The James Peak Wilderness near Rollinsville and Nederland is an area filled with beautiful mountain valleys and alpine lakes. After hiking to most of the lakes in the area — Forest Lakes, Arapahoe Lakes, Crater Lakes, Rogers Pass Lake & Heart Lake, James Peak Lake, Loch Lomond and Slater Lake — there was just one valley left explored, the Clayton and Iceberg lakes valley.
The hike starts at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville (directions below). Hikers park just feet away from the railroad tracks. It’s likely you’ll see a train or at least hear one as you hike in this area. If you hear a loud buzzing noise as you hike, that caused by fans clearing the air in the tunnel between trains. For history buffs, the Moffat Tunnel opened in 1928. It is 6.21 miles long.
From the Crater Lakes turnoff, it’s time to start paying close attention to the trail. Most blogs about this hike say the trail to Clayton Lakes is .25 miles from the Crater Lakes turnoff. We turned off at 0.22 at a tree with a blue splotch of paint and two red/orange lines. (See slideshow.) That’s the wrong place. There is NO trail here. The trail is about 0.4 miles from the Crater Lakes turnoff. How will you know when you’re there? The trail is just BEFORE the bridge that has a single hand rail. Look closely, you may spot a trail under all the downed tree limbs. (see slideshow again) What do you do? Try to follow the “trail” toward the loud, gushing creek. The first tenth of a mile will make you wonder if you’re in the right spot. In one area, it looks like there was a rock slide that may have caused the forest service to close this trail. If you head toward the creek, if you try to follow the trail, after 0.1 miles you should see a very solid trail heading uphill. (see slideshow one more time) The trail is incredibly steep, but it is a solid trail and the steep angle has created numerous, beautiful waterfalls along the trail.
The trail climbs nearly 1,000 feet in 0.8 miles to a meadow. Take a few steps into the meadow and you should see Clayton Lake in between the trees. Congratulations! Clayton Lake is mainly visited by fishermen and campers. It’s a very quiet, peaceful place because the trail is so difficult to find and hike. While the hike to Clayton Lake is short, it is only for experienced hikers because of the extremely steep trail and because it is off the beaten path.
After a snack, we hiked up the valley to Iceberg Lakes. Again, this is only for experienced hikers who know how to hike off-trail and use a map, compass and GPS. We went up the right side of the valley and down the left side of the valley to avoid the willows and never found a trail. From Clayton Lake, it was about 1.2 miles and 780 feet of elevation gain to the incredible Iceberg Lakes.
Details: From the Moffat Tunnel parking lot to Clayton Lake via the old trail is about 6.4 miles RT with 1,800 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Boulder, take Canyon Blvd/Highway 119 to Nederland. At the traffic circle in Nederland, turn left/south on Highway 119 to Rollinsville. In Rollinsville, turn right/west on the dirt Rollins Pass Road. This road is typically OK for passenger vehicles. It’s 8 miles to the trailhead at the Moffat Tunnel.
To find more hikes in Colorado and through the west, check out my extensive list of great hiking ideas.
Don’t miss any of my hiking reports, click the “sign up” button at the top of this article and follow me, DenverHikingExaminer on Facebook.