Backcountry camping at Mirror Lake

Rate this Adventure 14.8 miles 2000 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Sonja Saxe

This 14.8 mile out-and-back hike takes you to two serene alpine lakes below Lone Eagle Peak, one of the most iconic peaks in Colorado. Camping at Crater Lake and Mirror Lake offers an unforgettable night under the stars in the wilderness and the perfect opportunity for night photography.Starting elevation: 8,345'Ending elevation: 10,328'

The 7.4 mile hike up to Crater and Mirror lakes begins at 8,345’ elevation at the Monarch Lake Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness between Granby and Grand Lake. If you want to backcountry camp at Mirror or Crater Lake (I highly recommend this) you will have to obtain a wilderness permit ahead of time by filling out and mailing in a form. I included a link to this form in the “Draw” segment. There is limited parking at the Monarch Lake trailhead so chances are you will have to park down the street and walk to the trailhead, this short walk is nothing compared to the hike you are about to embark on! There is a small ranger station at the trailhead, a log in sheet, and also bathrooms. Sign into the trail log and you are ready to begin the hike. Although you may be anxious to get on the trail, Monarch Lake is a beautiful place to stop and make sure all your belongings are accounted for before beginning.

The trail starts fairly level and follows the north shore of Monarch Lake and enters the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This stretch is the most populated with many hikers completing the loop around Monarch Lake. After leaving the Monarch Lake area the trail rises to the Cascade Creek Trail - Arapaho Pass Trail split at 1.6 miles. Continue on the Cascade Creek trail. At 2 miles the trail steepens with switchbacks for a half mile until it levels back out to the Buchanan Pass Trail split at 3.5 miles. Continue following the trail until the it crosses Cascade Creek at 4.4 miles and reaches the first or four waterfalls that make up Cascade Falls. The trail grows steep here as you make your way through the forest and past each of the falls which are all accessible by a spur. At 5.2 miles you will pass the last waterfall and a mere .2 miles later the forest breaks to a meadow.

The trail through the meadow is fairly level and this is a well known place to view moose, in fact we saw 3 on our hike back! Past the meadow the trail rises again through another forest. At 6.6 miles you will reach the Pawnee Pass Trail split, take a right and follow the trail until it crosses Cascade Creek via a narrow bridge that isn’t much more than a log connecting the two shores of the creek. You’re almost there! This final segment of the trail is the toughest, with steep switchback after switchback until finally you reach Mirror Lake and Lone Eagle Peak comes into view. Seeing the iconic Lone Eagle Peak looming over Mirror Lake after a tiring hike is such a sweet feeling. The shoreline of Mirror Lake is a great place to rest after that final leg of the hike. Once you decide to continue onto Crater Lake follow the trail along the western shore of Mirror Lake. The two lakes are only .2 miles apart. There are designated campsites along Mirror Lake and Crater Lake and you really can’t go wrong in picking one as they all have scenic views.

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