James Peak, St Mary's Glacier Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
James Peak - 8.3 miles
St Mary's Glacier Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||8.3 miles (distance may vary slightly by individual route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,428' - 13,294' (13,294' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,866' net elevation gain (+3,064' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
James Peak - 8.3 Miles Round-Trip
James Peak (13,294') straddles the Clear Creek Ranger District, Sulphur Ranger District and James Peak Wilderness Area boundaries. It's named after Edwin James, a physician and botanist who was among the first to catalogue plants of the Rocky Mountains. There are several ways to reach James Peak, each with unique attractions and challenges.
The trail begins on a wide, rocky forest road heading northwest. Keep left of all offshoots, and within clearly drawn property lines on each side of the road.
The road-trail rises quickly through a high subalpine forest that breaks suddenly across a bridge across the outlet of St Mary's Lake (.45 miles : 10,738'). Note bristlecone pine in the area, a species adapted to high altitudes and extreme weather conditions.
The trail is somewhat ill-defined but intuitively followed along the NE shore toward the snow field. It narrows on a clearer path through dense willows and emerges on the north shore just below the snowfield. A few steps off-path leads to the base of St Mary's Glacier (.75 miles : 10,848').
The trail continues up the north side of the glacier over churned rocks and soil pushed to its margins by the annual growth and recession of the snow mass.
Footing can be tricky, and depending on the time of year, you may very well need to walk directly on the glacier. A well-defined path soon appears on the glacier's south side, where you'll ultimately need to be - cross the glacier at a convenient point and resume travel beside it.
The snowfield tapers up a narrow gulch to its top (1.1 miles : 11,236'), where the path levels on the edge an immense tundra flat. James Peak (right) and Mount Bancroft (left) emerge on the western horizon, while Grays Peak (14,270') and Torreys Peak (14,267') stand out to the south.
Travel eases considerably through the open flat on a westerly heading toward James Peak, crossing a Jeep-ATV road at 2.0 miles (11,641').
Though the trail disappears once over the road, a number of trail markers about 75 yards away - clearly visible in the open tundra - will connect you back to it. Improvise your way to the markers and continue west on a well-cut path toward James Peak. The trail moves quickly through an expanding landscape to the base of James Peak, where it bends south and steepens up its east face (2.5 miles : 11,818').
The trail soon merges at a cairn - but otherwise unmarked point - with the Continental Divide Trail (2.8 miles : 12,020'). This is an important point, as you'll need to recognize this split on the return.
The trail grows intermittently rocky and steep on a winding course up the mountain's east face, but seldom too much of one or the other to slow travel. It briefly straightens on a westerly heading, edging close to the deep chasm between Mount Bancroft (13,250') and James Peak (3.0 miles : 12,195').
The trail skirts a perennial snowfield (3.4 miles : 12,535') and gradually bends northwest up a broad slope with views of James Peak Lake, Little Echo Lake and the Mammoth Gulch drainage in the northern valley below (3.8 miles : 12,880'). A final push over two false summits levels on the large summit of James Peak (4.15 miles : 12,295').
The summit area is large, flat and easy to explore. Maneuver about for a revealing look down the Loch Lomond and Mammoth Gulch drainages, and over the vast tundra flat through which you traveled to reach the base of James Peak. There are several rock-wind shelters on the summit.
- N39 49.622 W105 38.606 — St Mary's Glacier Trailhead on SR 275
- N39 49.946 W105 38.716 — .45 miles : Cross bridge over St Mary's Lake outlet
- N39 50.116 W105 38.772 — .75 miles : Base of St Mary's Glacier
- N39 50.259 W105 38.987 — 1.1 miles : Top of St Mary's Glacier
- N39 50.279 W105 39.082 — 1.2 miles : Spill out on east edge of broad tundra flat
- N39 50.380 W105 39.387 — 1.5 miles : Level travel through broad tundra expanse
- N39 50.404 W105 39.942 — 2.0 miles : Cross Jeep road - keep SW to resume trail
- N39 50.604 W105 40.363 — 2.5 miles : Trail steepens up base of James Peak
- N39 50.560 W105 40.637 — 2.8 miles : Merge with trail from Loch Lomond
- N39 50.607 W105 40.786 — 3.0 miles : Trail steepens with views of Ice Lake
- N39 50.762 W105 41.231 — 3.5 miles : NW curl through tundra toward summit
- N39 50.920 W105 41.301 — 3.8 miles : Emerging views of Mammoth Gulch
- N39 51.078 W105 41.348 — 4.0 miles : Final push to summit
- N39 51.122 W105 41.437 — 4.15 miles : James Peak
- Navigational Tip: Use the rocky outcrop just past the top of St Mary's Glacier as a mark for finding the correct drainage on the return from James Peak. It's quite possible - especially in inclement weather - to become disoriented in the open flat and navigate down the wrong drainage or follow false routes.
- The majority of this trail passes through open tundra. Carry versatile layers, and anticipate changing weather conditions throughout the day. Prepare for cooler temperatures, strong sun and wind in the open tundra.
- Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds, and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and aim for treeline well before storms develop.
- Look for elk, moose, ptarmigan and marmot in the alpine transition zone, and bighorn sheep and mountain goat along nearby ridgelines.
- James Peak is also accessible from Mammoth Gulch Road in the James Peak Wilderness (north), and from points along the Loch Lomond access road (south).
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Before setting out, it's highly recommended that you contact the Clear Creek Ranger District (303.567.3000) for the latest trail conditions and access restrictions.
- Camping may only take place on public lands north of the lake. It's the public's responsibility to know of and adhere to private property lines.
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Arapaho National Forest. No permit is necessary. Camping is prohibited within 150' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
- Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles of treeline, or within 150' of any lake or stream.
- Fishing is permitted at St Mary's Lake, but only along its north shore, which is public land. It's illegal to fish from the south and east shores, which are private lands.
- St Mary's Lake supports a naturally reproducing population of brook trout. The statewide, daily bag limit for brook trout is 10 fish (8 inches in length or less). The Colorado DOW does not stock St Mary's Lake.
Rules and Regulations
- The land through which you'll pass to reach St Mary's Lake and St Mary's Glacier is private. Land owners are not obligated to allow access, though they've permitted the public to do so for many years. It's imperative that visitors respect private land and pass through with minimal noise and impact. Visitors must stay on the designated path, and not wander onto private land. Fishing and camping may only take place on public lands north of the lake. It's the public's responsibility to know of and adhere to private property lines.
- Parking along Country Road 275 (Fall River Road), while tolerated by private land owners and local authorities, is illegal. Fines, towing and booting are possible consequences for improperly parked cars.
- Bikes and mechanized vehicles are not permitted at St Mary's Glacier or on this route to James Peak.
Directions to Trailhead
James Peak straddles the juxtaposition of the Clear Creek Ranger District, Sulphur Ranger District and James Peak Wilderness Area. The St Mary's Glacier Trailhead is located 9.3 miles north of I-70 on SR 275 (Fall River Road).
From I-70, exit #238 for St Mary's - Alice - Fall River Road. From the exit ramp, turn north on CR 275 and drive 9.2 miles to the St Mary's Glacier Trailhead on the left (west) side of the road. Roadside parking is restricted (see rules and regulations above).
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301