Length: Four-mile loop
Why we love it: With just over 200 feet of elevation gain, this loop offers easy access to a magnificent alpine lake.
When to go: Year-round
Fee: $5 day use fee; pay station located near the turnoff from Highway 34
Post-Hike Buzz: Treat yourself to what’s on tap at Never Summer Brewing in downtown Granby
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Distance from Denver: 100 miles
While most alpine lakes can only be reached after enduring a long, steep incline, Monarch Lake, which sits at an elevation of 8,400 feet, is accessible with just a short walk from the trailhead and a mere 30-minute drive from Granby. The main trail loops around the lake with minimal elevation change, making it an easy stroll for hikers (and snowshoers!) of all skill levels. In addition to easy access, the Monarch Lake trail offers spectacular views of the serene lake and towering peaks of the Continental Divide around every bend.
Shortly after turning onto County Road 6, be sure to make a quick stop at the pay station to obtain a $5 day pass for access to the Arapaho National Recreation Area. Continue on CR-6 for about 10 miles (be aware that the road becomes unpaved and gets pretty bumpy, but is not steep). The road will dead-end at a large parking area, beyond which the ranger station, restrooms, and trailhead are located. There is also a great spot here for paddlers to put in a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to gain access to the lake’s few small islands. Although this trail is popular and the parking area is often crowded, many are there to explore the variety of spurs off the main trail which lead to backcountry campsites and other lakes, leaving the main trail relatively quiet.
Entering the Monarch Lake loop clockwise, the beginning of the trail is wide, flat and nicely maintained. Small groves of Aspen trees are mixed into pine forests providing filtered shade and bird-watching opportunities for hikers, and in just a few minutes of starting out, I spotted several bluebirds, mocking birds, and osprey. Several wildflower-lined side trails lead to clearings along the shoreline for fishing, sunbathing, and picnics.
Soon the undulating trail leads away from the lake and up the neck of Arapaho Creek. Wooden signs indicate spurs to Cascade Falls, Arapaho Pass, and High Lonesome trails, connecting more adventurous hikers to a slew of full-day and overnight excursions. Continuing on the main trail, hikers will cross the creek will the help of a wooden footbridge and make the turn back toward the lake. Shortly after regaining sight of the flat water, the trail becomes narrower and steeper, offering hikers a bit more of a challenge for about a mile before leveling off again as it nears the trailhead. Here, a wide, sandy beach provides the perfect place to dip your toes in the water and absorb the view before returning to your car.
Getting there: Take I-70 West to 40-W; stay on 40-W for about 47 miles until you reach CO-6, where you’ll turn right. The trailhead will be after Lake Granby.