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It would not be an exaggeration to say this is one of the all around best hikes in Grand County, CO. The Monarch Lake Loop Trail has pretty much got it all, it’s a relatively easy hike with little elevation gain, short enough to be doable for most people, and out in the middle of nowhere enough to really feel like you’re in the Colorado wilderness.
The best part? Whether you’re a hiker or more of a picnic in the park type of person – you can enjoy some pretty epic scenery of this alpine lake with snow capped mountains in the background. Well, snow capped most of the year 😉
Getting to Monarch Lake
From Denver: The Monarch Lake trailhead is only about 2 hours and 30 minutes away. Take I-70 West past Idaho Springs and exit onto highway 40 West. Stay on 40 W through Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby, keep going, then turn right onto CR 6 by Lake Granby and follow CR 6 all the way to end until you hit the parking area.
From Winter Park: It’s about an hour away, simply follow 40 West for 26 miles, then turn right onto CR 6 and follow it all the way to end of the road.
From Grand Lake: It’s about 40 minutes, turn left on US 34 and follow it for 9 miles, turning left again onto CR 6. Follow 6 all the way to end until you reach the Monarch Lake parking area.
Enjoy the drive along CR 6! It’s beautiful as it follows all the curves of the shore of Lake Granby and many times I’ve spotted bald eagles, osprey nesting, hawks flying by and marmots running around the road.
Monarch Lake Loop Trail
If you’re up for a hike then you’re in for a treat. This 4 mile loop never disappoints. Even if the parking lot is overflowing, once you hike in a little ways the people seem to be dispersed enough to not be a bother or just all gathered around the picnic area near the trailhead – so don’t panic if you see a million cars there.
Be sure to register (sign in) at the ranger booth at the trailhead so the parks know how many people are using what trails, so they can distribute resources accordingly 🙂
Then enjoy the hike! I like to hike the loop clockwise so I can rest and enjoy the best views at the end, but that’s totally personal preference. Even though it’s an easy-ish trail, try to take it slower than normal and really look around. I don’t think I’ve hiked this trail once without seeing moose, but sometimes they are really hidden among the trees.
Speaking of moose – please, please, please for the love of nature keep your dogs on a leash at all times. There are a million signs all around the lake reiterating this, but as a fellow hiker who enjoys Colorado’s native wildlife (no, you’re dog is not native here) please keep them on a leash so they don’t scare away the other animals.
Monarch Lake Steam Engine
I would say this falls under weird things you might find while hiking – an old donkey engine and some remains of log cabins from a 1904-1908 logging operation. This steam powered winch was used to drag logs down the mountainside, where they would then be put into a flume and ultimately into the lake and continue on downstream to be moved out. Keep an eye out for the engine along the south west side of Monarch Lake.
Monarch Lake Camping
There is no camping permitted exactly at Monarch Lake, however there are several options close by.
Arapaho Bay Campground is open seasonally and is only a couple minutes drive from the Monarch Lake trailhead, you passed it on your way to the lake. For more information and to find out what dates they are open, you can check the Forest Service’s website here.
If you’re into backpacking, there is back country camping available at nearby Gourd Lake or Crater Lake or Cascade Falls. You will need a permit though, but it’s only $5 at the time of writing this. You can find more info on the Sulphur Ranger District office here, you’ll need to call or go there to arrange your permit to camp anywhere in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area.
Monarch Lake Fishing
Monarch Lake is a popular spot to go fishing! You can expect to find Brown Trout and Brook Trout in there. Apparently Parks and Wildlife used to stock Rainbow Trout, but have decided to discontinue doing so. All Colorado fishing regulations apply, you can find out more or buy a CO fishing license here.