As we hit the 4-mile mark, the trail begins to level out. The forest becomes a bit more sparse, and the view open up. And the walk through the the thick subalpine forest, and the squishing through the occasional mud bog have all been worth it.
A Walk in the Woods
As you walk the main trail out of the East Portal trailhead, the trail gradually climbs through thick forest of pine, spruce and fir. After passing by the junction to Crater Lakes (reviewed earlier), the trail continues along South Boulder Creek, occasionally crossing from one side to the next.
On this day, the purple of the Chiming Bells and the bright pink of Parry’s Primrose, mixed with an occasional Columbine, will provide a brilliant color show as we continue up the trail. Though most people aspire to reach Heart Lake (9 miles round trip), it is not the first lake you arrive at. As you break out of the forest, a small lake appears to the left of the trail. It’s not a very big lake in size, but it offers big scenery in exchange.
James Peak towers to your south, still capped in snow. As you gaze ahead to your west, you can faintly detect the zig zags of the trail heading up to Rogers Pass. But the main trail leads instead to the south, heading steeply up the hill to what looks like a shelf.
After about 15 more minutes of walking, we approach the aptly named Heart Lake. To really see its heart shape, you are better off heading left up the main trail to Rogers Pass. A stop at a wooden trail post provides the perfect spot to gaze down on Heart Lake. The views are endless from this vantage point. You can even see the plains way off in the distance to the east.
Earning a View From the Divide
If you can summon the energy, it’s worth going another half-mile up to Rogers Pass. As your calf muscles strain, climbing the steep switchbacks, your heart will sing. I felt like I had attained my own personal alpine paradise.
If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Sound of Music, and remember the closing scenes of the family climbing over the mountains, this scene rivals the beauty of the European Alps. You’ve hit the tundra, and the scenery of jagged peaks, alpine lakes, and stark blue skies create a vision of Colorado that tourists dream of.
Once you’ve attained the pass, you will be gazing down on the Winter Park valley. Slashes mark the slopes to your west — the ski runs of a ski resort are green and dry during this summer day. If you walk over to Rollins Pass, you will be surprised to see jeeps and SUVs parked nearby which have drive up from the west side.
But you can take a selfie at the signpost for the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) with a sense of satisfaction. You earned this spectacular viewpoint the hard way with your own two feet.