This was the weekend of weddings, and by the time Sunday morning rolled around we were all ready for a breath of fresh air and a good sweat to cleanse our bodies of the celebrations that we took part in within the past 48hrs. Ryan, Hollie, and I met up at The Buff in Boulder for a hearty breakfast and some coffee before driving to the mountains.
–> Crater Lakes are located out of the East Portal Trailhead (located just past Nederland) and is a 6 mile out-and-back hike with 1,523ft in elevation gain. We arrived around 9:30am, easily found a parking spot (this parking area is huuuge, where if you are lucky, you can watch a train emerge from Moffat Tunnel), and did not return to the car until about 3hrs later. <–
The trail begins on a relatively flat section as you walk through mossy forest, aspen groves, and open meadows. We see moose grazing in this meadows very frequently, so take your time through this section and have a good look around.
At 1.85mi, you will reach the Crater Lakes Trail junction. Once you turn right, the trail quickly begins to steepen. The dirt trail switchbacks up the mountain and right before you reach the top, most of the trail is overcome by large rocks which you must climb over. There are a few cairns placed about to keep you in the right direction, but eventually the dirt trail picks up again for you to follow.
This section finally begins to mellow out as you wind through the forest. It is so quiet through this section of the hike, as the trail is padded with pine needles and the forest around you is dense enough to block out the sound of any trains passing through Moffat Tunnel.
Soon, you begin to hear water! There is an easy creek crossing and log bridge before we caught our first glimpse at a lower Crater Lake to our left. The south lake is much more narrow, bordered by thick timber and tall mountain walls while the north lake is much more open and is where we decided to stop for the day. Hollie set up the hammock for a nap while Ryan fished and I went off to explore the various social trails leading around both the lower lakes.
The good fishing here is no secret, as there were several other fly fishers dotting the shoreline. We hung out for a bit as we watched several other people make their way around the lakes; this is a very popular area, and one where it seems that every single person has a dog, but luckily the lakes are larges and trails plentiful so you do not feel as though it is very crowded.
We enjoyed the beauty of our surroundings for an hour or so before the sky began to darken, bringing a cold wind and rain with it. We quickly threw our jackets on, packed up all our stuff, and started the descent back to the trailhead.
While this hike is not overly scenic, it is also not overly strenuous.. offering an easy day hike for the backpacker, fly fisher, or anyone who is just looking for some peace and quiet. It is worth noting that there also a few Upper Crater Lakes, which we did not venture to this trip. There is no defined trail to these other lakes that overlook the entire valley and the Lower Crater Lakes, but you can follow the inlet up the steep mountainside for a 2.2mi round trip adventure to find them. We will certainly get an earlier start next time to allow us the opportunity to fully explore this beautiful area.