Crater Lake and Mirror Lake, Monarch Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Crater Lake and Mirror Lake - 14.8 miles

Monarch Lake Trailhead

Crater Lake is a popular backcountry camping destination

Crater Lake is a popular backcountry camping destination

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)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Crater Lake and Mirror Lake - 14.8 Miles Round-Trip

Crater Lake and Mirror Lake are accessible from Monarch Lake Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The lakes are .2 miles apart in a deep bowl carved from Mount Achonee (12,469') and Lone Eagle Peak (11,920') on the west side of the Continental Divide.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Cascade Creek Trail follows Monarch Lake, Buchanan Creek, and Cascade Creek for 7.4 miles to the lakes. While achievable in a day, numerous highlights and backcountry camping options warrant an overnight stay. Visitors will enjoy miles of fishable streams, Cascade Falls and abundant wildflowers 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 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 Cascade Creek Trail - Arapaho Pass Trail split (1.6 miles : 8,367') and steepens under a tall canopy marred by beetle kill.

At 2.05 miles (8,481') the trail merges with 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').

Camping terrain is particularly good on this flat, verdant segment.

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 : 9,106'), where it 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, each accessible by a short spur. The trail passes the top of the fourth fall and grows rugged beyond this point (5.2 miles : 9,525').

The forest breaks on the edge of a large meadow, one of the best places to see moose, elk and bear on this trail (5.4 miles : 9,670').

Steep climbing resumes past the meadow into a fragmented subalpine forest with expanding views of the upper valley. The trail crosses a narrow, elevated bridge over a major tributary that may be tricky when wet, or carrying large packs (6.45 miles : 9,995').

Veer right at the Pawnee Pass Trail split (6.65 miles : 10,033') and look for cairns leading over open rock slabs to backcountry campsite #1 (6.85 miles : 10,153').

Just ahead the trail crosses Cascade Creek on a makeshift bridge, 50 yards past an old bridge washed out in recent years by heavy runoff (6.95 miles : 10,153'). It's important to locate the trail over the creek before crossing.

Once over, find the main trail and continue through an idyllic subalpine setting of tall glades, small meadows, braided streams, and brilliant wildflowers. This is arguably the prettiest section of the hike.

The trail makes one final push up steep, shifting 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 in a thinning forest up the west shore 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 an immense bowl beneath 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.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • 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

Worth Noting

  • 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.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301
303.541.2500

Sulphur Ranger District - National Forest Lands in Grand County
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446
970.887.4100

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.



Comments

"Feature filled hike. Went with three adults and 5 kids age 7-13, everybody had a great time. Backpacked in 3.5 miles to Buchanan Pass junction and camped 2 nights in the expansive flatlands next to the creek. Dropped packs and went the remaining 4 miles to Mirror Lake. Kids complained but frolicked in the lake when we got there, beautiful. Trail isn't too steep and is punctuated by lovely level sections through shady groves. A great mix of all, and any damage has been mitigated. Heavy use around Monarch Lake, but quickly thins to near zero after the lake loop. Recommended highly!"
Josh Vinlove  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: July 29, 2016
"Did this as an overnighter in 2015. Gorgeous scenery for most of the way to and from the lakes. Mirror Lake is as picturesque as the photos show! Unfortunately we were camped between two large groups who stayed up late into the night, so this might not be the best location for a "backcountry experience". "
Rob  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: May 6, 2016
"A really interesting trail. There is substantial damage to the trail and the landscape due to some massive avalanches that have wiped out huge swaths of trees, blocking the trail and in some cases totally obscuring it. There are a number of places where you have no option but to bush-whack around the obstructions, often for tens of yards in undulating terrain - often making it difficult to pick up the trail again. The rangers are clearly hard at work clearing the trail, but they have much more work to to do. Additionally, there remains a lot of snow on the upper parts of the trail that make the final push to the lakes a challenge."
Uthelred  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: June 22, 2014
"Have hiked many trails in RMNP west side and some on the east side, but none have come close to the beauty found on this trail. Numerous water falls, flowered meadows and potential for wildlife make this an experience to look forward to."
Peanut Boy  -  Texas  -  Date Posted: October 21, 2013

 

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