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Crater Lake Trail, Indian Peaks Wilderness, August 29, 2009

November 27, 2010


Monarch Lake

Yes, a 2009 hike.  Still clearing up my backlog : )

Late summer of 2009 I was looking for a slightly different place to hike.  I decided on the western section of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area that is on the southern border of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Not sure why I’ve never been there before, I have been into the area from the east, but looked like it had some very nice hikes.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (and there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. You will need to use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map (care of the great National Geographic TOPO program( ) that one of my sons purchased for me : ) of the Crater Lake trail. Please note that all links open a new browser window.



One issue to be aware about is that for this section of the wilderness area that I was interested in visiting is a bit of a drive from Fort Collins, CO.  The route I took, which I think is the shortest route for me, was through Rocky Mountain National Park, over Trail Ridge, and then past Lake Granby.  You actually spend a fair amount of time driving along the shoreline of  Lake Granby, then cutting off on a small two lane road (which eventually turns into a well maintained gravel road) into the Arapahoe National Recreation Area.  I needed to travel through the "rec" area in order to get to the trailhead that I wanted to use that goes into the Wilderness area.  Of course, the wilderness area extends over the continental divide to the east, so you could enter it on the east side by going up through Longmont or Boulder.  However, the eastern sections will be more traveled and of a different ecosystem (generally drier).

In addition to the Google map link above, please see a Microsoft Live map below. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (and move the map around) to get more detail.

Map picture


Sometimes I find it a mite difficult to get up early.  Suffice to say, I got to the trailhead a little later than normal.  According to my photos, I reached the trailhead parking for Crater Lake sometime between 2pm and 3pm (after approximately a 3 hour drive).  I did find out that I had to pay an entrance fee (I don’t remember the exact amount, probably $10-$15) to travel through the "rec" area.  But, that price wasn’t too bad.  As it turned out, the area was well worth the price (don’t tell the government that or they will just raise the price even sooner than later : )  I think you can purchase a seasonal pass for these types of locations, so consider doing so if you plan on going to such “rec” areas more than a couple of times a year. 

There were a fair number of people parked at the trailhead, but I’m not sure where they all were hiking as I saw very few on the trail itself.  Only one hiker that I can remember seeing on the Crater Lake trail after leaving the lake area and a few people hiking/fishing around Monarch Lake itself.


There is a small ranger station at the point where the trails begin near the northwestern end of Monarch Lake


Along with a pretty complete description of the area, and trails available, both at the station and posted on some signs next to the lake.


My plan, using the term loosely as my "plans" tend to be rather fuzzy in nature, was to head towards Crater Lake.  Due to the late start I did not really consider it likely that I’d get all the way to Crater Lake, but I thought I "might" get as far as Cascade Falls.  That said, I was more interested in just checking out the area for more hikes in the future.  I knew it was late and I really don’t like going back over Trail Ridge in the dark.  Since the day was overcast, and with the occasional light rain, there was a good chance that I might hit wet snow on Trail Ridge which was always a bit, um, interesting (yeah, getting old : )


So, I headed up the trail just puttering along and enjoying the scenery.  Even with the overcast day, I thought the area was very nice.



The trail alongside the lake, that I took on the way to the Crater Lake trail intersection, was very nice.  I don’t think it was a mile in length to the point where I would head up into the mountains towards Crater Lake, but it was a ways.  You can walk the trail around the circumference of the lake if you wish and it would make a nice 3 mile loop.  Great for families with smaller children.


Small stream that crosses the trail.


Zoom on the ferns and moss.


I like these sections of trail.  Probably because it is so green and lush compared to the area around Fort Collins.


This time of year is very close to the end of summer in the mountains.  Here and there you could see the signs of colors announcing the end of summer and the beginning of the fall season.


The trail eventually left the lake shoreline and headed up Buchanan Creek.


Soon thereafter I reached the boundary of the Wilderness.  Always makes me feel good to see that sign at any of the wilderness areas.


You reach an intersection of the trail that if you veer to the right will allow you to take the loop around the lake (and to other trails that head to remote sections of the wilderness such as Caribou Lake).  Note that some of my photos are quite dark looking.  That’s mostly due to the level of light available and the fact that I was still learning how to use the camera (which I had purchased that summer).  Some of the photos came out a little on the "dark and grainy" side.


One thing about the trail was that it gained altitude very gradually.  Or, at least the section that I was on. Even the very infrequent switchbacks I ran into were mild in nature.


I did see the occasional deer.  Note that this is NOT a part of Rocky Mountain National Park and it is quite possible that hunters could be using the area during the hunting season.  I think I was there before the regular gun season, but the end of August and beginning of September may allow archers to hunt in the area.


After a while I hit a portion of the trail that allowed me to get a view of the high country further ahead.


As I mentioned already, there were a few small signs of the upcoming change in seasons.   


I had one hiker pass me by heading down to the trailhead.  He said that up on the divide there were lots more "orangey" stuff showing up.


Saw another deer.  Or, maybe the same one.


Quite a bit of the trail was similar to this.  Just kinda easy cruising along.  Slowly going uphill, but nothing too strenuous.


In general the trail stayed away from the stream (but you could generally hear it), but every so often the trail would take you close by.  Pretty easy crossing this time of year if you needed to do such.


I snapped this photo just to show that the sun came out at least once during the day to say hello.


I finally reached a place that let me position myself on the trail according to the map.


This sign points to the left if you wish to continue up Buchanan Creek.  To get to the falls, and Crater Lake, you stay to the right and head up Cascade Creek.


So, according to the map, I’d come roughly about three and a half miles.  It was approximately another mile to the falls.  Since it was between  five pm and six pm, I figured that this was far enough for the day.  Especially if I wanted to get over Trailridge before it got dark.  I took a photo looking up the trail (told myself “no, you do NOT need to go just a little further”), told it I’d be back (in my best Arnie voice : ), and headed back down the trail.


Looking back down the trail.


Thought about eating this raspberry for a snack, but decided not to.  Pretty enough for a photo.


Back at the lake.


Catching a few rays of sunset.


Zoom.  It was very peaceful at the lake.  Everyone had gone home.  Just me and the water lapping at the rocks.


I doubt if I made it back over Trail Ridge before dark.  But, must have done ok since I’m here typing this up.  Have to say Indian Peaks Wilderness is a very nice place with lots of potential hikes.  Lots.  Just need to get out of Fort Collins a lot earlier.
So, I’lllllllllllll beeeeeeeeee baaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhck.

– Geoff Weatherford

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