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James Peak Wilderness

The James Peak Wilderness was designated as wilderness in 2002 by an act of Congress and signed by George W. Bush. The wilderness encompasses 17,084 acres with 15 lakes, 4 trails covering 20 miles, and crosses the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass. The elevation ranges from 9,200 to 13,294 feet, which includes upper montane, sub-alpine, and alpine ecosystems.


The James Peak Wilderness was named for its second highest peak, 13,294 foot "James Peak," in honor of Dr. Edwin James, an early explorer, historian, and botanist who was a member of the famous Stephen H. Long expedition to Colorado in 1820. The James Peak Wilderness is located just south of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and west of the town of Rollinsville. 

Map of Colorado Front Range with arrow pointing to James Peak Wilderness south west of Boulder in Gilpin County.

Planning your visit

The James Peak Wilderness is located a 1-hour drive southwest from Boulder and 1-hour 30 minute drive northwest from Denver. ​


The trailheads are located in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests near the mountain towns of Nederland and Rollinsville.

Hiking Trails


The James Peak Wilderness has several trails covering 20 miles. The main access point for the wilderness is at the East Portal trailhead, which begins at the Moffat Tunnel parking lot at the end of the East Portal Rd/Tolland Rd (a dirt road passable for most vehicles).


Note: Another access point for the wilderness is up the very rough 4WD Rollins Pass Rd, which turns off the main road and provides access to Yankee Doodle Lake, Jenny Lake, the Needle Eye Tunnel and the Forest Lakes Trailhead. 

Popular destinations in the James Peak Wilderness include Rogers Pass Lake, Rogers Pass and Heart Lake, accessed by following the South Boulder Creek Trail from the East Portal Trailhead. From the South Boulder Creek Trail, hikers can head to the Lower and Upper Forest Lakes by taking the Forest Lakes Trail at the junction, or hikers can opt to take the Crater Lakes Trail to the Crater Lakes.  

From the East Portal Trailhead, follow the South Boulder Creek Trail around the north side of the train tunnel. The trail soon enters James Peak Wilderness Area. It is 1.2 miles on the South Boulder Creek Trail to the signed Forest Lakes Trail junction.


The South Boulder Creek Trail continues straight ahead, intersecting Crater Lakes Trail after another half-mile. The last 2.5 miles of trail roughly follows South Boulder Creek. The trail reaches a small pond, followed soon by Rogers Pass Lake. Traverse the ridge north of Rogers Pass Lake to overlook Heart Lake or to reach Rogers Pass and intersect the Continental Divide Trail.

Know Before You Go


Start here: for alerts and closures, regulations, backpacking information & permits, trail maps, and more: USFS James Peak Wilderness page. Also visit COTREX Colorado Trail Explorer

Always follow Leave No Trace Principles

Check out Trail Conditions reported by our volunteers. 

Visit the Ecology, Flora & Fauna page for safety tips in Moose, Bear and Mountain Lion Country!


Check out Weather Conditions and the Niwot Ridge TundraCam at 11,600 ft 



James Peak Wilderness Brochure & Map

James Peak Wilderness Topo Map



The East Portal Trailhead has a large parking lot near the Moffat Tunnel - a restricted area where the railroad and water tunnels through the Continental Divide. The Moffat Tunnel is actively used by freight and passenger trains, including the Winter Park Ski train!

To learn more about the history of Rollins Pass and the Moffat Tunnel, check out the wiki page.


The closest campground to the trailhead is the Kelly Dahl Campground located 9 miles away, along the Peak to Peak highway.  Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777. You can also contact Boulder Ranger District (970-295-6600) as they will answer questions about known availability etc. 

Backpacking & Overnight Use

Backpacking and overnight use in the James Peak Wilderness is available year-round and permits are not required (as they are in the nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness). Optional self-service permits are free and can be filled out at the trailhead.


  • Motorized equipment, or mechanized transportation is prohibited, including motorcycles, chain saws, bicycles or carts. Wheelchairs are exempt.

  • Campfires are prohibited. Camp stoves are allowed.

  • Group size is limited to12 people or a combined total of 12 people and livestock.

  • Pets must be on a hand-held leash at all times. Visit Dogs in the Wilderness for more tips and information.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100 feet of lakes, streams, and trails.

  • Stock:

    • Hobbled, tethered, or picketed livestock are prohibited within 100 feet of lakes, streams, or trails.

    • Grazing livestock within 100 feet of lakes, streams, or developed trails is prohibited.

    • Certified weed-free forage is required.  Only pelletized or steam-rolled feed grains, or certified weed-free hay, straw, or mulch are allowed in the Wilderness.

Please note, if there is any discrepancy between any rules and regulations as presented on the IPWA site and on the US Forest Service site, then those found on the US Forest Service site take precedence.

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