Backpack to Mirror and Crater Lakes

Colorado Monarch Lake Trailhead

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Backpack to one of the most iconic spots in all of Colorado (mirror lake below Lone Eagle Peak). Hike through a basin without trails but full of flowers, wildlife, and scenic mountains to explore. One can ascend class 4 Lone Eagle Peak or several other class 3 and 4 mountains in the area and enjoy great fishing and swimming in Crater and Mirror Lakes.

Start at the Monarch Lake trailhead (where there is a $5 parking fee unless you have one of the national lands passes) and follow the cascade creek trail around the north side of the lake. After about 1.5 miles the trail splits with the Arapaho pass trail, follow the cascade trail to the left as it rises through the forest. The trail continues to rise steadily in places and moderate in others until the split with the Buchanan Pass trail split at ~3.5 miles.

At ~4.5 miles you will reach Cascade Falls. A series of beautiful cascades that make for a great break spot as the next mile or so will be steeper than most of the trail to this point. There are four falls along the trail, each with a spur to walk out on. After the falls the trail switches between forest and beautiful meadows (filled with flowers late in summer) until the split with the Pawnee Pass trail at ~6.5 miles.

After the split (continue on the cascade creek trail, which will be to the right) you will continue for another (often steep) mile to Mirror Lake and then Crater Lake. There are campsites (permit needed) around both lakes and there are no bad views in the area. Once at the lake(s)/campsites feel free to explore the basin. There are no trails beyond the last campsite on Crater Lake but dedicated people will find adventure in all directions.

Although Lone Eagle Peak is the main attraction, there are several really interesting and fun mountains you can scramble up around the cirque. Be careful though, some of the terrain is loose and there is no trail. Careful route-finding is important as well as comfort on difficult terrain.

Pack List

First and foremost to camp in the area you need a permit from one of the local forest service offices and there is a quota system for the area so a permit can be difficult to get some summer weekends. Also be aware of local wilderness regulations including no fires.

  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Stove
  • Sleeping bag/pad
  • Water filter
  • Food
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
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Activities:

Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Rock Climbing

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

15 Miles

Elev. Gain:

2500 Feet

Rating:

Features:

Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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How to Get There

about 2 months ago

Favorite Hike Ever

This is by far the best hike I've ever done. For years we had been only hiking to mirror lake, and thought that it was crater lake. Last summer was the first time that we finally actually reached the real crater lake, after another hiker told us to keep going! This hike is definitely one of my favorite, and one of the best things about it is that once you pass Monarch lake there are few people, and after cascade falls you are practically alone! Going all the way there and back in one day is tiring, but definitely doable. Once you finally get home afterwards, it makes dinner 1000x better haha.

about 2 months ago

11 months ago

Iconic Colorado

Just did an overnight here, and it was SO good! Eric's directions were spot on, and the campsites and views are amazing. It's a nice hike in, but not too hard that you don't have energy left over to explore the area a bit once you get there. One tip: I forgot my bug spray and was eaten alive by the mosquitoes at the lake! It's a must for the summer as they were literally swarming. This is a great long day hike or overnight if you can score a permit!

11 months ago

over 1 year ago

One of my favorite backpacking spots close to the Front Range. Mirror lake is incredible for sunrise/sunset and fishing can be had in nearby Crater lake.

over 1 year ago

Added by Eric Schuette

I love adventure and exploring. Currently a school psychologist who tries to spend my free-time hiking, climbing, fishing, and celebrating with a good beer in Colorado. On Instagram @ericschuettephotography Cheers!!!

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