Lone Eagle Peak. This is one of the most iconic spots in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and ever since I first saw a photo of it three years ago I knew that I had to go. At ~15miles round trip, I didn’t think that a single day hike would allow enough time to fully enjoy the area. So Ryan and I applied for a permit, recruited a few friends, and planned a backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend to enjoy three days and two nights below Lone Eagle Peak.
Ryan and I took the Friday before the holiday weekend off to get an early start and hopefully first pick of the campsites surrounding Mirror and Crater Lakes. We had a permit for the Crater Lake Backcountry Zone, so you could only camp in one of the numbered designated spots.
We parked the car in a nearly-empty parking lot and got started around 9am on Friday. The hike in took us around 4.5hrs to complete with snack/water/fishing breaks every mile or so; we were in no hurry. We did not see a single person on our entire hike and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful trail, which had lots of wild rasberry bushes along us for us to pick and snack on!
The trail starts off nice and flat along Monarch Lake, and before you know it you’re at the Indian Peaks Wilderness sign!
From here the trail is certainly uphill the entire way, but it always levels off after each steep section which allows you to rest often and never over-exert yourself– a nice feature of the trail especially when your packs are excessively weighed down with beer and birthday cupcakes like ours were for Fiona’s surprise camping celebration.
The trail follows Cascade Creek and has many beautiful waterfalls along it.
The trail is so lovely that you barely even noticed how many miles have been hiked, and before you know it Lone Eagle is looming in the distance. Yay! We knew that we were quickly approaching the first designated campsites, so we kept our eyes open as we continued towards Mirror and Crater Lakes.
While there were some really good spots (and some really bad spots…), we decided to set up camp in Campsite #5. This sits right on the shore of Mirror Lake, offers nice level spots for up to three tents, and has lots of trees perfect for setting up a hammock.
Note: We LOVED Campsite #5, and I would say that it is the best spot around Mirror Lake. However, upon further exploring the area, Campsite #12 up on Crater Lake is a close competitor for best spot (pictured below!). It is near the remains of an old cabin, and offers beautiful views of Crater Lake as well as Long Eagle Peak.
Ryan and I made camp, hung our hammocks, and I settled in to read and nap while Ryan traveled back downstream to fish. The weather was partly cloudy, but there was no threat of rain which is always a nice suprise for a Colorado summer day!
Meanwhile, our friends were making their way up the trail to meet us. They got to the nearly-full trailhead around 5pm and were able to reach us after 3.5hrs of hiking– no rest breaks for them! They arrived after dark and we hung out for a bit before heading into our tents for the night.
The next morning around sunrise I ventured up to Crater Lake. In my personal opinion, Crater Lake is far more beautiful than Mirror Lake. While you don’t get the well-known, demanding views of Lone Eagle Peak… the giant cirque of mountains around Crater Lake is breathtaking.
Once I returned to camp, everyone else had woken up and we enjoyed our breakfast and coffee before deciding what we would do with our day.
I had looked at the area on Google Earth, and spotted a small, teal-colored lake called Triangle Lake nestled in just behind Lone Eagle Peak. There were no trails leading here so I printed our a topographic map for us to follow; it seemed straighforward enough!
We started off walking along the edge of Crater Lake before breaking away from the trail and climbing seemingly straight up the hillside to the left of Lone Eagle Peak. We covered the vertical feet quickly, and soon found ourselves with an aerial view of Crater Lake and the entire valley below.
We stopped to catch our breath and snack on some more wild rasberries before continuing on. We were then faced with two options; stay high and cross a giant boulder field or drop down low and travel in the valley. We attempted to stay high at first but the size of the boulders soon became too much for the dog to be able to traverse, so we ended up walking along the river below through waist-deep wildflowers.
Soon we reached the final gully that led to Triangle Lake. This was a combination of large boulders and scree, so we went up in pairs while the others stayed back with the dog. This was steep but it went quickly, and you soon found yourself looking down at the lake– it looked JUST like the Google Earth images! Absolutely stunning. These glacial lakes will always be my favorite, and photos will never do them justice.
On the way back down we ran into a few climbers who had just ascended Lone Eagle Peak, which is a Class 4 climb for anyone who is interested. Not us– this time 🙂
We walked back down the valley back to camp where we thoroughly enjoyed taking our sweaty boots off for the first time in three hours. Napping, fishing, and reading were soon to follow.
In celebration of Fiona’s “Dirty 30” birthday, we ended the evening with drinks and cupcakes before heading to bed for our final night.
We woke up early and packed up camp, hitting the trail around 9am. The hike back down (with muuuch lighter backpacks!) took us just under 3hrs.
We arrived back at the trailhead and were shocked to see the crowds! There were tons of people and families on the trail, with cars circling the parking lot and lined up at least a mile away on the side of the road. Apparently is a popular recreation area, especially on a warm, bluebird Sunday.
We took off our sweaty packs and drove into Grand Lake for the perfect post-backpacking meal– Sagebrush BBQ! After stuffing ourselves with BBQ and cornbread, we finally headed home.
It was a satisfying feeling having finally visited a place that I had dreamed of for so long– but it was everything that I imagined it to be.