Rollins Pass East  
USGS 7.5' Map: Nederland and East Portal
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 1 FR149 13.5 11,200 ft. NA 3-4 hours
County: Gilpin, Boulder
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Roosevelt National Forest,
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301
Summary: Rollins Pass 4WD road follows the old Denver Northwestern & Pacific rail road line over Rollins Pass. The road is scenic with views of the surrounding mountains, and historic with many sites marked in relation to a self paced guide. The road grade is mild with a wide right of way that once held the railroad tracks.
Attractions: Scenery and railroad history.
Natural - closed by heavy snows.
Best Time: June - Upper section will still be snow bound.
July - Mid month.
August - Best time.
September - Best time.
October - Early snows may close the road.
Trail Heads
Forest Lakes, FT809 - Hike, Horseback
Camping: There is one dispersed camp site less than half way to the pass.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp and explore the 4WD roads around Rollinsville and Tolland.
Fall Colors: Good. The lower section contains aspen, the upper section will give good views of the surrounding mountain sides.
Navigation: From Boulder, Colorado head west on Canyon Boulevard for 2 miles. Continue west on Highway 119/ Boulder Canyon Drive for 15.1 miles to Nederland. At the traffic circle, continue straight onto North Bridge Steet. Go 0.3 miles and continue on Highway 119/Pine Street. Go 4.6 miles and take a right turn onto Main Street/East Portal Road in Rollinsville. Follow East Portal Road for 7.3 miles to the Rollins Pass Road, a right turn before you reach the East Portal.

From Idaho Springs, Colorado head east on Colorado Blvd toward 14th Ave and go 1.2 miles. At the traffic circle, take the 2nd exit onto I-70BL East and go 0.3 miles. Merge onto I-70 East via the ramp to Denver and go 0.2 miles. Merge onto I-70 E and go 1.3 miles. Take exit 243 toward Hidden Valley/Central City and go 0.2 miles. Turn left onto Central City Parkway and go 8.3 miles. Continue onto Spring Street for 407 feet. Turn right onto Gregory Street and go 1.0 mile. Turn left onto CO-119/Black Hawk Blvd/Clear Creek Blvd and continue to follow CO-119 for 13.6 miles. Turn left onto Main Street/E Portal Road and go 7.3 miles. Turn right onto Rollins Pass Road.
History: The pass was used by Native Americans long before the white men came. It is also believed that the Mormons used the pass on their journey to Utah and ultimately to the site of Salt Lake City. In 1866 the US Army under the guide of General John Q. Rollins improved the pass road, thus giving the pass its name, Rollins Pass. The road was operated as a toll road, the only way to get supplies into Middle Park. The Rollins Pass toll road was more difficult to negotiate than Berthoud Pass, so when the Berthoud Pass toll road opened it ended the monopoly Rollins Pass toll road had.

From the Rollins Pass Restoration Association web page.
"David Moffat had a dream: a railroad line over or through the Continental Divide linking Denver with the coal from the western slope and beyond. In 1881 he failed with the Denver, Utah, and Pacific, a narrow gauge railroad. In 1902 he started building the Denver Northwestern and Pacific Railway, a standard gauge railroad. The "Hill Route" with 33 short tunnels was opened in 1904 as a temporary line until a tunnel could be bored through James Peak. He didn't forsee that the 24 mile route over Rollins Pass would be used as part of the mainline for nearly 24 years.

The 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel was completed in 1928. The "Hill Route" was closed, and abandoned in 1935. The rails were pulled up. The original route became a tourist attraction in 1955 as an auto road. Snow was cleared by July 4th and it was "passable" until snowed over in the fall. It was in 1979 that a rockfall near the north portal of the Needle's Eye Tunnel occurred. The section of road over the pass was closed to the public and the trestles were declared unsafe."

In the early years of the pass snow was the main problem with snow piled high much of year. The upper sections of the pass near the Corona Station on the continental divide (at 11,600 feet) long snow sheds were built to protect the tracks. All have been destroyed by snow while some burned in the 1930s. Nothing remains at Corona Station. The Denver and Salt Lake Railroad had to use 41% of its operating budget to remove snow on Rollins Pass.
Starting from County Road 16, near the Moffat Tunnel, you will head east along the old railroad grade. The road will be some what maintained as it climbs through the trees. There will be a few wide places as you climb to pass on coming traffic. After a bit you will come out into a more open area along a ledge road. After heading into the trees again you will make a sharp set of turns to cross a short gulch. The railroad crossed a short trestle here. After passing through a small grove of aspen and heading more north for a while through pines, you will come to a sharp switchback. Here the railroad continued northeast and another trestle crossed a wide meadow, then looped around a hill. On the far side of the hill was a square water tower. The railroad, after making the loop, went through Tunnel 31 and tied back in a short distance south of the sharp hairpin. The road will head back the way it came higher up on the hillside as it follows the railroad grade. You are now climbing what was called "The Giants Ladder" as the railroad grade switches back and forth climbing the Continental Divide. You will pass through a cut and then make a large sweeping loop to head back the way you came again, higher on the mountain.

The railroad grade will head around a hill and cross Antelope Creek. Below the road in a small opening will be a campsite. From here the road will continue over a ridge, pass the Jenny Creek Road, FR502 and FR808, on the right and then run above Jenny Creek. After a while you will cross another small gulch. The Spruce Wye was at this location. The road will continue through the trees and pass through another cut as it continues to climb. Next, as you come out of the trees, you will make a large loop around Yankee Doodle Lake. On the right will be the intersection with the other end of the Jenny Creek Road. After making the loop you will head south and pass a short spur, more like a pulloff, on the left which is FR148.1. Above this spur is Jenny Lake. The road will continue southwest, then make a large loop again, passing the Forest Lakes Trail parking area. The road will pass through a longer cut and head north through a more open area with shorter trees. You will come out above timberline and only go a short distance to another cut where the road ends. You will be above Jenny Lake. From here you will need to head back down the way you came.

To get to the Boulder Wagon Road, FR501, you will need to drive Rollins Pass West, FR149, out of Winter Park. Or you could continue hiking along the railroad grade to reach its east end.
Data updated - November 7, 2022      4WD Road driven - 1994      Copyright - 2000-2022