By: Mark Munson @markonthemove
Trail Length: 6-8 Miles Round Trip
Trail Type: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes
Crater Lakes Trail is a scenic trail located about 8 miles west of Rollinsville, Colorado near the east portal of the Moffat train tunnel. It services a collection of five high alpine lakes, 3 that make up the lower Crater Lakes, and two lakes making the Upper Crater Lakes. The trail's elevation gain causes some hikers to shy away from this location, making it only moderately trafficked.
Just getting to the trailhead after a good snowfall seemed to be a feat in itself. To access the trailhead you have to take a dirt road out about 8 miles west of Rollinsville. Lots of early morning wind, whipping through the valley had caused snow drifts on the dirt road. I would definitely recommend having a 4x4 vehicle to get to the trailhead if it has recently snowed. If not, it shouldn't be too difficult get there, but keep it in mind. The parking lot is being enough to fit about 50 cars comfortably, but you can also park along the road if they parking lot is full.
The trail begins by ascending into the nearby valley keeping a steady elevation throughout. Being an ill-defined trail, I would recommend using navigational assistance via the All Trails app, or an alternative source. During the winter season, the beginning of the trail is packed down from hikers and cross country skiers. Starting my ascent at about 9AM, there were barely any other tracks on the trail. The snow from the previous day was still fresh, making snow shoes necessary almost immediately. With fresh snow and without snowshoes, this trail wouldn't be doable. A couple days after snowfall I would assume that the trail would be packed down from the backcountry skiers, making it doable with crampons. Up until a mile out from the lower Crater Lakes, the trail is basically flat. Once you hit the junction where you turn off the regular path the ascent truly starts. The elevation rises quickly after the sign so get your hiking legs ready! If you are an avid backcountry enthusiast, this spot is definitely worth checking out to earn some powdery turns. Having snowshoes for this hike saved my legs from complete misery, so I would definitely recommend bringing some. After making it basically all the way up, my group was a half mile out from the lakes and we noticed that we were off trail. Our options were either back tracking and trying to find the trail once again, or take our chances trekking through the deep powder to hope we find our destination. I'm not an advocate of wandering off trail, especially in a forest where I can't fully navigate. So unfortunately, we were forced to turn around a half mile out from the lakes. I do believe that if the snow hadn't fallen the day before we would have had a much better chance of actually making it to the lakes. Recent reviews for the hike had told me you could definitely make it to the lakes with snowshoes, but from the snow the previous day the trail wasn't defined enough to follow all the way up to the lakes.
Although we didn't make it to our end destination, the hike was still very rewarding. Being amongst snow covered pine trees the entire time was meditation in itself. For the conditioned hiker, this is a perfect length hike. The elevation gain can seem intimidating but once you realize you are halfway up the trail it becomes irrelevant. If you are a fitness fanatic, the hike definitely offers a good leg exercise. The views far outweigh the physical challenges on this hike and if you make it all the way up to the lakes that is even more true. If you are looking for a good winter hike to get the heart pumping a little bit, I highly recommend visiting Crater Lakes Trail!
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