In the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness there is a place where one will find waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and wild views. Getting there can be just as wild! With an abundance of cascading waterfalls and swift moving streams roaring out of the upper valley, there is no mistaking why this trail is aptly named, Cascade Creek. But do not stop there. The wildflowers in summer seem to inherit the same energy of the water as they themselves cascade down through the valley in bursts of brilliant colors. Add in moose, deer, black bear and a multitude of other critters and wildlife viewing will excite the enthusiast of nature. The backdrop only seems to enhance it all with a rolling valley climbing steady upwards to craggy mountain peaks and alpine lakes all beckoning to the traveler to come explore further into the high country.
There are two major access points for the backpacker in search of an incredible high country adventure, Buchanan and Pawnee Passes. Adding them together will form an out of this world 33 mile loop that will, literally, take your breath away. Such a route is not for the novice, and will certainly challenge the experienced hiker.
But not all is lost, for the average person there is a way to enjoy this incredible landscape on a short or long day hike, a quick over-nighter or more depending on your level of experience and comfort levels. On the west side of the continental divide one can access the trail at the Monarch Lake trailhead. Who doesn't enjoy a nice mountain drive! From Denver head up I-70 to Berthoud Pass (US 40) then through the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, Tabernash and Granby. In Granby take HWY 34 (resist the urge to go to Rocky Mountain National Park) to County Rd 6 for Arapaho Bay (fee). Follow the road along the shore of Lake Granby to the parking area for Monarch Lake. This in and of itself will have been a wonderful drive full of views!
At the trailhead you are met with enough options to keep the explorer content for miles and weeks to come. The Cascade Creek Trail alone is 15 miles roundtrip. Do not let that detour you, one can enjoy as much or as little as they want and still have a great outing. The first 5 miles of this trail are home to lush forest, creeks and amazing waterfalls. Beyond there a more rugged terrain in a sublime Colorado alpine setting with high meadows, lakes and jagged peaks all around. For overnight use a permit is required, contact the Boulder or Sulphur Ranger District offices for info, permits go quickly, especially in summer and on weekends.
The video above is of a three day trip we recently took into the area. We had lofty goals, but soon found that three days would not be enough. Distractions abound here! We quickly rearranged our mindset (translation, came back to realty) that it's not about the destination, but the experience. That decision made, we began to enjoy ourselves more, relaxing our pace and absorbing as much as we could. We would have missed so much if our eyes were focused forwards instead of all around. Shorter distances, with longer stays in each spot gave us a much more rewarding backpacking trip.
If you are all about the experience, and not solely focused on the destination, this trail will take your imagination far and wide as each bend in the trail seems to have its own unique setting. The roar of water reminding you how the trail got its name. Wildlife lovers will want to keep an eye out as moose, deer and bear reside in this area. Botanists will be in heaven for the abundance of wildflowers and lush forests. From Monarch Lake one can venture 1 mile, 7 miles, 14 miles or more as there is an adventure here awaiting anyone seeking an outing in the wilderness in the backyard of our Colorful Colorado.
Read the Experiential Perspective on MAD Hippies Life
Nearest Town: Grandby, CO
Info and Entrance Fee for Monarch Lake: $5, Interagency Pass or hiking permit
Distance from Trail Head: 0 to 14 miles roundtrip / easy - difficult
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Enjoyed your journey.....planing a trip to this same area with my boys next summer. We are planning mid July what month do make this trip? About how miles a day did you hike? Any other advice or suggestions?
We went mid July. What route are you going to take?
We did not have any goals, so to speak, just followed the Cascade Creek trail towards Lone Eagle Peak and Mirror Lake. There are several intersecting trails in this area, many of which climb up and out of the Cascade Creek drainage to higher ground. Whatever your plans are, this is a very scenic area deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
You will need permits if you plan to do any overnight camping. Mileage wise, as we said before, we had no real plans, so we took our time exploring the area. Lone eagle Peak can be done in a day, about 15 miles, or a great overnight trip. We are planning on going back to this area ourselves in 2020 and doing several loop hikes of 3 or more days.
July is a transition month in the Colorado high country, lingering snow is possible, cold morning, nights and warm days are likely. There will be plenty of water, treat / filter before consuming.