at least once. But permits are major thing in CO so the last minute nature of my decision left me with few trail options.

I needed a trail that didn’t require permits, had an access road my RV could manage, and an itinerary with short mile days for my old dog who still loves to hike but can’t make the big miles anymore.

The hike to Heart Lake in James Peak Wilderness fit the bill splendidly. This stunning area offers numerous destinations with lakes to choose from all under four miles from the trailhead with minimal elevation gain.

Day hikers and their dogs are numerous since each of the lakes make wonderful out and back adventures. It got me thinking how this area would be a perfect spot to introduce someone to backpacking for the very first time.

With that in mind I decided to include some backpacking 101 information in my latest trail video. I hope you find something useful that helps you enjoy your own adventures with more confidence.

For a list of everything I carry on trail check out My Full Gear List

Gear seen in video

Dog bowls
Cnoc bag
Sawyer Micro water filter
Hydrapak hydration reservoir
Solar panel alternative (Anker unavailable)
Anker battery
Para cord
Laird Hydrate Mix
Laird Instafuel Coffee mix
Trekking poles
Cook pot/mug
Sleeping quilt

In depth review of the Cnoc Vecto

Trail Information

The East Portal Trailhead provides access to South Boulder Creek Trail, Forest Lakes Trail, Crater Lakes Trail, Ute Trail and the Continental Divide Trail inside the James Peak Wilderness.

The East Portal Trailhead road does become a dirt road but it is very wide and well maintained. I had no trouble in my 19 foot RV.

Directions: From Nederland, travel south for 4.5 miles on Colorado Highway 119 to Rollinsville. Turn west onto the gravel Gilpin County Road 16 and continue eight miles to the Moffat Tunnel. A large parking area is available at the East Portal Trailhead.

Length: East Portal Trailhead (TH) to: Lower Crater Lake – 3 miles; Rogers Pass – 4.6 miles. DISTANCES ARE ONE-WAY

Elevation: 9,211 feet at East Portal TH; 10,600 feet at the main Crater Lakes; 11,060 feet at Rogers Pass Lake.

Trail Description: From East Portal Trailhead, follow South Boulder Creek Trail into the James Peak Wilderness for 2.2 miles to its junction with Crater Lakes Trail at the junction sign. Follow Crater Lakes Trail as it climbs steeply for a mile and crosses the narrow spit of land between the two main lakes.

Trail Highlights
From the northwest corner of the parking area, continue for 1.2 miles on the South Boulder Creek Trail #900 to the signed Forest Lakes Trail junction. Continue straight on the South Boulder Creek Trail for an additional mile. 

The Crater Lakes Trail turns right (north) off the South Boulder Creek Trail at the junction sign.  It climbs for a mile into a wide valley before crossing the narrow spit of land between the two main lakes. In June and early July, this valley can be full of deep snow and the trail not visible. 

Following South Boulder Creek Trail beyond the junction with Crater Lakes leads to Roger’s  Pass and Heart Lakes. 

Important Information 
Do not confuse the Crater Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness with Crater Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.


Permits are not required for overnight stays inside the James Peak Wilderness. However, other wilderness regulations apply. 

Access to the East Portal TH is available year round and pets must be kept on a hand held leash at all times.

Map I used

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 541-2500
FAX: (303) 541-2515

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