Saint Mary’s Glacier is a popular destination 1 hour west of Denver. However few people know that you can hike beyond the glacier to reach an alpine plateau that explodes with wildflowers each summer. Even less people know you can hike 4 miles to reach James Peak, the intimidating mountain rising above the glacier to the west. With my route guide, hiking James Peak is an easy, class 1 hike with less than 3,000 feet of gain. Overall, it’s great for those new to the mountains. Start planning a trip to the area with my James Peak route guide below.
Hiking James Peak: Fast Facts
Hiking James Peak - Southeast Slopes Route
Park at one of the two parking areas for Saint Mary’s Glacier. Do not park on the highway as you will be ticketed. Make sure you pay the parking fee as well, as this rule is closely enforced, and it helps pay to maintain the area. Head out on the trail to the glacier up through the forest, quickly reaching the lake. Follow one of several trails around the shore and to the bottom of the glacier. This is where you really start hiking James Peak.
If the gully is snow-filled, bring traction (microspikes) or crampons and an ice ax and ascend directly up the glacier. If you lack traction, take trails on either side of the gully. Towards the top, the terrain flattens out as you enter a large plateau. James Peak rises above you to the west. Follow a cairned trail west across the plateau.
About halfway to the Peak, you’ll cross a large jeep road, you may need to double back depending on which of several cairned trails you take. Try to aim for a trail that follows the southern edge of the plateau heading west.
NOTE: Turn around periodically as you leave the glacier so you know which gully you want to descend down later on. It’s easy to accidentally head down the wrong way from this plateau but it can have really bad consequences.
Around 12,000 feet the trail will swerve slightly before hugging the southern edge of the plateau. Around 12,750 feet the trail turns abruptly to the right as you begin to climb the southeast slopes of James Peak itself. The trail begins to switchback as you ascend steep terrain, at times requiring a bit of focus to stay on the trail. Those looking for more class 2 challenges can easily create low-risk alternatives just off the trail.
Near 13,100 feet the trail hits the summit ridge itself. Walk up the final 200 feet, the crux of the hike, to reach the summit of James Peak just ahead of you to finish hiking James Peak.
Winter Park will be clearly visible to you to the west, with Grays and Torreys Peak to your south. Enjoy your accomplishment and descend with plenty of time to reach the treeline before afternoon storms become an issue. I hope you found my James Peak route guide helpful and informative. Safe travels on the trail, and good luck hiking James Peak.