Monarch Lake

Seven Hikes Near Grand Lake

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I signed up for my second Trusted Housesitters gig.  This time it was much closer to home, in Grand Lake, not across the ocean in France for my farm stay.  Grand Lake, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, is just a 2-hour drive from Denver.

Grand Lake House Sit

I drove up on Wednesday evening where I met Dan and Lori as well as their pets Jack, Quincy and Peanut.  Dan and Lori are so generous!  They texted me while I was in France and asked what food they could buy me for my stay.  I felt like they didn’t need to do that, so I threw them a small bone and asked for eggs, avocados, and apples in hopes to appease them .

Apparently, that was not a good enough request on my part, as they had filled the refrigerator and pantry with my request along with bison, chicken, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, blueberries, pears, snacks, and the list goes on…all organic! 

Not only did they fill the house with food, they actually wanted to pay me for caring for their pets.  Of course, on I get paid as a petsitter, but Trusted Housesitter is all about trading, and I got a free home in the mountains for the week!

Don’t want to house sit while in Grand Lake. No problem. Check out Grand Lake Lodge. This historic hotel is inside Rocky Mountain National Park, though operated privately. You may book it with this link.

House Tour and Pets

Dan and Lori toured me through their home which included the standards like bedrooms, a kitchen, dining and living areas, and a zillion bathrooms, but also included a TV room, game room, indoor pool, workout room, sauna and an amazing porch with a view of Lake Grandby, not to mention the moose and fox that roam through the yard!  With their pool table/ping pong table, dart board, and a selection of likely 1,000 movies, I was certainly not at a loss for entertainment.

Jack, Quincy and Peanut

As for their pets, they were the sweetest.  Jack, the curly-haired, white boy definitely needed the most attention and regularly joined me on the couch for cuddles.  He tolerated Quincy joining in though I’m certain he’d be happy being an only child. 

Quincy and Jack in Grand Lake

Quincy was the piglet of the group.  I had to keep an eye on him at their 8:30am and 5pm feeding times.  I put his bowl down last, and he finished first every time in hopes of grabbing a few bites from his brother and sister.

Peanut was the queen of the castle, and somewhat acted like a dog.  In typical cat fashion, sometimes she had nothing to do with me and other times she found me for snuggles.  It was all on her terms.  Though sometimes I could call her, and she’d come join me.

She knew exactly when the dogs went to sleep in their kennels and trotted to the utility room to remind me to put down her dry food (she gets wet food when the dogs are fed).  She never woke me, but always hopped on the bed as soon as I rolled over in the morning.  Sometimes that was a bit early given I was only getting up to go to the bathroom. 

They were all sweethearts.

Peanut in Grand Lake

Hiking Near Grand Lake

Overall, it was an easy stay at Dan and Lori’s.  I fed Jack, Quincy, and Peanut twice a day and let them out as need be.  Not leaving the dogs in their kennels for more than five hours was the only limitation, and frankly I wouldn’t want to. 

The time limitation and the massive amount of remaining winter snow were the main factors in the trails I chose to hike near Grand Lake.  All of them were within a 30 minute drive of the house and ranged from 4-10 miles.

Of my eight days at the house, I hiked seven trails, six of them successfully.  One of the trails still had a significant amount of snow for the last MILE.  Below are the seven hikes I took while in Grand Lake.

Strawberry Lake

Strawberry Lake Trail was the shortest trail I took while visiting Grand Lake.  The trail begins near the Southeast corner of Granby Lake on the south side of County Road 6.  The limited roadside parking is on the other side of the dirt road from the trailhead. 

Strawberry Lake is located inside the Arapahoe National Recreation Area which charges a daily parking fee.  The fee station is near the entrance of the recreation area.  I think it is $5 or so, but am not sure as I have a National Parks pass which covers national recreation areas.

The trail to Strawberry Lake begins around 8,300 feet and climbs to almost 9,300 feet in only 1.8 miles, making it somewhat steep.  The rocky path zig-zags through a lodge pole pine forest that is decimated by the Rocky Mountain pine beetle.  There were at least ten trees down across the trail, not to mention all the fallen ones in the forest.

I hear the wildflowers are nice on this trail, but in mid-June after a snowy winter, I only spotted a few.  In the meantime, I made a variety of creek crossings over make-shift bridges of fallen trees and stumps.

The lake itself is unique.  The section closest to the end of the trail is surrounded in spongy, damp peat that is easily damaged by foot traffic and a bit wet for picnicking.  Signs encourage hikers to stay on the path and floating dock. 

A lovely meadow reaches the west side of the lake, and I imagine it will be filled with wildflowers later in the season.  The rest of the lake is surrounded by forest which may be a better place for a rest.

Strawberry Lake

Overall, this wasn’t my most favorite hike, likely because my timing wasn’t right for the flowers, but it is a nice short hike, 3.7 miles, with a little intensity for those with limited time and looking for some good exercise.

Monarch Lake Loop Trail

The Monarch Lake Loop Trail, also part of the Continental Divide Trail, is an easy 4.2 mile loop around a lovely lake.  With hardly any elevation gain, this is a great hike to take for those acclimating to the altitude.  It must be recommended by the Visitor Center in Grand Lake because it was CROWDED on a weekday!

As with Strawberry Lake, Monarch Lake Loop Trail is located in Arapahoe National Recreation Area.  A large parking area, ranger station and bathrooms can be found at the trailhead.  The ranger, Cameron, who also turned out to live in Dan and Lori’s backhouse which I found out later, recommended I hike the trail counter-clockwise which took me along the sunny, west side of the lake first.

Monarch Lake

Soon I reached the shade of the forest where I enjoyed many creek crossings, admired a few wildflowers, and inspected an old, rusted steam engine.  This “steam donkey” was used to carry logs down from the mountains in the 1800’s. 

While I spotted a squirrel, I missed the moose activity.  Back at the house, Cameron reported several moose spottings, both in the parking lot and on the trail.  Darn! Regardless, Monarch Lake Loop is a very relaxing hike with a lot of variety, thus an attractive option to many Grand Lake visitors.

Watanga Lake via Roaring Fork Trail

A third hike in Arapahoe National Recreation Area is to Watanga Lake.  It is longer than the previous two mentioned, and at 7.9 miles it is my favorite distance.  The Roaring Fork trailhead is located on the northeast corner of Lake Granby. 

The first quarter mile is flat.  The next quarter mile is straight up!  This short section of the trail, which gains almost 500 feet, provides some nice views of the lake.  Soon, however, it is enveloped in a lovely forest with a few scattered wildflowers.

The path, laden in boulders, eventually crosses the creek which was roaring with the recent snow melt.  There is a fantastic waterfall about one-third of the way up to the lake.  Unfortunately, there was still a significant amount of snow beginning around 9,700 feet and only 2.5 miles into the hike. 

waterfall on hike near grand lake

I post-holed through knee deep snow for a little bit but turned around before I even reached the trail junction as my feet were already soaked and cold, and I had at least a mile to go.  Not to mention, aside from having my AllTrails app, I was basically relying on other footsteps to know where to go as the trail was not decipherable. 

Perhaps I would have continued had I strapped my snowshoes to my pack, but I only had my micro-spikes, and it just didn’t seem safe as an individual hiker to keep going.  It turns out, I wasn’t the only one to retreat.  At least for this year, summer hadn’t quite made it to Roaring Fork Trail.

North of Grand Lake

Grand Lake is surrounded by hiking trails.  The first three trails listed above are located about 30 minutes south of Grand Lake.  Traveling north of Grand Lake takes hikers to the spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park. A day pass to RMNP is $25, a week pass is $35, and a year pass is $70 only $10 less than the National Park Pass, my means of entering. Don’t want to hike on your own while there? Consider a guide.


Rocky Mountain National Park

Two of the trails that I hiked are just northeast of town and outside of the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, though still part of the park.  The trails in Rocky Mountain National Park are better maintained than those in Arapahoe National Recreation Area.  Having said that, they didn’t feel too touristy as some other high-trafficked trails can feel.

North Inlet Trail to Cascade Falls

The North Inlet Trail begins just north of Grand Lake.  There are two small dirt parking lots.  I arrived just before 9am and while the upper lot was full, I had my choice of spots in the lower section.  After strapping on my pack, I headed up to the first parking area and descended the trail to a sunny meadow.

The first mile of the hike is relatively flat.  Once the path reaches the river, however, it gradually climbs over undulating terrain through the forest and past granite cliffs. It is really a lovely trek capped by a magnificent waterfall. 

Loving waterfalls, I walked down to its base and then climbed up to the rocks over which it tumbles.  These giant boulders are a wonderful place for a picnic as the river roars by.  I really enjoyed the variety North Inlet Trail offered…meadows, wildflowers, forests, granite cliffs, and a spectacular waterfall.

Cascade Falls near Grand Lake

East Inlet Trail to Lone Pine Lake

The East Inlet Trailhead is only about a mile from the North Inlet Trailhead.  The trail is located just southeast of Grand Lake.  The East Inlet Trail is another great hike with excellent variety.  It leads to a handful of lakes, but due to a five-hour time constraint I only made it to Lone Pine Lake which results in a 10.6 mile round trip.

Many people only hike 0.25 mile into the trail to see Adams Falls.  There is a very well-maintained loop that visitors may follow for a nice vista overlooking the falls.  It’s worth scrambling down the rocks a bit for an alternative view.

Adams Falls

Of course after admiring the waterfall, I continued two miles along the path that followed easy terrain past a marshy area and ultimately reached a more shaded forest.  I was lucky to spot a deer on the trail and a mama moose and her baby off in the trees!  For me, seeing wildlife on the trail is a highlight, and I couldn’t get enough of the moose.

I bounced from a rock to the shelter of tree with a dad and two kids as we watched the moose graze in the valley.  Unusually, the mama could have cared less that we were there.  Generally, they are more attentive to human presence.

The trail continues past more waterfalls, wildflowers, and granite cliffs as it climbs relatively steeply over the third mile to an excellent viewpoint of Grand Lake. It is too bad there is so much beetle destruction in the area, as it takes away from what otherwise would be a beautiful view.

A moderate climb over the next few miles leads hikers to the picturesque Lone Pine Lake.  Along the way trekkers are rewarded with another roaring waterfall (not pictured)!  In addition, with the heavy winter snow, the river was almost out of its banks, and a few patches of snow covered the trail.

The lake, tucked beneath granite peaks, is normally where I would have pulled out my lunch, but I had to get back home so I simply admired the view for a few moments before I returned to my car, sometimes at a light jog.  I highly recommend this trail for water lovers.

Lone Pine Lake

Colorado River Trail to Cite of Lulu City

The main entrance to the western section of Rocky Mountain National Park is only about a mile north of Grand Lake.  As such, I used my parks pass to explore a few trails in this area as well.

The farthest north I drove was to the Colorado River Trailhead in order to hike to the Lulu City Site.  I was looking forward to seeing remnants of an old silver mining town.  Aside from the crumbling remains of two log cabins along the way, there wasn’t anything to see at the site except a sign.

The river was way out of its banks this year, which required a few detours, but otherwise the elevation gain on the trail was minimal, making it an easy 7.1 mile stroll.  Many reviews on AllTrails described spotting moose, deer, mountain goats and marmots. 

Either I had blinders on, or it was an unlucky outing, as I saw a whole lot of nothing, except for an elk while driving through the park.  Perhaps starting the hike at 9am was too late in the day.

elk near Grand Lake

Onahu Trail to Granite Falls

The final hike I took while in Grand Lake, was along the Onahu Trail to Granite Falls.  This is a spectacular trail encompassing just about everything a nature lover enjoys.  The path gradually climbs through the forest as it intermittently passes close by the creek and by massive meadows.  The meadows are home to many moose and also provide excellent views of surrounding peaks.

mama moose near grand lake

Wildflowers dot the forest floor where the path passes through a small burn area before reaching an outrageous waterfall.  In addition, aside from the small burn area, the pine trees are in good shape, having eluded the Rocky Mountain pine beetle thus far. 

Along with nature’s beauty and wildlife, remnants of two historic cabins sidle the path. While 10.8 miles might seem a little long, the easy terrain makes for simple walk through the woods.

The hike is capped with an incredible waterfall. The tremendous flow of the river made for a spectacular site.

This was my first time to spend more than a day near Grand Lake.  I really loved the hiking opportunities and can’t wait to explore the area more!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

10 thoughts on “Seven Hikes Near Grand Lake

  1. Amazing photos!!! Beautiful. Love them all, but the squirrel photo really spoke to me!!

    1. Thank you. I liked that one too. And the little bird had something in its mouth (though not a good enough lens for that)

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