Backpack to Mirror and Crater Lakes

Monarch Lake Trailhead

Backpack to one of the most iconic spots in all of Colorado (mirror lake below Lone Eagle Peak). Hike through a basin without trails but full of flowers, wildlife, and scenic mountains to explore. One can ascend class 4 Lone Eagle Peak or several other class 3 and 4 mountains in the area and enjoy great fishing and swimming in Crater and Mirror Lakes.

Start at the Monarch Lake trailhead (where there is a $5 parking fee unless you have one of the national lands passes) and follow the cascade creek trail around the north side of the lake. After about 1.5 miles the trail splits with the Arapaho pass trail, follow the cascade trail to the left as it rises through the forest. The trail continues to rise steadily in places and moderate in others until the split with the Buchanan Pass trail split at ~3.5 miles.

At ~4.5 miles you will reach Cascade Falls. A series of beautiful cascades that make for a great break spot as the next mile or so will be steeper than most of the trail to this point. There are four falls along the trail, each with a spur to walk out on. After the falls the trail switches between forest and beautiful meadows (filled with flowers late in summer) until the split with the Pawnee Pass trail at ~6.5 miles.

After the split (continue on the cascade creek trail, which will be to the right) you will continue for another (often steep) mile to Mirror Lake and then Crater Lake. There are campsites (permit needed) around both lakes and there are no bad views in the area. Once at the lake(s)/campsites feel free to explore the basin. There are no trails beyond the last campsite on Crater Lake but dedicated people will find adventure in all directions.

Although Lone Eagle Peak is the main attraction, there are several really interesting and fun mountains you can scramble up around the cirque. Be careful though, some of the terrain is loose and there is no trail. Careful route-finding is important as well as comfort on difficult terrain.

Pack List

First and foremost to camp in the area you need a permit from one of the local forest service offices and there is a quota system for the area so a permit can be difficult to get some summer weekends. Also be aware of local wilderness regulations including no fires.

  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Stove
  • Sleeping bag/pad
  • Water filter
  • Food
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
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RT Distance 15 Miles
Elevation Gain 2500 Feet
Activities Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Hard But Worth It!

This was our first backpacking trip in years and we were not prepared for the hike at all. So I'd say it was pretty damn hard, but so worth it absolutely gorgeous. I wish we had had an extra day to explore the area rather than get there and head out early the next day. The ranger said campsite 12 was his favorite, then 7, 8 and 9. 12 was taken so we took 7 which was gorgeous and I think 6 would have been perfect too. Definitely bring bug spray!!

My Favorite Trail In Colorado So Far!

I did this trail with a group of girls as an overnight backpacking trip and it was so gorgeous! There are waterfalls and river crossings along the way and it opens up into a big meadow with jagged peak views. We camped in the cascade area as we had a group pass then hiked the rest of the way to mirror lake and then crater lake and hung out to enjoy the views! A little snow on the last 1/2 mile but not bad. Totally amazing place!

Favorite Hike Ever

This is by far the best hike I've ever done. For years we had been only hiking to mirror lake, and thought that it was crater lake. Last summer was the first time that we finally actually reached the real crater lake, after another hiker told us to keep going! This hike is definitely one of my favorite, and one of the best things about it is that once you pass Monarch lake there are few people, and after cascade falls you are practically alone! Going all the way there and back in one day is tiring, but definitely doable. Once you finally get home afterwards, it makes dinner 1000x better haha.


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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