Cascade Falls, Monarch Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Cascade Falls - 9.2 miles
Monarch Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||9.2 miles (additional distance to see all 4 falls)|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,345' - 9,207' (9,525' max elevation at last fall)|
|Elevation Change:||+862' net elevation gain (+1,219' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Cascade Falls - 9.2 Miles Round-Trip
Cascade Falls are accessible from the Monarch Lake Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area on the west side of the Continental Divide. Cascade Falls are comprised of 4 separate waterfalls spanning a .7 mile stretch of Cascade Creek, 4.6 miles from the trailhead.
A relatively mild trail follows Monarch Lake, Buchanan Creek, and Cascade Creek through mixed forests to the main falls complex, passing several other notable but unnamed falls along the way. Visitors will enjoy good trail conditions, ideal backcountry camping terrain, and diverse wildlife on the hike to Cascade Falls:
The trail begins on a level path up the north shore of Monarch Lake. It moves quickly to the lake's marshy inlet (.95 miles) and enters a mixed forest at the Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary (1.25 miles : 8,358'). It rises to the Cascade Creek Trail - Arapaho Pass Trail split (1.6 miles : 8,367') and steepens under a tall canopy badly marred by beetle kill.
At 2.05 miles (8,481') the trail merges with Buchanan Creek before climbing away on steep switchbacks. It moderates past 2.5 miles and begins a long, level stretch through uniform columns of lodgepole to the Buchanan Pass Trail split (3.45 miles : 8,772').
Backcountry camping terrain is notably good on this flat segment, and well-spaced trees provide good viewing lanes for wildlife. Look for deer, moose, and bear along this verdant stretch.
The trail continues over a bridge near the confluence off Buchanan Creek and Cascade Creek (3.6 miles : 8,835') and climbs to a narrow, forceful waterfall (3.75 miles). This is not Cascade Falls, but one of several unnamed ones en route to the main group.
The trail rises to a long bridge at an abrupt opening in the valley (4.4 miles : 9,106'), where it crosses Cascade Creek to the first of four main falls that comprise Cascade Falls (4.6 miles : 9,207'). Note that fires and horses are not permitted beyond the bridge leading to the falls.
The grade steepens considerably beside the falls, each accessible by a short spur. The trail passes the top of the fourth fall and grows markedly rugged beyond this point (5.2 miles : 9,525'). The Cascade Creek Trail continues 2.2 miles past this last fall to Crater Lake.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N40 06.651 W105 44.781 — 0.0 miles : Monarch Lake Trailhead
- N40 06.367 W105 44.108 — .75 miles : Level travel up north shore of Monarch Lake
- N40 06.273 W105 43.314 — 1.6 miles : Arapaho Pass - Cascade Creek Trail split
- N40 06.485 W105 43.028 — 2.0 miles : Trail edges next to Buchanan Creek
- N40 06.664 W105 42.714 — 2.5 miles : Begin long, level stretch
- N40 06.615 W105 42.294 — 3.0 miles : Fast, level travel in tall, uniform forest
- N40 06.580 W105 41.835 — 3.45 miles : Buchanan Pass Trail split (to Gourd Lake)
- N40 06.262 W105 41.108 — 4.4 miles : Cross long bridge over Cascade Creek
- N40 06.169 W105 41.090 — 4.6 miles : Cascade Falls - Fall #1
- N40 05.956 W105 40.772 — 5.2 miles : Pass top of last major fall in the series
- N40 04.776 W105 39.564 — 7.2 miles : Mirror Lake
- N40 04.655 W105 39.772 — 7.4 miles : Crater Lake
- Backcountry Camping Regulations - especially pertaining to dispersed vs. designated site areas, campfires, and stock limitations - should be fully understood before venturing out.
- Trail conditions beyond Cascade Falls are more rugged and may be snow covered well into summer. Check with the Ranger District for current conditions.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.
- Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.
- Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.
- Campfires are prohibited in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.
- Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.
- Packstock is prohibited in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls.
Rules and Regulations
- There's a $5 entry fee to enter Monarch Lake, payable at a self service station on Arapaho Bay Road. The pay station is located on the right (north) side of the road, just after the turnoff from Highway 34.
- Backcountry Camping is not permitted around Monarch Lake. Camping is only permitted in designated campgrounds at Monarch Lake.
Directions to Trailhead
The Monarch Lake Trailhead is located 61.9 miles north of I-70 on Arapaho Bay Road in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. The trailhead is located southeast of Lake Granby, on the west shore of Monarch Lake.
From I-70, take Exit #232 for Rocky Mountain National Park and Winter Park. Drive 46.9 miles over Berthoud Pass and through the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, and Tabernash to the split for Highway 34.
Veer right on Highway 34 and drive 5.4 miles to Arapaho Bay Road in Granby. Turn right (east) on Arapaho Bay Road, and don't forget to stop at the self-pay station just after this turn. Follow the graded dirt road 9.6 miles to the trailhead.
Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301
Sulphur Ranger District - National Forest Lands in Grand County
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446