- Mileage: off the road with a 3.9 mile loop around the lake
- Elevation gain: 260 feet
- Altitude: 8,590 feet
- To get there: From Granby take Highway 34 north to the entrance to the Arapaho National Recreation Area. Travel east on Forest Road 125 for about 10 miles to the Monarch Lake Trailhead.
I find myself continually talking about how vertical, how unceasingly uphill Rocky Mountain National Park is, but, to my relief, that isn’t the case at Monarch Lake. The catch, though, is that Monarch Lake is not actually in RMNP. The lake is situated in Arapaho National Forest, on the western outskirts of the national park. I’ve heard that on the west side of the park things are a bit calmer and quieter. Maybe it’s because this side of the park is not as easily accessible from Denver, or maybe it’s because it doesn’t offer the dramatic mountain views that the east side does. Whatever the reason, a visit to the west side makes for a nice change of pace, scenery, and heart rate, I thought as I walked along the fairly flat trail around Monarch Lake.
After a day at Hot Sulphur Springs and a night of camping at Arapaho Bay campground on Lake Granby, we are feeling relaxed and lazy in the morning. Without a map or, really, any knowledge of hiking on this side of the Continental Divide, we follow a friend’s advice to go down the road to Monarch Lake. The Lake is large, like many in this area, and the trailhead is quiet. We set off on the southern leg of the loop without another hiker in sight, and we are enjoying mountain views to the east.
The hills banking the trail are thick with growth, but I recognize only the classic Columbines sprouting up among all the green. I am pointing to each big leaf and little flower, asking Alex what everything is. It is a day of lollygagging around the lake and we are enjoying to the fullest, because it’s not often that we lollygag on a hike. We are dreaming today, talking about future plans, jobs, and travel as we pass through the greenery and on to lodge pole pine forest.
The west leg of the trail strays far from the lake. In setting off, I couldn’t imagine how the loop could be nearly four miles, but as we lose sight of the lake before the trail turns to head north, I understand where the distance comes from. On the west side of the lake we cross small streams as we wonder if we are going the right way (I mentioned our lack of map…shhhh..this isn’t recommended on any hike). Once we turn and begin to head east, back toward the trailhead, we stop to sit and hang our legs over the edge of bridge and then continue on until we can see the edge of the lake again. On this northern part of the loop, we are seeing wild roses, boulder fields, and daisies on the south-facing hillside. When we reach the trailhead, we find two women sitting in camping chairs and chatting their morning away together. They are Arapahoe National Forest volunteers, curious about how our hike went, about where we grew up and what we do now. They’ve lived here for years, they say, and they still love Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s the thing about getting to know a national park, I think as we are talking to them. Once you fall in love with one (or two, or three), you know you’ll always have a place to go home to.
Hike details from: http://www.protrails.com/trail.php?trailID=181