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Crater Lakes Trail via South Boulder Creek Trail

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James Peak Wilderness

Crater Lakes Trail via South Boulder Creek Trail is a 6.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Nederland, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking and is best used from June until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Length 6.5 mi Elevation gain 1,804 ft Route type Out & Back
Dogs on leash Backpacking Camping Fishing Hiking Forest Lake River Views Waterfall Wild flowers Wildlife Bugs Over grown Rocky Scramble
Description
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Getting There

Forest trail with mountain views leading to alpine lakes. This trail takes you into the James Peak wilderness. The first part is an old jeep trail that will take you up to WP22, from there a new trail heads up to crater lakes. This trail fades in a couple places since it is not well defined yet, but push on and you will find it again. Look for cairns in the rocky areas to continue trail. Middle Lakes are easily accessible. Continue between the middle lakes staying on path that runs along the left side of the lake on the right. Upper Lakes take more effort and there is light scrambling. Continue past the lower lake and climb to the final lake at the base of Continental divide. Bring your fishing gear in the summer.

USDA Forest Service - Boulder Ranger District, 303541-2500

From Boulder, head west on Canyon Blvd which is Hwy 119 to the town of Nederland. Continue south on Hwy 119 to Rollinsville. Turn west on E. Portal road for about 7.5 miles to the trailhead. The trailhead is by the east portal entrance of the train tunnel (Moffet Tunnel), proceed NW to the trail that goes over the tunnel entrance.

Weather
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Daylight
Reviews (1172)
Photos (1160)
Recordings (796)
Completed (2453)
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Jenny McAuliffe
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Hiking

Beautiful hike! Very crowded. I arrived at 6:30am on a Saturday and the lot was already 20% full - completely full at 10:30 when I finished. Only 40% of people had masks. But the aspen’s were incredible, and the lakes were beautiful.

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heidi kuppelwieser
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Hiking

oops. forgot to stop the app. The trail and lakes are great. We had some pretty crazy wind at the lake and were sprayed by water whipped up by the wind.

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Jessica McMillan
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Hiking

Awesome hike. Road in was easy, as well as keeping the trail. The last mile to the lower lakes kicked my butt, as well as the hike up to the upper lake but it was all worth it. This would be a great backpacking trip. My dog and I started around 12:45 and it took us four hours with some breaks. Saw very few people and we had the whole upper lake to ourselves.

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Caitlin Evans
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BackpackingGreat!

A group of us just backpacked this 9.19-9.20 and it kicked our butt but was worth it! The hike would have been a lot easier without the 25-30 pound pack but we signed ourselves up for that :) The road to the trail is several miles on a dirt road but completely flat, any car could easily do it. Trail was extremely well maintained, I don’t know why a couple people have said they couldn’t figure out what direction to go. It is sort of a stair stepper situation the last mile which can be a little bit brutal but we saw all ages (kid’s/dogs/ adults/ people over the age of 50) so it seemed to work for a wide variety of people. The trek to the upper crater lake wasn’t something that we had looked up before hand but cloud not resist. Ended up being 2.2 miles RT with a boulder field (we love a good scramble so that was fun!) but the elevation gain and the length was not something we prepared for. It made the 6.4 mile hike into 8.6 Also our fault, it was significantly colder than we planned for! We all had a down jacket and several pairs of socks and leggings on (with beanies and gloves) and slept pretty horribly so if you are going that route pack for 20ish degrees at night. Only other weird thing is that someone came up to our group and told us we were being too loud, at exactly 9pm? In a massive backpacking area so that was weird. I feel like the typical quite time is 10. We did have 5 girls there but we were all sitting closely in a circle just eating dinner.. definitely were not ‘throwing a party’ and we were asleep by 10:15 at the latest. I hope that helps! Have fun out there.

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julia oster
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 19, 2020
Hiking

Great trail. Lots of shade. The lake kind of sneaks up on you. Super busy though. But a gorgeous drive to get to. The road is not bad. And car could do it.

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Vanessa Cote
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Hiking

The road to the trailhead is a basic dirt road, it’s fine...no suv needed. The trail is pretty well marked, a couple times where it fades but if you’re paying attention, you’ll be good. The lakes were really pretty. Saw somebody shoot a moose not far from the trailhead. It was very disturbing and sad...set the tone for our hike and I will likely not be back to this area as it was pretty traumatic. We were stunned and didn’t quite know what to do. Be safe out there people and make good choices.

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Dominique Guillen
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HikingRockyScramble
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Danielle Latimore
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Hiking

Hiked on Friday 9/18/20. Started just before 9am and was pleasantly surprised to find the trail not super crowded. A couple backpackers headed out for a long weekend, but it seems the bulk of the hikers did Upper Forest Lakes (also great, did that earlier this year) or other trails off the main path rather than this one. The last bit is a slog up to the main lake, but the hike is pretty throughout! Great views of the lower lakes from the top. Very dog friendly. The parking lot is massive but does fill up later in the day. Note that it was below 40 degrees at 9am when I started - jacket advised this time of year!

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Cody John
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HikingGreat!MuddyRockyScramble

So getting to the trailhead is a little rough, make sure you have a suv. Very bumpy road to trailhead. Trail is very rocky all the way up, either eh last mile or so very rocky. Make sure you wear good shoes. Also when you get to the lake just stop, the views from the top aren’t worth the climb in my opinion. Lakes were gorgeous. Lots of fish in them and ice cold. Also trail is more like 7.5-8 miles, not 6.7.

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Sharyn Campbell
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 14, 2020
Hiking

Hiked on a Monday in mid-September. Parking lot pretty full when I arrived at 10. Didn’t enjoy the drive in or out on the ~9 mile rough road. Outhouses were filthy. People leave trash even though signage clearly says there is no trash service. These are federal lands and they are clearly strapped for funds. No toilet paper; bring your own. Enjoyed the running water on the South Boulder Creek Trail. Found the forest trail hard to navigate at times; there are 90-degree turns that aren’t switchbacks, and several downed trees blocking the trail. I wasn’t alone with navigation issues; I helped others on the way up and down, since I had downloaded the map. The lower lakes are beautiful w room to spread out. I went to the upper lake and regretted it. It’s not accessible, and I wished I’d used that time to enjoy the lower lakes instead. If you want a photo of the two lower lakes, you can take the left trail that leads to the upper lake. You need not go all the way up to get the best shot. It’s definitely steep w some scree. I was very grateful for the cairns in the boulder field leading to the upper lake. The two trails that lead to upper lake didn’t seem to connect at the top. I thought I’d go up one way and return the other. But there are huge boulders at the very top that gave me pause. I did not want to risk navigating them to find the second trail. So I took some pics and headed back down the way I came, carefully.

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Julie Menconi
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HikingGreat!
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Sarah Armstrong
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WalkingGreat!MuddyRockySnow

Awesome hike! Starts moderate, but definitely gets difficult. Beautiful the whole way. We took a small lunch and hung out at the lakes for awhile before heading back down. I recommend good shoes / hiking boots as you have to climb over/ up a lot of rock. The trails fades out in places but if you keep going you’ll find it again. Populated but not crowded. It was awesome!

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Charles Bohl
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Hiking

Difficult at the end getting to the top lake! Not well marked higher up. Before then though moderate difficultu and easy to read trail. The top lake is gorgeous and worth the extra effort!

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Kyle Sandor
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Hiking
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Yaniv Chriqui
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hi everyone, I lost my sunglasses on the first leg of the trail....a black Ray-Ban Wayfair ...if someone picked it up.....it will be awesome if you contact me at: coloradolocks@gmail.com thank you trail was very nice, lakes are relaxing and beautiful...the way to the lakes is not as hard as one expect ...however, there some climbing parts that will take a toll on you, but the view from the top worth every step:) did it Monday ..took about 5 hours ...was windy and felt cold around the lake. ..

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Collin Knoploh
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Hiking
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Alfredo Mora
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HikingGreat!Rocky

I hiked this trail for the first time on Friday (9/4). Got to the trailhead at 6 am and only saw two hikers coming down. The hike starts off gradual for the first 1.5 miles but then starts to get a bit tougher as you make the turn up the trail to the lakes. It was more lush than I expected and the sound of the rushing water in the nearby stream was relaxing. The trail up to the first two lakes was a bit confusing at times but not too bad. When I got to the lakes, the water was so calm and the reflections of the mountain was beautiful. This area is perfect for an overnight stay and I did run into a few campers up there. I couldn’t find the easier route to the upper lake so I went straight up through the difficult and steep route. The views up there of the two bottom lakes are stunning and there were still some nice wildflowers along the trail. I scrambled over boulders and arrived at the top lake. It was peaceful up there. The lake had a nice color to it. On my way back down around noon I did see lots of people going up. Definitely got busy but people were nice and wore masks. All in all it was a great hike with great views of the lakes.

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Tali Burger
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 6, 2020
Hiking

Gorgeous hike! Started our hike by 6:45 and finished by 11:30. Trail head was empty on the way up, and packed coming down. Definitely recommend the early start. The third lake is a bit of a harder hike to get to but I highly recommend. Loved being so close to water!

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Bryan Gomez
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Hiking

Once you get to the lower lakes, you will see a trail to the upper lake that looks pretty intimidating. You DO NOT have to take this trail, follow along the lake on the right until you see another trail on your left that will also take you to the upper lake. The first trail is more difficult, but it definitely does some good views.

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Samantha Nicholas
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HikingGreat!Rocky

The trail was amazing, thank you to everyone who recommended it. (Also if you have Verizon you will have no service the entire time, even while driving in, so download an offline map on your phone, or print out directions.) My roommate and I went today, Saturday 9/5/20 and got there about 7:20 and the lot was about 80% full with some parked on the road. When we left we noticed the cars on the road had tickets so be careful! It is a big lot but I absolutely recommend getting there early. Also, another thing we did not know, the road in is a dirt road, so just be aware. My roommate drove her Toyota sedan and it was fine, but we woulda taken my AWD SUV had we known. There are outhouses at the parking lot and no where else, and one didn't have toilet paper, so again, be careful. We started the hike at about 7:30 and I am an absolute novice. My roommate is more in shape than I am but even she admitted this is one of the hardest hikes she has been on. The beginning is fine. The last mile to crater lakes is a doosy. lots of rocks and rocky steps going pretty steeply up. The lower lakes are gorgeous and totally worth it though. Then we decided to go up to the higher lakes. We thought the only way up was this extremely steep path, and thus went up it. It was extremely difficult. It is very, very steep with lots of loose rocks. My roommate and I basically had to crawl up. The views were incredible though. Then we got to the upper lakes. Gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. We made it to the top lakes by 10am. 2.5 hours for us to hike up there. Then we found out there was a different way down that was much easier, though still steep. The other way took us to the fourth and final lake and in my opinion, the prettiest one. The other way down also had a waterfall which was gorgeous. Be cautious though because this trail makes you cross the waterfall at one point. My roommate struggle with that but we made it. If you decide to do the top two lakes, it does add another 2 miles to the trip. At the end of the hike our watches read 8.7 and 8.8 miles round trip. Being beginner hikers we also started at roughly 7:30am and got back to the car at 1:00pm. There were a lot of dogs, which was awesome. On our way up we didn't see too many people, which was nice. but on our descent it was just crowds of people starting the trail. So if you wanna miss the crowds definitely go early and leave before noon. I also saw some people bringing very young kids. I would not recommend this trail for kids, even the lower lakes. Many of the kids were between 5-8 and not capable of a hike this substantial. I saw a lot of tripping and falling on the kids part. Some 11yo-ish looking kids did make it to the upper lakes and they seemed fine! Overall amazing hike. I recommend getting there early, bring PLENTY of water and refills, snacks, and understanding this is a moderate-difficult hike and can be longer than 6 miles of you choose to do the upper lakes (which I recommend). If you are new to CO (like me) and are having issues with the altitude you might wanna wait on this one. If you aren't good with steep, rocky inclines, you might not want to do this one. If you want to escape the crowds get there early and get out early. Also it warms up a lot by noon so if you want to beat the heat you'll also want to get there early. Sorry this is long, I just wish I had all this information before I went.

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Jean Farmer
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HikingGreat!Rocky
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