South Boulder Creek Trail. Or, the Amazingness of the Colorado Wilderness.

While Tom and I were visiting his family in Colorado, his niece Nancy, Abby, and I took a day to do a hike in the James Wilderness. I don’t believe I’ve seen a place in the Colorado Rockies that wasn’t gorgeous but the area around James Peak is quite exceptional in my opinion. We ended up hiking the South Boulder Creek Trail, which had been on Nancy’s to-do list since the previous year, a 9-mile route that climbs up almost 2,000 feet above the treeline to Rogers Pass Lake.

The trail starts in beautiful, dense forest roughly following the creek, emerging after a couple miles into a series of meadows before diving back into the trees. This stretch under the canopy was particularly nice as we passed several waterfalls (most of which were not easily captured on camera because of the angle of the sun though I was able to take a decent video on the descent) and enjoyed the shade of the tall pines. Directly after this treed section we emerged into greener, lusher meadows chock full of the loveliest wildflowers, and flecked with rounded boulders ground down by glaciers past. Though we were awed by the beauty of our immediate surroundings the views of the peaks ahead were tantalizing, propelling us upwards.

Our approach to Rogers Pass Lake was, admittedly, slightly underwhelming considering the idyllic landscape we’d been traipsing through but once we moved out of the glare of the sun and were able to view the deep sapphire of water nestled in the trees, we were suitably impressed with the small alpine lake borrowed between the peaks. We had committed to continue the hike to Heart Lake however and so began the crossing of the half mile of grassy sub-alpine hillocks separating the town bodies of water, all the while gaping at the verdant valley we’d left below.

Heart Lake did not disappoint. In fact, the glacial turquoise waters were so gorgeous that we took a full 15 minute break here – hunkered down behind some rocks to escape the brutal wind – in order to admire the vibrant colors and the traces of snow trailing down the folds in the peaks above. In characteristic fashion I also did a fairly comprehensive photo shoot with Abby, my favorite shot of which features a (typical) bit of grass on her snout. Our decision not to continue the additional thousand feet to the actual pass was planned from the start but it was challenging to turn away with the high point in sight. Still, the steepness involved in getting to the high point as we viewed it from the lakes reaffirmed our decision and we both felt good about turning back.

In some ways the return was more magnificent as the valley spilled out below us heading down toward the treeline. As I mentioned, I was able to get a better view of the waterfalls and creek below the sub-alpine glacial bowl, but we also got the opportunity to spot a pair of pretty small lakes confined in the till on the south side of the trail that we hadn’t caught sight of on the way up. Needless to say, the beauty of the entire hike made for a really enjoyable whole day, and I think we both felt a little sad arriving back at the trailhead.