James Peak is a popular summer hike with several route possibilities. The three we suggest here are all Class 2, with our primary route offering some Class 2+ work on the descent. That descent takes you by the upper lakes in the Loch Lomond chain of lakes. Accessing this route requires high clearance 4WD. The other two suggestions can be accessed by passenger car. Most any route to James Peak on a summer weekend will find numerous other hikers. Lidar revisions have lowered the elevation of James Peak to 13,272 ft., a loss of 22 ft.
James Peak by Loch Lomond Route
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
RT From Loch Lomond:
From I-70, west of Idaho Springs, take exit 238 for the Fall River Road/CR 275. This paved county road 275 ends in the vicinity of a mountain village called "Alice," mostly a collection of summer cabins, etc. This is the same road that leads up to the well-known St. Mary's Lake and Glacier. The road follows the Fall River in a generally NW direction. After 6.6 miles from the I-70/CR275 intersection, the road makes a second, abrupt switchback to leave the Fall River drainage and climb up to St. Mary's Lake and Alice. Continue north into Alice and turn left onto Alice Road at 8.4 miles. This will take you back west and SW for a short distance. Turn right onto Stewart Road. This road becomes FR 701.1. This will take you to Loch Lomond. There is a brown sign posted at this intersection with mileages. There is a lower and upper gate on this road that are seasonally locked. Access all the way to the Loch according to the Arapaho NF site is generally closed from mid-October to mid- July.
Note: If planning on visiting St. Mary's Glacier, a few tenths of a mile up from the turnoff for Alice Road, there are a couple of designated parking areas for hikers. These parking lots require a $5.00 fee to use from a self-service ticket/permit station. Be prepared to pay.
According to one site that rates 4WD roads, FR 701.1 is "suitable for stock, high-clearance 4WD sport utility vehicles. The road is still currently being described as very rough and rocky but easy to handle. Our combined memories recall that the drive back to the Loch was slow enough to make you reconsider if the drive was worth the effort versus hiking by another route. We would say the main advantage of this route is the visit to the upper lakes above the Loch. The collection of multiple lakes, waterfalls and cascading streams makes this area a beautiful respite to visit not far from the busy city.
On the way back to Loch Lomond on Steuart Road you can find some dispersed, primitive campsites. Just be sure you've driven far enough back to be away from any private property concerns.
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Year Climbed: 1979
Assuming you've arrived at Loch Lomond without losing your oil pan or damaging your vehicle too much, walk to the north end of the dam and locate a trail that heads uphill in a northward direction. The trail will cut through some willows, cross some rocky rubble and then continue north through some more willows before breaking out onto tundra/grass terrain. After 400 feet of gain, the trail will turn more to the west and begin the long trek toward the summit of James Peak. For a while, it hangs close to the south edge of the broad east ridge of James, offering views back down into the Loch and of the other higher lakes. Soon, the Continental Divide Trail will come in from the right. Continue westward for a while, still following close to the south edge of the ridge, enjoying the spectacular view. After a while, the CD trail will leave the edge of the ridge, head up the middle of the main east ridge and then wander over to the north edge of the same ridge offering nice views towards James Peak Lake. Finish out the ascent to the summit. The entire hike goes easily on Class 2 tundra terrain with some rocky sections, not of prolonged duration. The summit offers some enticing views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and some of the summits farther north in Rocky Mountain National Park. Please note that our ascent of James Peak was our first 13er, and even pre-dated our completion of all the 14ers. We have done the best we can to update our information, but you would do well to check on other sites.
For the descent: This is the best part of our proposed route. This descent left a long-lasting impression on us. From the James Peak summit, head down the south ridge. The first third of a mile goes easily on mostly tundra, then the ridge begins to drop more seriously where you will begin to encounter more rocky sections that will require some maneuvering around to find the best way through, especially as you near the James-Bancroft saddle. The final drop to the saddle will be the most difficult part of this descent, along with the 400 ft. trip down the slope to Ice Lake. At Ice Lake, hiking around either the north or south side of the lake is not easy due to boulder talus, talus and rubble. We chose the south side and had to cross some significant boulder talus areas. Once you gain the east end of the lake, the terrain changes over to tundra.
As you begin the drop from Ice Lake to Ohman Lake, roughly follow the drainage. There will be rocky outcrops and tundra benches to work your way down. It's all part of the route-finding fun. The views are quite spectacular. As you drop to each successive lake, there will be waterfalls and cascades. There are also some low willows and other low-growing evergreens to avoid at times. At Ohman and Stewart Lakes, you should be able to locate a good trail which can then be followed back down to Loch Lomond, ending on the SSE corner of the reservoir. Take your time on this descent. When we lived on the Front Range, this was probably our favorite hiking location. The upper lakes were seldom visited and had a nice wilderness feeling even though you were under 2 hours from the bustling metropolises. Be sure you have some kind of camera.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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