“Gorgeous scenery with waterfalls and wildflowers ending at a breathtaking cirque and glacier lake.
— Kristen Arendt
Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This hike has a great mix of scenery and culminates with a spectacular view of Lone Eagle Peak towering over Crater Lake. The trail follows Buchanan and Cascade Creeks much of the way and has vantage points that overlook multiple waterfalls. Although Crater Lake is only ~8 miles back into the Indian Peaks Wilderness, this trail feels remote and you'll enjoy a quiet outing with a few other trail users.
The hike starts from Monarch Lake which is located on the east side of Lake Granby. Start by checking in at the Ranger Station at the parking lot and heading out on the north side of the Monarch Lake Loop (a flat, easy 4-mile loop around Monarch Lake). On the far side of the lake at ~ 1.5 miles, stay left on Cascade Trail
to start the climb.
The climb starts with some easy switchbacks through aspen and pine groves winding along Buchanan Creek. Wildflowers are abundant here and you should also keep an eye open for moose during the spring and summer. There are several waterfalls along Buchanan Creek and Cascade Creek.
There are two major trail intersections both of which are clearly marked. At ~3.5 miles, stay right on Cascade Trail
at the split for Buchanan Pass Trail
. At the second intersection at ~6.5 miles, stay right again to head toward Crater Lake. The trail to the left continues onto Pawnee Pass Trail
After the intersection for Pawnee Pass Trail
, you'll come to an open meadow with a large boulder field on the left-hand side. The trail crosses a large flat rock bed here and is marked by rock cairns. Follow the cairns, and you'll pick up the dirt singletrack again on the far side where several steep switchbacks will then take you up to the lake basin.
The trail appears to dead-end at Mirror Lake which is a small lake with Lone Eagle Peak in the background. Don't stop here, however, as you can pick up a singletrack trail on the west side of Mirror Lake that will take you to Crater Lake and the stunning view of Lone Eagle Peak and Mt. Achonee. Backcountry campsites are available around Crater Lake if you need more time to take in the view!
Flora & Fauna
Abundant wildflowers in the summer and aspen groves with lots of color in the fall. Look for deer and moose in the meadows along the creek.