Lone Eagle Peak May Be Colorado’s Best Hike
By Reid Neureiter
For the GPHN
With all due respect to the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Lone Eagle Peak is perhaps the most stunning of all Colorado’s peaks.
Named in honor of the pioneering pilot Charles Lindbergh (the original Lone Eagle), and standing only 11,946 feet on the west side of the Continental Divide in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Lone Eagle is no Fourteener. But what the hike lacks in height, it makes up via its dramatic prominence. A sharp slab of white-grey granite topped with a sabre-like spire towering over Mirror Lake and the adjacent Crater Lake, the peak calls to mind J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit: one almost expects Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon, to fly out from behind the crag.
And the 15-mile round trip hike to reach Mirror and Crater Lakes at the base of Lone Eagle is a worthy prelude to the payoff view at the end. Beginning at the Monarch Lake Trailhead some 16 miles north and east of Granby, the trail first follows the shoreline of Monarch Lake, where moose often are seen early in the morning. The trail then ascends through green forests filled with ferns and moss along the appropriately-named Cascade Creek, with dozens of waterfalls and wooden bridge creek crossings along the route. Wildflowers fill meadows sitting below towering rock formations on the final approach to the alpine cirque of which Lone Eagle forms a part.
The hike is not dangerous, climbing a modest 2,000 feet over its length at an average grade of five percent. But it is long and taxing for the unprepared. Some hikers choose to procure an overnight camping permit and turn the expedition into a two-day outing, rather than making it out and back in one day.
Whether in one day or two, the hike to see Lone Eagle Peak should be on every Coloradan’s bucket list.
Directions to Monarch Lake Trailhead: From Granby turn north onto U.S. Highway 34. Travel approximately six miles to County Road (CR) 6. Turn east onto CR 6 (Arapaho Bay Road/NFSR 125), and drive 10 miles to the parking area. Parking at the Monarch Lake requires a $5 US Forest Service permit, and forest rangers will ticket cars without permits. Follow the posted directions and signs to Crater Lake.