One of the places we have wanted to visit, for years, is Arches National Park. I wish we had gone a long time ago. Saying that is awe inspiring is an understatement. I don’t think there is an adjective that suits the majesty. The park is filled with monolithic rock formations that will keep your jaw on the ground. I got whiplash as we drove through the park on our first day there.
Our trip to Arches was during the peak of summer heat. During our visit (the first week of August) we saw daily temperatures at 95°F and one day topped out at 103°F.
I lived in the Mojave Desert for several years so that kind of heat wasn’t foreign to me, but if you have never visited an aired climate be prepared. We always had at least 2 liters of water per person anytime we hiked, and on that hottest day? We each had three liters.
We also planned our hiking trips during the cooler times of the day. One of the hikes (Fiery Furnace) we did in two parts. The bottom hike was early in the morning and the top was late in the afternoon.
Arches N.P. is big enough that we spent 4 days there and still had more to see. In the next series of posts I will be writing about the hikes we did. I will start at Landscape Arch then on to the Window and Turret Arches, followed by our adventure through Fiery Furnace and ending with an epic rappel into two grottoes.
Monarch Lake trail system has several options to choose from to satisfy any hiker. Monarch Lake Trail is an easy 4.2 mile hike that winds around the circumference of the lake. The single track trail is mostly flat with a few rocky stretches. Perfect for even the youngest hiker. On leash Dogs are welcome, but remember to pack enough water for you and your fury friends.
Close to the half-way point along Monarch Trail, you can either go all the way around the lake, turn back, or head off to the left, onto Cascade Falls Trail. If you take Cascade Falls Trail, you are in for a hard hike (8.8 miles round trip including the Monarch Lake Trail portion), but the top of the trail is so worth it. Depending on how far you actually go, this trail accesses Crater Lake (7.3 miles), Gourd Lake (7.3 miles) and Pawnee Pass (8.7 miles) where there are areas for camping.
We hiked up Cascade Falls Trail and the ascent started right off. As I said before, this trail is rated difficult and I agree that going up is quite a challenge. The altitude gain is enough to warrant a hot air balloon filled with spare oxygen. We are in good physical condition, and by the time we got back down to the base we were well worn. If you are not, know your limits. You have to get all the way back to the car so turn around before you are exhausted.
The hike up follows Cascade Creek. Depending on the time of year, the creek can be swollen with snow melt, or tumbling over the rocks later in the summer. Today the creek ran pretty high so we were treated to sections of wild running rapids (nothing to ride a tube down!).
There were plenty of spots to rest along the way, most above the creek, but still within earshot of the roar. We enjoyed three stops along the way. One was a little perch above the creek and another was creek-side. We initially thought this might be Cascade Falls. Out of curiosity, we continued up the trail and were rewarded with the falls. You will cross two bridges on your way up to the falls. Once you cross the second one you are getting pretty close. At least within a half mile.
There are essentially two sections to the falls. One spot to view them is near the base of the falls themselves and the other on top. We rested on top for about an hour before we trekked back.
If you happen to do this hike, keep an eye out for a pair of women’s prescription glasses. I discovered I lost them about a mile down the trail. We went back up (adding about 2 miles to our hike) to look for them, but I fear they landed in the river at some point.
Monarch Lake’s trail system is fairly easy to get to from either Granby or Grand Lake. You will be in the Arapaho National Wilderness Area and will need a day pass. Bikes are not allowed on these trails.
Be ready for a thick layer of dust on your car. It’s a 10 mile drive on a dirt road. The parking lot is on the small side. It accommodates maybe 40 or 50 cars, but there is plenty of space to park along the road as well. This is a popular area to hike in so get there early to find a spot to park. We arrived in the afternoon (on a Saturday) and were lucky to get on of the last spots.
Directions: 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.
This trail at the top of Granby Ranch ski mountain, is an easy path that winds through the forest with a number of opportunities for breath taking vistas. When I hiked this trail I was also treated to many wildflowers. This trail is rated as “easy” and I agree with that rating. There are a couple of uphill/downhill challenges, but nothing too difficult. For the most part it is a smooth trail, but there are some rocky spots. Nothing that will twist an ankle though.
Getting to the trail head is as simple as riding the Quick Draw Express chairlift to the top. The ride up and back down was only $10.00. Once at the top just walk
Top of Quick Draw Express chairlift.
off the lift and go straight. Make a quick stop at the trail map to get familiar with where you are going. The trails are well marked, but it is always smart to be prepared. Better yet, grab a map before you head up on the lift.
Your first stop is a wonderful view of Arapaho National Park.
Set up your tripod to view soaring eagles or an easel to paint the beauty.
It is hard to turn away from such a vista, but this is just the beginning of the trail. From here just follow the trail markers and follow Vista Ridge Trail. Stay on the single track to wind through the forest. There are plenty of photo opportunities to be had on this trail. Look for a wide variety of wild flowers including Colorado’s State Flower; the columbine.
Columbine, the Colorado State Flower
You can branch off of Vista Ridge at any point and hike down to the base, or do an out-and-back hike. I suggest branching off at Nature’s Way if you are hiking to the base which will cut off to the right before you reach the first kiosk. If you do the out-and-back you will find two kiosks along the trail that you can take a look at the map. The second kiosk is about one and a half miles from the top of the lift. This is a good point to turn around and head back.
Hiking around Granby Ranch can be a little tricky due to the fact that most of the trails are shared with mountain bikes. If you decide to do Vista Ridge Trail be on the look out. The bikers are usually considerate of their two footed trail mates, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for the few that are having too much fun. I was lucky in that I only came across a couple of bicyclists and a few hikers. Otherwise I spent the entire hike walking, taking pictures, and listening to the birds.
Granby Ranch is 86 miles from Denver, Colorado. Head west on I-70 and exit at Colorado Hwy 40 toward Empire/Winter Park. Before you drop down into Winter Park, make a stop at Berthoud Pass to take a break. It’s worth it. After passing through Winter Park, Fraser, and Tabernash, look for Granby Ranch a couple of miles before you get into the town of Granby (on the right). The base is only a mile from the highway.