The Cascade Creek Trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness is a treat. The hike starts at a scenic lake, follows a river occasionally, passes several small cascades and ends at three beautiful waterfalls.
The hike starts at the Monarch Lake Trailhead between Granby and Grand Lake (directions below). When planning this hike, be aware, there is another Cascade Falls near Grand Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
At Monarch Lake, you’ll find bathrooms, signs and a ranger cabin where you should sign in and out. There’s a trail around the lake and into the nearby forest that’s 3.9 miles, but for this hike, follow the signs for Cascade Falls. The first sign says it’s 4.4 miles to Cascade Falls. To see all three Cascade Falls, the hike is 4.7 miles each way.
The hike follows the shoreline of Monarch Lake for 0.8 miles. The lake is large, calm and serene. As you walk, look for people and waterfowl trying to catch fish.
As the lake ends, the trail continues along a stream. Here hikers will pass through a couple boulder fields. No worries, the trail goes through the boulders, not over them, so the footing is fine.
At 1.25 miles, you may see a sign in the trees that says you’re are entering the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This area was protected as wilderness in 1978. It’s 76,586 acres on the south side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It got its name because many of the peaks in the area are named after American Indian tribes of the west.
At 1.6 miles, you’ll pass the trail split for the Monarch Lake loop. Now the trail begins to climb slightly. You may notice a lot of dead trees and fallen trees. This area has been hit hard by the bark beetle infestation. One warning, if it’s windy, don’t hike here, this trail can be dangerous.
If you hike this path in late spring/early summer, your ears will often be filled with the sounds of crashing water before you see the next stream. Let those sounds take over your senses as you climb the switchbacks.
At about 2.3 miles, the trail suddenly comes to a small canyon carved by a creek. Here two creeks merge putting on a quite a show. Turn left and follow the trail to find the bridge over the creek.
As you hike along, there are more switchbacks, small cascades and meadows. You’ll pass the Buchanan Pass Trail, then come to a second bridge at 3.3 miles. There’s a treat coming. Cross the bridge and start up the switchbacks. But at the first turn, go off trail a few feet and look into the nearby canyon. In the spring, the water creates a wonderful unnamed waterfall here. But anytime of year, it’s worth seeing this drop. You may spy more cascade above this, go back to the trail, continue up the switchbacks until you see a social trail back over to the falls. Do a little exploring, take pictures and then return to the main trail.
After you cross a third bridge, Cascade Falls is a short distance away. It features two major drops. A somewhat narrow drop at the top and a fan drop at the bottom. You can sit just off trail and enjoy this show. This is a great spot for lunch and many people turn around here (we did).
ProTrails says there are two more waterfalls ahead. The second falls are 0.2 miles away and the third falls are 0.3 miles past that). In mid-June, the snow was too deep past the first falls so we stopped.
Return the way you came or consider hiking on to Crater Lake or even up to the Continental Divide at Pawnee Pass.
Details: To the first Cascade Falls and back, 8.4 miles with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. To see all three of the Cascade Falls, plan for 9.4 miles and 1,300 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Interstate 70 in Denver, go west to the Winter Park/Highway 40 turnoff. Take Highway 40 through Winter Park and Fraser to Granby. In Granby, turn right on Highway 34 toward Grand Lake. Drive about 5.4 miles and turn right at the entrance to the Arapaho National Recreation Area. Travel east on Forest Road 125 for about 10 miles to the Monarch Lake Trailhead.
While you’re in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, consider visiting Diamond Lake, Woodland Lake/Skyscraper Reservoir, Mitchell/Blue Lakes and Lake Isabelle. For more great hikes in the Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park and throughout Colorado and the west, click here.
Check out more trails in your area: icedjamb.com’s Trail Guide
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