Crater Lake and Mirror Lake, Monarch Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Crater Lake and Mirror Lake - 14.8 miles
Monarch Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||14.8 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,345' - 10,328' (10,368' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,983' net elevation gain (+2,507' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Crater Lake and Mirror Lake - 14.8 Miles Round-Trip
The lakes are set in a deep bowl carved from Mount Achonee (12,469') and Lone Eagle Peak (11,920') under the Continental Divide.
This long but moderate hike follows the Cascade Creek Trail along Monarch Lake, Buchanan Creek and Cascade Creek to the Crater Lake Trail, which splits south through subalpine forests to the lakes.
While achievable in a day, numerous highlights and backcountry camping options warrant an overnight stay. Camping permits are required and limited. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) in advance to secure a permit.
Visitors will enjoy miles of fishable streams, a stop at Cascade Falls and abundant flowers on the hike to Crater Lake:
The Cascade Creek Trail begins on a level path up the north shore of Monarch Lake to the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary (1.2 miles : 8,358’). Look for osprey over the lake, moose in the marshy inlet area and raspberries along the way.
It rises to the Arapaho Pass Spur Trail (1.6 miles : 8,367') and steepens under a tall canopy marred by pine beetles.
At 2.05 miles (8,481') the trail meets Buchanan Creek before climbing away on steep switchbacks. It moderates past 2.5 miles and begins a long, level stretch through uniform lodgepole to the Buchanan Pass Trail split (3.45 miles : 8,772').
*There are several established campsites in this area, however some do not conform to Forest Service rules. Only use sites that are at least 100' away from trails and streams.
The trail continues over a bridge near the confluence off Buchanan Creek and Cascade Creek (3.6 miles : 8,835') and climbs to a narrow, voluminous waterfall (3.75 miles). This is not Cascade Falls, but one of several unnamed ones en route to the main group.
The trail rises to a long bridge at an abrupt opening in the valley (4.4 miles : 9,105') and crosses Cascade Creek to the first of four main falls that comprise Cascade Falls (4.55 miles : 9,207'). Note that fires and horses are not permitted beyond the bridge leading to the falls.
Travel steepens beside the falls and grows rugged beyond the fourth (5.2 miles : 9,525') up to a large meadow with good views of the Divide (5.4 miles : 9,670').
The trail crosses a narrow, elevated bridge (6.45 miles : 9,995') to the Crater Lake Trail split (6.65 miles : 10,033'). This bridge can be tricky when wet or with heavy packs.
It crosses Cascade Creek on a newly installed bridge (6.95 miles : 10,153') and levels through an attractive sequence of glades, streams and open forest.
The trail makes one final push up steep switchbacks to Mirror Lake (7.2 miles : 10,291'). Lone Eagle Peak looms over Mirror Lake, one of the most iconic settings in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. A number of designated campsites ring the small lake.
The main trail continues up the west side of Mirror Lake to Crater Lake (7.4 miles : 10,327'). Note there are many social trails between the lakes, and it's possible to become disoriented. If in doubt, simply follow the stream connecting the two.
Crater Lake occupies a large bowl under Mount Achonee (12,469'), Lone Eagle Peak (11,920') and several unnamed peaks topping 12,000'. Peck Glacier and several perennial snowfields cling to the steep-walled cirque. Social trails circle the lake, but climbing higher for additional perspective is somewhat limited by terrain and pitch.
- N40 06.651 W105 44.781 — 0.0 miles : Monarch Lake Trailhead
- N40 06.367 W105 44.108 — .75 miles : Level travel up north shore of Monarch Lake
- N40 06.273 W105 43.314 — 1.6 miles : Arapaho Pass - Cascade Creek Trail split
- N40 06.485 W105 43.028 — 2.0 miles : Trail edges next to Buchanan Creek
- N40 06.664 W105 42.714 — 2.5 miles : Begin long, level stretch
- N40 06.615 W105 42.294 — 3.0 miles : Fast, level travel in tall, uniform forest
- N40 06.580 W105 41.835 — 3.45 miles : Buchanan Pass Trail split (to Gourd Lake)
- N40 06.262 W105 41.108 — 4.4 miles : Cross long bridge over Cascade Creek
- N40 06.169 W105 41.090 — 4.55 miles : Cascade Falls - Fall #1
- N40 05.956 W105 40.772 — 5.2 miles : Pass top of last major fall in the series
- N40 05.902 W105 40.605 — 5.4 miles : Forest breaks on edge of large meadow
- N40 05.624 W105 40.207 — 6.15 miles : Trail steepens into upper valley
- N40 05.393 W105 39.760 — 6.45 miles : Cross narrow, slippery wood planks
- N40 05.327 W105 39.658 — 6.65 miles : Pawnee Pass - Crater Lake Trail split
- N40 04.882 W105 39.542 — 6.95 miles : Cross makeshift bridge over creek
- N40 04.776 W105 39.564 — 7.2 miles : Mirror Lake
- N40 04.655 W105 39.772 — 7.4 miles : Crater Lake
- Lone Eagle Peak (11,920) is named after Charles Lindberg, his nickname.
- Crater Lake is known to hold large populations of trout and mackinaw.
- Crater Lake was once unofficially known as 'Hyslop' Lake.
- Distances to Cascade Falls vary from source to source; this can be attributed to the 4 main falls being spaced out over a .5 mile stretch.
- Trail conditions beyond Cascade Falls are more rugged and may be snow covered well into summer. Check with the Ranger District for current conditions.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Permits are required for backcountry camping in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, June 1 - Sept. 15. Permits are $5 per party (7 people max). Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) or Boulder Ranger District (303.541.2500) in advance to secure a permit.
- Permits must be picked up in person at either Ranger Station, or ordered in advance by mail. There is no online reservation system for permits.
- Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs. Group size is limited to 12 people or people and stock combined.
- Campfires are prohibited in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.
- Camping and campfires are prohibited within 100' of all lakes, streams and trails.
- Stock is prohibited in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls.
Rules and Regulations
- There's a $5 entry fee to access Monarch Lake, payable at a self service station on Arapaho Bay Road. The pay station is located on the right (north) side of the road, just after the turnoff from Highway 34.
- Backcountry Camping is not permitted around Monarch Lake. Camping is only permitted in designated campgrounds at Monarch Lake.
Directions to Trailhead
The Monarch Lake Trailhead is located 61.9 miles north of I-70 on Arapaho Bay Road in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. The trailhead is located SE of Lake Granby, on the NW shore of Monarch Lake.
From I-70, take Exit #232 for Rocky Mountain National Park and Winter Park. Drive 46.9 miles over Berthoud Pass and through the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, and Tabernash to the split for Highway 34.
Veer right on Highway 34 and drive 5.4 miles to Arapaho Bay Road in Granby. Turn right (east) on Arapaho Bay Road, and don't forget to stop at the self-pay station just after this turn. Follow the graded dirt road 9.6 miles to the trailhead.
Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301
Sulphur Ranger District - National Forest Lands in Grand County
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446