Guide to Heart Lake Snowshoeing

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This is the snowshoeing adventure that has it all: easy proximity to the Front Range, minimal crowds in the wintertime, challenging climbs, spectacular views, and long peaceful stretches of trail flanked by towering pines.  Getting to Heart Lake on snowshoes is not an easy task.  The hike is strenuous, and will likely take up the better part of your day.  However, the challenge of the trek makes the stunning views of the lake and the Continental Divide that much more rewarding.  Read on as we share all the essentials for planning your own Heart Lake snowshoe outing.

East Portal Heart Lake Snowshoe

What to Bring

Snowshoeing Packing List
National Geographic Trails Illustrated #103

Getting to the Trailhead

Heart Lake is located just west of Rollinsville in the James Peak Wilderness area.  To reach Heart Lake, you’ll take the South Boulder Creek trail, which is located via the East Portal trailhead at the Moffat Tunnel (composting toilets are located in the parking lot). This is a very cool place to start and end a hike, as the Moffat Tunnel (built in 1928) is still a functioning railroad tunnel that passes through the Continental Divide.  You’ll see historical cabins and railroad buildings as you approach the trailhead.

To get to the Moffat Tunnel trailhead from Denver, take 6th Avenue west towards Golden.  From there, get onto highway CO-93 N and follow it until you merge onto CO-72 W/Coal Creek Canyon Road.  Take this for about 18 miles, at which point the road will fork.  Turn left onto CO-119, which will take you into Rollinsville.  There, you’ll see Main St/East Portal Road.  Follow this road until it dead-ends at the trailhead.

You can use the Google Maps link below to get specific driving directions:

East Portal Trailhead directions

The Hike

Distance: 4.05 miles to Rogers Peak Lake, 4.35 miles to Heart Lake (one-way)

Hiking Time: 5-7 hours

Start at the South Boulder Creek Trailhead, which will be the lefthand option as you approach it from the parking lot.  Follow the wide, gently sloping trail for a few hundred yards before you reach a trail marker indicating the distances to various destinations (Forest Lakes: 1.25 miles, Crater Lakes: 2 miles, Heart Lake: 4 miles, Rogers Pass: 4.5 miles).  Forest Lakes and Crater Lakes offer great snowshoe options for those seeking a shorter, less strenuous alternative than the trip to Heart Lake. The trail narrows a bit here, and begins meandering through beautiful pine forest. Keep hiking along the moderately graded trail for another mile until you reach the junction for Forest Lakes.   Stay on the South Boulder Creek Trail at this junction, and again at the junction for Crater Lakes when you see it a bit further up the trail.  From here, the trail will tightly hug the creek for a few hundred yards.  Be careful and take your time on this stretch, as it tends to be narrow and slippery with a steepish drop off towards the snow-covered creek.

After you get past this section, the trail begins to climb more steeply (very, very steeply in some places!).  As you ascend, the trees open up to reveal stunning views of the snow-capped Continental Divide.  Towards the end of the hike, you’ll reach a high alpine valley.  Signage is non-existent here, and there are typically several diverging footpaths towards the lakes.  Use the central or righthand trail options (the one on the right is a bit easier and shorter).  One more steep climb will bring you to Rogers Peak Lake, 4.05 miles from the trailhead.  For many snowshoers, this is a great turnaround point.  You can also opt to continue to Heart Lake.  While only 0.3 miles further, this section of trail involves cresting a very steep, rocky ridge. Whichever you choose, if it’s not too windy, enjoy a well-earned lunch break while basking in the gorgeous views of the lake and the mountains towering above.

Heart Lake snowshoeing
Enjoy your hard earned views!

Believe it or not, Winter Park is less than ten miles away! If you kept hiking, you could follow the trail over Rogers Pass and towards the ski town. That being said, don’t attempt an impromptu snowshoe expedition there. Instead, to return to the trailhead, simply follow the same route you took on the way up.  As you descend, keep an eye and an ear out for backcountry skiers. This trail is very popular with those seeking to hike up and ride down, and they often zip down the trails quite quickly! There’s plenty of room for sharing, as long as you keep a decent awareness about you. When you return to the parking lot, congratulate yourself for completing another epic snowshoe adventure.

The map below shows the trail. You can use this link to open it in a new window. As always, this map isn’t intended to be used in the backcountry – only to provide you with a general overview of the hike. Be sure you’re carrying a copy of National Geographic Trails Illustrated #103 when you set out on your trek.


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