Crater Lakes is a series of five scenic lakes high up in the James Peak Wilderness Area west of Rollinsville. I hiked up to the two lower lakes on my Friday off two weeks ago. The hike to the lower lakes is about 3 miles one way, with the first two-mile portion following the same route, South Boulder Creek Trail No. 900, as a hike I did last summer to Heart Lake

East Portal Trailhead

East Portal Trailhead

Once the Crater Lakes trail splits off from South Boulder Creek Trail No. 900, the going gets pretty tough. At one point, the trail funnels hikers through a narrow break between two large boulders. If I hadn’t studied the trail description, I think it might have taken me a little while to find my way through the rocks. The tiny rock cairn on the left is supposed to help.

Trail between the rocks

Trail between the rocks

After an arduous 1-mile climb up the side of the valley, the trail finally starts to level off and the lower of the two lower lakes comes into view between the trees.

Lower Lower Crater Lake

Lower Lower Crater Lake

The lake above Lower Lower Crater Lake, which I shall call Upper Lower Crater Lake, was much more approachable than the first one, plus there were way too many people in the Lower Lower lake area for my liking, so I started following a trail that hugged the western shore of the Upper Lower lake. After crawling over a very large downed tree that was sprawled across the trail, I turned a corner and found an astoundingly beautiful hillside absolutely COVERED in wildflowers, primarily columbines.

Tons and tons of Columbines

Tons and tons of Columbines

More Columbines

More Columbines

I don’t know how many photos I took of those Columbines, but it was a LOT. It was really hard to know when to stop!

I had originally planned to hike up to the Upper Lakes, but I was so captivated by that hillside and took SO many photos of the Columbines that the time just got away from me. I did continue to hike a little ways further to the inlet stream of Upper Lower Crater Lake, but by that time, the ubiquitous afternoon storm clouds were starting to roll in. Of course, on the way back, I had to take another 100 or so photos of the Columbines, including bunches of photos of Hummingbird Moths feasting on said Columbines.

Hummingbird Moth and Columbine

Hummingbird Moth and Columbine

By the time I got back around to the south end of Upper Upper Crater Lake, it had started to rain a bit. Undaunted, I continued to take photos of the amazingly abundant wildflowers in a meadow on that end of the lake.

Flowers, flowers and more flowers!

Flowers, flowers and more flowers!

And even MORE flowers!

And even MORE flowers!

I finally decided to put my raincoat on and just kept taking photos.

Upper Lower Crater Lake

Upper Lower Crater Lake

I decided to take a little detour to the rocky shore of Lower Lower Crater Lake on my way back and the view from there with the reflection of the mountain and the lingering snowfields was absolutely gorgeous.

Lower Lower Crater Lake reflection

Lower Lower Crater Lake reflection

The rain finally quit while I was sitting there so off came the raincoat and I continued on my return trek. Unfortunately, my second camera battery became “exhausted” not too long after I took the above photo and I suddenly found myself fresh out of fresh batteries. I was OK with that because I was also exhausted and just wanted to hightail it back to the car. UNTIL I spotted a large bull moose at the edge of a meadow less than a mile from the parking lot – my first EVER while-hiking moose spotting!  Imagine the AWESOME photos I could have gotten if my batteries weren’t exhausted!!! I did have my iPhone with me, however, so at least I was able to capture an image (albeit a really crummy one) to PROVE that I had indeed seen a moose.

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No, really…. it’s a moose. Trust me.

Please visit my Crater Lakes gallery to see additional photos from this stupendous hike.

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