Forest Lakes, East Portal Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Forest Lakes - 7.8 miles

East Portal Trailhead

Peering through the woods at upper Forest Lake

Peering through the woods at upper Forest Lake

Round-Trip Length: 7.8 miles (includes both lakes)
Start-End Elevation: 9,211' - 10,852' (10,883' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,641' net elevation gain (+1,729' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Forest Lakes - 7.8 Miles Round-Trip

The Forest Lakes are located 3.9 miles from East Portal Trailhead in the James Peak Wilderness. The first lake occupies a marshy flat below treeline; the second, much larger lake fills a deep bowl at treeline below Rollins Pass and the Continental Divide. There are several outlying ponds that require off-trail navigation to reach.

A short trail runs down from Rollins Pass Road to the upper lake, though access is limited by difficult driving conditions and occasional closures. Hikers and runners starting from East Portal will enjoy moderate grades, abundant flowers and excellent fishing on the way to Forest Lakes:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Follow signs right (north) of Moffat Tunnel to the South Boulder Creek Trail; stay on this trail and be mindful of private property. A wide path rises west of the tunnel through mixed forest and glades to the Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail split (1.25 miles : 9,555').

The Forest Lake Trail bends north to a bridge over Arapaho Creek (1.75 miles : 9,877'). Once over it enters a thick spruce-fir forest and steepens by the creek to a second Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail split (2.3 miles : 10,185').

The trail continues north in a thinning forest on a faint, shifting path to a footbridge over the outlet of Forest Lake #1 (3.15 miles : 10,664'). It follows the stream through a marsh to the south shore of Forest Lake #1 (3.25 miles).

Most of the lake is accessible - the south and east sides shaded while the north is an open meadow. The lake is relatively small and easy for anglers to circle.

Contrary to some map depictions the main trail continues up the west side of Forest Lake #1. It rises then drops to wooden planks over a marshy inlet (3.4 miles), then turns sharply uphill on a rugged path.

The narrow, uneven trail negotiates minor obstacles and a small talus field (3.55 miles : 10,767') while veering away from the stream to its apogee (3.8 miles : 10,883'). Here it drops through a dismantled forest to the northeast corner of Forest Lake #2 (3.9 miles : 10,852').

Much of the shore - though rugged and obstructed in places - is accessible by social trail; its size and many contours afford privacy and space, even when crowded. Forest Lake's SE corner opens to a marshy meadow with good morning light, and useful perspective on the local topography.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 54.181 W105 38.660 — 0.0 miles : East Portal Trailhead
  • N39 54.103 W105 38.879 — .25 miles : James Peak Wilderness backcountry board
  • N39 53.601 W105 39.628 — 1.25 miles : Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail junction
  • N39 54.072 W105 39.399 — 1.75 miles : Cross Arapaho Creek
  • N39 54.435 W105 39.661 — 2.3 : Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes Trail junction #2
  • N39 54.796 W105 39.856 — 2.8 mile mark
  • N39 54.976 W105 40.021 — 3.15 miles : Cross footbridge near Forest Lake #1
  • N39 55.015 W105 40.062 — 3.25 miles : Forest Lake #1
  • N39 55.076 W105 40.122 — 3.4 miles : Begin climb up Forest Lake #1 inlet
  • N39 55.194 W105 40.149 — 3.55 miles : Cross left through small talus field
  • N39 55.319 W105 40.268 — 3.8 miles : Trail crests; begin drop to lake
  • N39 55.336 W105 40.369 — 3.9 miles : Forest Lake #2

Worth Noting

  • The Forest Lakes are part of a heavily used trail system and very popular among anglers. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Be mindful of changing weather conditions and get below treeline before storms organize.

  • Snow may linger into late summer and obscure portions of the trail. Carry an updated topographical map, be patient with route finding and tread lightly to minimize erosion.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are not required but it's advisable to contact the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest Service or Boulder Ranger District in advance for the latest updates and conditions.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

  • Campfires are prohibited unless otherwise states.

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

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado state fishing license. Contact the Boulder Ranger District for current regulations (303.541.2500).

Directions to Trailhead

The East Portal Trailhead is located at the end of Rollins Pass Road, an 8.2 mile dirt road west of Highway 119. Rollins Pass Road is located 4.9 miles south of Nederland, Colorado.

The dirt road is well-maintained but conditions deteriorate when wet.

From Highway 119, turn west on Rollins Pass Road and Keep Straight until it dead-ends at the Moffat Tunnel. Ignore turnoffs that climb toward the pass.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Hiked this trail again yesterday (7/3/16). One of my faves in the area. Stop at the first lake to soak in the beauty, but make sure to continue to the upper lake. Very little snow left up close to the upper lake. But nothing to make it difficult or messy. Just enough for the dog to play in and cool off. This trail is up hill the entire distance- but the easy incline type, not the step/climb up boulders type. Great little heart/lung workout. I highly recommend this trail. "
Ann Marie  -  Superior, CO  -  Date Posted: July 4, 2016
"I hiked this trail over the weekend, and being that it was still early in the season and there is a lot of tree coverage, most of the trail was covered in snow. The most important thing I wanted to note, however, is that there was a bridge - it must have been at the Arapahoe Creek crossing - that had a very thin sheet of solid ice on it. I don't think I would have noticed the ice until it was too late if I hadn't been warned about it. Most of the bridge was dry. I even heard from some backpackers that the bridge had been clear in the evening the day before, so it must just re-freeze over night when the water is high and the temps are cold. The creek was roaring, and the bridge is narrow, so please please exercise caution for both yourself, your children, and your dogs if you bring any along :)"
Lauren  -   -  Date Posted: June 16, 2014
"I had been to Forest Lake two years ago via 4-wheel road....this time I took the challenge (I am a flatlander) and I made it! Great hike and the Aspens were changing to a yellow/gold. Camped at Forest Lakes and headed back down the next day. I have been to the third pond that is mentioned above and yes it is worth it. I thank my son who inspired his 51 year old Mom to keep going!"
Toni  -  Savannah, Ga  -  Date Posted: September 20, 2012
"Great hike. It is worth noting though that the name of the road off of 119 is not "Rollins Pass Rd" but rather "Tolland Rd." Be wary of this if searching for the trail head via GPS or smart phone as Rollins Pass Rd doesn't exist on any map."
Becky  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: June 24, 2012
"Started out for Arapaho Lakes but missed a turn (the sign was evidently 'absent') and ended up at Forest Lakes. Very pleasant walk though. Above the second lake to the southwest is a third small snowfield/glacier-fed pond - it's worth the scramble."
Bill  -  Firestone, CO  -  Date Posted: June 23, 2012
"Hi, needing some information regarding camping 720-338-7681 Thanks, Patti"
Patti  -   -  Date Posted: June 18, 2012


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