After a while, the Front Range hikes that are within an easy 30-minute drive of Downtown Denver will become crowded and the temperatures will reach heights that make us think of a backyard pools rather than a hike. Skip the Front Range and drive a little bit deeper into the Rockies to find the less trafficked trails with cooler temps. Take a hiking tour of Grand County, Colorado.
I’ve spent a lot of time up in Grand County, specifically around and in-between Granby and Grand Lake. After 45 minutes on I-70 west from Denver, take the exit to Highway 40. This will take you up and over Berthoud Pass and the first town you hit will be Winter Park. Many will stop there and call it good, but I encourage you to drive on just a little further to explore an area of Colorado that doesn’t see as many visitors and hides hiking gems for all skill levels.
YMCA of the Rockies: Snow Mountain Ranch, Waterfall Trail
|Location:||West of Tabernash, Colorado|
|Distance:||3 miles round-trip|
|Point of Interest:||Waterfall|
As you head past Winter Park on Hyw 40, through Frasier, and on past Tabernash, you’ll come across the YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch. This is private land, however the trail system is open to the public. An easy three-mile round-trip hike leads you to a beautiful hidden waterfall. This trail has been my go-to for testing out my hiking and my guests' hiking ability at altitude. Almost anyone should be able to complete this trail. In addition, it is not on many maps, so you’re assured lower traffic.
At the trail head there is a small parking and picnic area. Last I was there, a small stream that runs the trail and length of the parking lot had overflowed, spilling into the grass with crisp spring snow melt. Follow that stream along the trail to see and ponder several beaver dams. In years past, I’ve seen lots of evidence of the beaver activity. If you stay long enough and quite enough, perhaps you can see one of these civil engineers of the natural world.
Continuing on up the path, along the stream, you navigate a couple primitive bridges, and pass a memorial bench that offers a great place to catch your breath and look around. However, if you are feeling good, power through that rest stop and push for the waterfall. It’s not too much further. Suddenly, you’ll round a corner and be presented with high rock walls on either side and a beautiful 20 ft waterfall. Relax, take it in, maybe go up to the top. (Watch for preservation signs. Take the right route.) This trail is perfect for a quick afternoon hike, a hike with diverse skill ranges, or just for the fun of it.
Monarch Lake, Grand County, Colorado
|Location:||Northeast of Granby, Colorado|
|Distance:||4.1 mile loop|
|Point of Interest:||Monarch Lake, Steam Donkey|
Past Granby, north on Highway 34, at the southern edge of Lake Granby is County Highway 6. Follow this road 10 miles to Monarch Lake. This lake is a trail head for longer, more challenging hikes in Arapahoe National Forest and Indian Peaks Wilderness. However, the Monarch Lake Loop is a great trail with multiple actives available.
My favorite part of this trail is at the very beginning. There is a cute little ranger station setup to help visitors to this area. Every day the rangers set out several humming bird feeders, and those little birds swarm! Just hanging out at the ranger station bench can give you an experience to remember. Dozens of these beautiful creature’s buzz, dive, and swoop through the air. It’s almost a choreographed show for you to enjoy.
A mile and a half down the southern part of the loop will take you to an old steam donkey. Left over from a logging operation at the turn of the 19th Century, the steam engine, nicknamed steam donkey, was used to drag logs down the mountainside by cable to the lake and logging operations below.
|The town of Monarch is located under Lake Granby. It was constructed in 1904 by the Rocky Mountain Lumber Co. to house its workers at the company's sawmill and box factory. The town was abandoned after a fire in 1908.|
While Monarch Lake is man-made, as is its neighbor Lake Granby, the setting is beautiful and serene. Use the loop for a moderate 4.1 mile trail, or use it as a jumping off point for our next suggested destination hike, Strawberry Lake.
Strawberry Lake, Grand County Colorado
|Location:||Northeast of Granby, Colorado|
|Distance:||3.1 miles round-trip|
|Point of Interest:||Strawberry Lake|
In my opinion, Strawberry Lake is the crown jewel of hidden hiking in Grand County. The trail head is difficult to find from Grand County Highway 6. You have to keep a keen eye out for the lightly traveled, and unmarked starting point. Look for a slightly wide point 7.6 miles after turning off of Hwy 34. Online research indicated that the GPS coordinates for the parking area is 40º 7.53' North and 105º 46.56' West, although I have not tested them.
Be prepared for a path that climbs quickly and steeply from its hidden trailhead. My first time on this trail was after a vacation at sea-level, and I was unprepared for the steep climb. However, it was worth the effort. The lake can also be accessed from High Lonesome Trail at Monarch Lake. This part of the trail may be unmaintained, I suggest speaking with a Ranger before taking this alternate route.
Along the way up the trail, you will cross Strawberry Creek several times. The creek and the lake gets its name from the mineral deposits in the area. These mineral deposits create a reddish hue to the water. It reminds me of tea, brewing in the warm sunlight. Although, don’t drink it. Be prepared and bring plenty of your own water.
Once on top of the ridge line, the trail becomes gentle and guides you into Strawberry Bench. This area includes Strawberry Lake and beautiful high mountain meadows. The Forest Service has setup informational signs and a walking bridge for you to access the lake. Take care to mind the signs and walk-ways. This is a delicate eco system that can be damaged easily by too much foot traffic.
With an amazing view of Arapaho Peak and a perfect place to sit at the very end of the floating bridge, I spent several hours there in the sun. Sketching what I saw in front of me, I found this place is peaceful and quite.
Adams Falls, Grand Lake, Colorado
|Location:||East of Grand Lake, Colorado|
|Distance:||0.9 miles round-trip|
|Point of Interest:||Adams Falls|
Rounding out your tour of Grand County is Adams Falls. This short hike enters into the southwestern area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Following the East Inlet Trail, you’ll come across crystal clear ponds and the Adams Falls Trail, which is a semi-loop that reconnects with the East Inlet Trail in less than two-tenths of a mile. Turn right at this Adams Falls junction and walk the short distance to an overlook of Adams Falls, a very impressive waterfall that drops roughly 55 feet in a series of steps through a narrow rock gorge.
The Park Service has built a retaining wall to keep people safe, but my Mother-in-Law told me a story about a trip to this location in 1983 when there were no walls and rails. The children climbed out to the edge of the rocks to peer down at the powerful rushing water.
If you’d like a longer hike, turn right at the fork when the Adams Falls Trail meets back up with the East Inlet trail. This will take you up to a series of five lakes surrounded by meadows. Be careful though! This area is prime moose territory. On more than one occasion when I’ve visited this trail, hikers coming down from that area have warned of a moose.
TIP: Do not bring your dog to this trail. The trail and falls are within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. Dogs are not allowed on trains within the park. Besides, you don't want to run into a moose with Fido barking. That could be bad news!
|The falls and nearby Mt. Adams, are named after an early settler to Grand Lake named Jay E. Adams. Mr. Adams arrived in the area in the late 1800s. Prior to receiving its current name the waterfall was known as Ousel Falls.|
Grand County Hiking Resources
While these four areas are my regular hiking haunts when hanging out with friends and family in Grand County, there are plenty of other trails and places to explore. Here are a couple of the resources I use.
Hiking Grand County, Colorado
By Debora Carr and Lou Ladrigan
The updated edition of Hiking Grand County, Colorado is a comprehensive backcountry guide to Grand County's trail system and includes color photos and topo maps. Buy through REI.
Sulphur Ranger District, Forest Service Office
9 Ten Mile Drive, Granby, CO 80446
Stop into this Forest Service Office and speak with the local rangers. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. They even provide free maps of the different areas, roads, and trails for you to explore.