Elevation: 8,345 to 9,580 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,320 ft
Dogs: Off leash until the wilderness boundary
|Glacier Lilies and the raging waters of Cascade Falls|
There are two sets of Cascade Falls on the west side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. We went to the southern set. The northern set is within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park and can be reached by a 6 to 7 mile round trip journey.
Monarch Lake is in itself a pleasant destination. There were many fishermen lining the dam and there is a 3.9-mile hike around the lake itself that looks worth doing. The Cascade Falls trail follows the shoreline for 0.8 miles so you’ll get some lakeside views. It then officially enters the Indian Peaks Wilderness at 1.25 miles.
|Rocks along the Trail|
The trail description we had found for this trail mentioned several water crossings and given the state of the rivers we were trepidatious that we would not be able to get across. Fortunately, all of the bridges over the rivers were quite stout. Two are cement and wood bridges and two are double wide split log bridges with substantial rock islands in the middle. The crossings were a piece of cake.
|Where all those falls come from|
There were lots of milestones along the way to help us gauge our mileage. I have already mentioned the wilderness boundary above. The first bridge is at 2.2 miles, the intersection with the Buchanan Trail is 3.2 miles, and the second bridge is at 3.3 miles. Just past this bridge is a small-unnamed fall that shoots through a narrow canyon. From here the trail rises sharply and gradually ascends into a broad valley bordered on the left by Thunderbolt Peak (11,938) and a long ridgeline. The main, highly overused section of Indian Peaks lies on the other side of that ridgeline, which caused us to snicker to ourselves. Here we were on a trail with hardly any people while just “over there” were mobs of Front Rangers trampling the wildflowers.
|Looking east at Thunderbolt Peak and ridge|
There is a cascade just below the first fall that twists sharply to the left on a broad shelf that was covered in a colony of Glacier Lilies (Erythronium grandiflorium). Glacier Lilies arrive soon after the snow melts along the banks of streams or in sub-alpine meadows.
|Looking down a drainage|
|Playing with shutter speed|