Length: 13.2 miles
Closest Town: Winter Park
Directions: From Winter Park, head southeast on CO-40 S before turning left onto Arrow Trail for 0.1 miles. Turn right to stay on Arrow Trail for 0.5 miles and then turn right onto FR 128 and stay left for 2.3 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 80 / FR 149 and continue for 7.5 miles until you reach Rollins Pass. A 4WD vehicle is recommended for this road.
USGS 7.5 Quadrangles: East Portal and Empire; CDTC Mapset: Maps 185, 186, and 187, Sections CO33 and CO34.
For More Information:
Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest, Sulphur Ranger District: (970)-887-4100.
Despite its location just 50 miles west of Denver, many long-distance hikers call James Peak and its surrounding area the “most magical part of the entire CDT.” The alpine traverse to James Peak gives hikers top-of-the-world exposure and big views into Rocky Mountain National Park and the James Peak Wilderness. This hike starts right on the Divide, at almost 12,000 feet, so the elevation gain over the course of the trip is relatively manageable, in spite of the high elevation of James Peak. Some of the hike lacks a clear trail and requires you to follow posts and cairns, but there is a clear line of sight to where you need to go above treeline. For those without a 4WD vehicle, starting at the East Portal Trailhead near Moffat Tunnel and following the Rogers Pass Trail up Boulder Creek and past Rogers Peak Lake is a good way to access James Peak and enjoy a pleasant overnight trip.
From Rollins Pass, walk on the dirt Corona Pass Road/Road 80 south, ignoring Road 501 on your left. After 0.5 miles, you will see a trail/two-track on the east (left) side of the road. Follow this trail, climbing 400 feet over the next mile to a high point near a radio beacon. While it may look like the trail splits many times, ultimately, all paths lead to the same destination. If the path disappears, stay on the western side of the Divide. For the next 2 miles, stay along the ridge, where the route tracks the physical Continental Divide. There are minor undulations, but the trail generally sticks around 12,000 feet. Be gentle as you walk as the vegetation can be sensitive and has a short growing season.
4.9 miles south of Rollins Pass, you will see a trail join the CDT from the west (right). Ignore this trail and continue straight for a mile as you descend to Rogers Pass (11,949 feet), ignoring another wide trail that joins from the west (right). About 0.2 miles after the intersection with the wide trail, make a slight right, leaving the wide trail and entering a single-track trail. After 0.1 miles, you will reach a 4-way intersection of trails at Rogers Pass. Stay straight (south) to continue on the CDT on the west side of the Continental Divide, heading south for 0.7 miles. The trail then turns left (east) along the Ute Trail and crosses over the Divide. Now on the eastern side of the Divide, you will find the slope less steep. Here, the trail’s elevation is almost 13,000 feet, and snow can stick here late into the season. Pay special attention for an intersection with a narrow trail heading south (right) 1.3 miles after Rogers Pass. Turn right onto this trail and ascend as it heads slightly east before you hit switchbacks 0.1 miles later. Follow the switchbacks along the northern face of James Peak for 0.5 miles until you reach the rocky summit. From the summit, you can see Fraser to the north-northwest, Rocky Mountain National Park and Longs Peak to the north northeast, and Winter Park to the northwest. The view to the south is the most impressive, though—the Continental Divide dotted with four other 13,000 foot peaks: Mt. Bancroft (13,250 feet) connected by a narrow ridge to the south; Parry Peak (13,391 feet) to the southwest; Mt. Eva (13,130 feet); and Mt. Flora (13,132 feet). Retrace your steps to return to the parking lot. Note that this hike crosses into a wilderness area where bikes are not permitted.
Photo by Johnny Carr