If you’re in search of a fall backpacking Colorado trip, here it is! Lone Eagle Peak. This past weekend three of us grabbed our packs and left for the trailhead for a backpacking adventure we are still recovering from!
The Adventures of Lone Eagle Peak Backpacking Trip (14.8+ miles round-trip)
Where It All Began:
We met at 8:00 am in Fraser and stopped by Sharky’s to “fill our tanks” with the breakfast burritos ordered. (Never been? Check them out and join us on the Sharky’s breakfast burrito bandwagon!)
Jumped in the car around 8:40 am and headed to Granby, Colorado where we took the 34-split heading East on US-34 towards Grand Lake, Colorado. Approximately 5.5 miles up you take a right onto Colorado Highway 6 towards Arapaho Bay. There is a pay station on the right where you can buy a parking pass for your car; we weren’t sure if the season was over…so we took our chances. Follow Colorado Highway 6 down all the way until you hit the parking lot by Trailhead Campground. (It’s a stunning drive on a well-maintained dirt road that follows the Lake Granby shoreline – amazing views all around!)
We parked, grabbed our packs, signed the registry, made small-talk with the motherly volunteer who warned us 10+ times about the “ornery bull moose in the area” and reminded us that “it got down to 32*F in Tabernash last night,” and hit the trail!
The Hike: (Part 1)
To start, you take the Western route on the Loop Trail around Monarch Lake. (This will be your left when facing Monarch Lake). The first mile and a half is a pretty flat hike, following the lake around. Unfortunately or fortunately we didn’t see any of the “ornery bull moose.”
At 1.6 miles you’ll take the Arapaho Pass – Cascade Creek Trail Split (It’s the one heading uphill on your left). From here it’s a pretty straightforward hike, you stay on the trail following signs for Crater Lake.
The Hike: (Part 2)
Somewhere between 3 and 3.4 miles in, you’ll enter a valley that has had some major avalanche action on both sides! CRAZY to think about how much power the Avalanche had to take down so many huge trees!
4.5 miles in, you hit Cascade Falls #1 – it’s beautiful! Keep heading up to the second viewpoint. Here you can take a seat, filter water, take a swim, “rock-climb”, and view the falls up close!
Warning: Rocks are slippery!
Keep your eyes peeled for more falls later on in the trail!
The trail is great because it follows Buchanan Creek through a variety of landscapes, so you always have water available. (Don’t be dumb; always filter/treat before you drink…beaver fever isn’t fun!)
The trail gets steep at times but not bad…even with a 40-pound pack. Plus, the steep parts don’t last forever. Other cool parts include giant buried boulders, tree bridges, and amazing views of cliffs and peaks spearing from the valley!
The first lake you’ll come to is Mirror Lake. It’s beautiful but doesn’t stop there! Continue to Crater Lake. You’ll know it when you see it! When facing the Lake, Lone Eagle Peak will be on your left; you can’t miss it. The whole area is stunning and somewhat surreal.
Moral of the Story:
This hike is amazing! It is definitely one for the bucket list…with the right crew. Remember to pack smart, be prepared, clean up after yourselves, and do it! You won’t regret it…promise!
- There are designated campsites for use, (June 1st – September 15th you will need a permit)
- Apparently the fines for having a fire are steep. We made a fire in a pre-existing pit and then made friends who were willing to share the fines with us.
- Cell service is spotty.
- Baby weasels are cute…but they will try to help themselves to your food.
- Dogs are allowed, but only on a leash… Many thanks to the ranger who took pity on me and let me off with a warning vs. a $125 ticket!
- Bear bags are great – especially in the fall.
- It’s fall, hunters are out, wear orange.
If you’re looking for the perfect fall hike Columbine Lake a great option!
On this hike you enjoy limited elevation gain, stunning views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, late blooming wildflowers, and of course the teal blue of the clear mountain lake.
- Bring layers, food, water (or water purification tools), a camera, and a credit card for the fee station if you plan on hiking between Memorial day and September 15th. (The hike will take anywhere from 3+ hours so plan accordingly.)
- Proper footwear. Though the trail is defined, you will encounter roots, rocks, and boulders.
- A dog (if you have one) with a leash and doggie bags.
- A vehicle with higher suspension is recommended because the road to the trailhead has fairly large bumps and potholes. However, if you take it slow, a smaller vehicle will work.
- Take 83 off of highway 40 (as if you’re going to Devil’s Thumb Ranch).
- At the first “T” Take a left onto 84.
- Once you pass Strawberry Road (on your left), keep left at the fork, (this turns into USFS 129 and there should be a creek on your right).
- Stay on USFS 129. There will be a fee station on your left where you can purchase a pass for $5/car.
- Continue on USFS 129 and stay left at the fork before the Meadow Creek Reservoir.
- Approximately three-quarters of the way around the reservoir you will see the trailhead parking lot on the left. (There are fairly primitive bathrooms located here – the only bathrooms you’ll encounter on the hike.)
- Park, display your pass, sign in the hiking registry, and hit the trail!
The trail is approximately 8 miles round-trip and takes anywhere from 3+ hours to complete. The destination is the perfect spot to have a picnic, so plan ahead and make a day of it. The trail is rocky but well maintained and defined. Also, though there are multiple water crossings, all of them have rocks, bridges, or makeshift log bridges to use. (No one likes wet socks!)
Once on the trail keep your eyes peeled for moose and deer, especially in the meadows and forests! (My first time hiking this trail in July, I saw three big bulls and a few cows!)
About a half a mile in, you’ll see an old homestead on your right. It’s pretty cool to check out and imagine how people used to live.
The trail is slightly sloped for the first three quarters and the last leg being a more dramatic incline. The trail runs along a few meadows, the Meadow Creek at times, enters pine forests, boulder fields, next to cliffs, and waterfalls. It is a very beautiful and fairly low impact hike.
Once you get to the lake there are plenty of boulders to sit on and enjoy the view. Some people (and dogs) swim, though the mountain lake’s icy chill prevents many.
Moral of the story:
Columbine Lake is a very accessible, beautiful, and enjoyable hike for anyone looking to get out, explore, and see some of Colorado’s untouched beauty this fall. Protected by cliffs and trees, you will not encounter the cold winds that other hikes are prone to this time of year, and with the cooler temps and natural springs, a variety of wildflowers are still blooming in the meadows and creek beds, (yes even in September).
If you still need more convincing, check out the photos below. Then grab some gear and your friends and hit the trail to Columbine Lake, you’ll be glad you did!