Clayton Lake, East Portal Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Clayton Lake - 5.8 miles

East Portal Trailhead

The open NW shore of Clayton Lake in the James Peak Wilderness

The open NW shore of Clayton Lake in the James Peak Wilderness

Round-Trip Length: 5.8 miles (distance will vary by route)
Start-End Elevation: 9,211' - 10,945' (10,985' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,734' net elevation gain (+2,145' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Clayton Lake - 5.8 Miles Round-Trip

Clayton Lake (10,945') is located 2.9 miles from East Portal Trailhead in the James Peak Wilderness. The South Boulder Creek Trail runs 2.2 miles to a bridge over Clayton Creek where an unmarked, no-longer-maintained but still well-defined trail branches off and climbs 900' in just .7 miles along the creek to its source at the lake.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The lake is hemmed by the south valley wall and thick willow around the inlet and outlet, but the north side opens to flower covered meadows and small tree islands that create a spacious and park-like feel.

The Iceberg Lakes (11,700') are located ~.7 miles and 700' up from from Clayton Lake, just below the Divide

Though close, reaching them requires more circuitous routing up the north valley wall to avoid unfavorable terrain in the middle. This high elevation approach can take more time than straight-line distances may indicate.

Clayton Lake, the Iceberg Lakes and Heart Lake can be linked to form an exciting loop across the James Peak Wilderness. Visitors will enjoy well-earned solitude and pristine alpine landscapes at Clayton Lake:

Follow signs right (north) of Moffat Tunnel to the South Boulder Creek Trail. It rises past the tunnel through intervals of aspen, spruce and meadow to the Arapaho Lakes - Forest Lakes split (1.25 miles : 9,545') and Crater Lakes split (1.85 miles : 9,925').

Travel steadies to a pair of log bridges over Clayton Creek (2.2 miles : 10,038'); the unmarked trail to Clayton Lake splits off (right) just before the first bridge, and where branches are usually placed to discourage hikers. (If you cross the second bridge with a handrail, you've gone too far.)

The trail is initially moderate and may fade or braid in a few places before clarifying on much steeper grades up the north side of the creek. Start and stay on the north side to avoid having to cross it any point higher up.

The creek and trail funnel through a rock-bound gulch with little room to maneuver. There are many photogenic cascades on this very steep section (2.35 miles : 10,320').

It briefly moderates to a small glade by a wide cascade (2.45 miles : 10,580'), then gradually steepens away from the creek across open slopes with valley views.

The trail crests in a thin subalpine forest and drops to the north side of Clayton Lake (2.8 miles : 10,945'). Flowers - especially columbine - carpet the open NW side. There are several established campsites around the lake with level ground and coverage.

Meadows extend north and west into the upper valley and are easy to explore. To reach the Iceberg Lakes, head W-NW to open terrain along the north valley wall. Stay high to avoid cluttered, rocky terrain in the middle of the upper valley.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 54.189 W105 38.666 — 0.0 miles : East Portal Trailhead
  • N39 53.953 W105 39.026 — .5 miles : Mild grade through mixed forest
  • N39 53.599 W105 39.628 — 1.2 miles : Forest Lakes Trail split
  • N39 53.443 W105 39.814 — 1.5 miles : Wide, rocky path adjacent to the creek
  • N39 53.404 W105 40.130 — 1.85 miles : Crater Lakes Trail split
  • N39 53.242 W105 40.395 — 2.2 miles : Bridge and trail split at Clayton Creek
  • N39 53.208 W105 40.528 — Steep travel along creek
  • N39 53.235 W105 40.644 — Travel briefly moderates
  • N39 53.252 W105 40.691 — Cascade with flower-covered glade
  • N39 53.294 W105 40.756 — Trail levels in high, thin forest
  • N39 53.363 W105 41.006 — 2.9 miles : Clayton Lake
  • N39 53.466 W105 41.290 — Knoll between ponds in upper valley

Worth Noting

  • The descent from Clayton Lake is very steep and terrain along the creek can be slippery. Avoid when wet. Poles and shoes with good tread are advised.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are not required for camping in the James Peak Wilderness. Contact the Boulder Ranger District (303.541.2500) in advance for the latest updates and conditions.

  • There are no designated campsites along the South Boulder Creek Trail or at Clayton Lake. Dispersed camping only. Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact.

  • Campfires are not permitted in the James Peak Wilderness. Gas stoves only.

  • Camp at least 100' away from all streams, lakes and trails.

  • Pets must be leashed at all times.

  • There are several good sites with tree cover around Clayton Lake and in outlying meadows.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and stock combined.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted at Clayton Lake, Heart Lake, Rogers Peak Lake, the Iceberg Lakes and all tributaries with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times in the James Peak Wilderness.
  • Campfires are not permitted in the James Peak Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

The East Portal Trailhead is located at the end of Rollins Pass Road, an 8.2 mile dirt road west of Highway 119. Rollins Pass Road is located 4.9 miles south of Nederland, Colorado.

The dirt road is well-maintained but conditions deteriorate when wet.

From Highway 119, turn west on Rollins Pass Road and Keep Straight until it dead-ends at the Moffat Tunnel. Ignore turnoffs that climb toward the pass.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Winter is here - or at least in the mountains! There was so much so after the weekend system moved through (and the last week of wet, cold weather). It's still beautiful though and, after a full summer of gorgeous weather, fun to see everything under a contrasting white blanket. I'll try again this weekend, but probably not Clayton - from the sound of this article it seems really steep and would be hard with slick snow. "
Jill B.  -  Louisville C)  -  Date Posted: October 4, 2017


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