If you go

Highlights: Tundra wildflowers, wildlife, alpine lakes, stunning views, historical ruins

Distance: about 2 miles round trip

Elevation: 11,671 feet at pass; 11,431 feet at King Lake

Difficulty: Easy

Access: Take U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass. Turn right on County Road 80 just below the Winter Park Ski Area at the Rollins Pass sign. The sign is small and easy to miss! Continue for about 15 miles to the barricade. The road is so rough — we would not attempt it without four-wheel drive and high clearance. Some passenger cars do make it; however, we saw one being hauled out by a wrecker a few years ago.

The highest railroad station in the world in 1903 was called "Corona — The Crown of the top of the World." A hotel and restaurant thrived at the pass until the Moffat Tunnel opened in 1928 and David Moffat closed this railroad route.

Now, all that remains of the town are a few foundations with moss campion filling in the cracks, surrounded by charcoal and cinders; rotting railroad ties; and remnants of snow sheds that protected the line from avalanches.

This route over the Continental Divide was first used by Native Americans, possibly as far back as 10,000 years ago, who built stone hunting blinds and game-drive walls now encrusted with lichens and partially covered by the tundra turf. The pass is no longer called Corona Pass but Rollins Pass, named for John Rollins who improved an old army route and ran it as a toll road over the pass. We still prefer the old name, "Corona Pass," because it is the crown of the world.


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The top of the pass, where the road is barricaded, is the nexus for several trails including the Continental Divide Trail and the High Lonesome Trail. It's also the easiest route to King Lake nestled in a glacial cirque and often guarded by marmots.

Starting at the Rollins Pass sign, the trail heads north and climbs past the old hotel foundations. Stop to explore the ruin and to enjoy the view from the overlook where you can look down into the blue depths of King Lake and see Betty and Bob Lakes hanging on the moraine beyond.

From here, the trail drops to a saddle where King Lake Trail turns to the right and heads downhill. Moss campions, sandworts, penstemons and stonecrops usually persist along the trail's edge even as other alpine flowers fade. Snowfields clinging to the escarpment north of the lake attract snowboarders who leave looping tracks behind. Listen for pikas squeaking in the talus piles and for white-crowned sparrows in the willow krummholz.

When you reach the lake, explore the south shoreline where rosy paintbrush and queen's crown bloom in July and August. You may also see fishermen casting for trout and backpackers coming up from Hessie where a longer trail to King Lake begins. From the lake, it's a steep climb back up to the parking lot but a lot easier than starting from Hessie!

From the road, you can also walk east on the railroad grade past the road barricade and look down on King, Betty and Bob lakes. We've been unable to unearth the reason for the names. Was King so named because it lay beneath the town of Corona? Who were Betty and Bob? Sweethearts? Spouses? Connected to the towns of Corona or Hessie? If anyone knows, please tell us.

Ruth Carol and Glenn Cushman are the authors of "Boulder Hiking Trails," published by Graphic Arts Books