This has been a month of firsts for me, and I finally checked off another big one: my first solo hike in the mountains. Little did I know the 4-mile hike would be as stressful as it was. I seriously thought I was going to get mauled by a bear or trampled by moose. And it’s all because I don’t know sh!t.
Thursday was a perfect spring day—65 degrees without a cloud in the sky. I closed my laptop a couple of hours early, switched into hiking gear, texted my mom and aunt to let them know where I was headed in case of no cell reception, and left for Monarch Lake, about 30 minutes from my place.
Monarch Lake is one of Colorado’s six “Great Lakes” within the Arapaho National Recreation Area in Grand County.
The drive to Monarch Lake was a bit stressful for me and my Honda Civic. It’s a 10-mile dirt road that hugs the mountain cliffs on the right with a drop-off to Lake Granby on the left. No guardrails! Plus, the road was in desperate need of fresh sand. Buuuumpy!
I arrived at Monarch Lake and was happy to see a rather large parking lot about two-thirds full. I thought I’d see others at the trailhead, based on all the vehicles, but that was not the case. I noticed my phone had no reception, so I switched it to airplane mode and started the activity app on my Apple Watch to track my progress along the 4-mile hike.
Now is the time to say I wish I would have done a little more research about Monarch Lake before I did this. I naively thought it would be a nice, paved path that followed the shoreline. Nope!
I quickly encountered all types of terrain—dirt, rocks, small boulders, mud, and even water. During the hike, I crossed four rushing waterfalls and one large creek. It was definitely an adventure!
But based on the amount of fresh animal scat I saw—a pile every 20 feet or so, no joke—I was terrified the entire hike. Was it from moose? Mule deer or elk? I didn’t think it was bear scat, but then again maybe it was?! I had no clue, so my brain assumed the worst: I was going to be mauled by a bear on this hike.
It didn’t help that it was about 1.5 miles before I saw another human. I met a couple headed my direction and they assured me I was on the correct route and gave me a heads’ up that the path went away from the lake for about a mile or two. “You’ll think you’re terribly lost, but just keep going, you’ll be fine.” Aaaah!
They were right. The path went far away from the lake, and I did feel terribly lost. At one point I came to some directional signage at the entrance to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but there was nothing about Monarch Lake. Why?!
The entire hike I was power-walking and praying I would make it out alive. Looking back, it is all a bit silly, but in the moment, I really was scared. I kept hearing noises. Was that just the wind rustling the leaves or is there an animal somewhere?
I just kept going. I was constantly scanning back and forth looking for wildlife. I managed to snap a few photos but most of them didn’t turn out because I was in such a hurry.
With about 1.5 miles left in the hike, I saw a family. Yes! They confirmed I was indeed on the correct route back to the lake. And they had toddlers with them, so I realized just how stupid this all was in my head.
The rest of the hike was much better, knowing if something happened there would be people not far behind me.
Once I got back to my car, I immediately crashed into the seat and took off, so I could get back to cell reception and let my mom and aunt know I was OK.
When I got back to my place and started reading more about Monarch Lake, I learned it’s a very popular spot for moose and elk. Searching photos of animal poop confirmed it was moose or elk poop and not bear.
This entire experience felt like a rite of passage for me. I survived a solo hike by myself in the mountains and wilderness!
I’ve created a photo gallery of my favorites from my hike around Monarch Lake. Enjoy!