Monarch Lake, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Northwest -

Also known as:  Monarch Reservoir

One of the prettiest hikes on Colorado’s west slope is the trail around Monarch Lake. The small reservoir is one of the few in the area not directly a part of the massive water project that provides water to the Front Range. Monarch Lake is considered one of the ‘Great Lakes of Colorado’ along with Grand Lake, Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Lake, Willow Creek Reservoir and Meadow Creek Reservoir. Unlike other reservoirs in the group, Monarch Lake is not drawn down and remains at full pool year round.

Monarch Lake is located in Arapaho National Forest just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Although there are no campgrounds, no swimming beaches and no motorized craft allowed on Monarch Lake, the 140-acre reservoir is considered one of the most desirable destinations in the area. The reason is the hiking trails; not only is the trail around the lake relatively flat and picturesque, other major trails branch off from here to lead to some of Colorado’s favorite hiking locations. The western part of the circular trail around Monarch Lake is a part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail that winds from Canada to Mexico. Other branches of the trail are the main access points into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Some trails eventually wind their way into Rocky Mountain National Park. Monarch Lake is the gateway for backpackers and rugged adventurers to access true road-less wilderness in Colorado.

Fishing is a popular sport at Monarch Lake. The clear waters hold brook trout, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, Arctic grayling and sucker. The water is relatively shallow, reaching only 8 feet at its deepest point. Because there are no motors allowed and no boat ramp, most fishermen cast their lines from shore or use a kayak, canoe or float tube. Kayaking and canoeing are popular at Monarch lake as the water is relatively calm, the shore well-wooded and wildlife often seen. Moose often can be seen drinking in the shallows. Osprey nest near the lake and compete with anglers for the best catch.

The shoreline trail has little grade and is well-maintained, making the easy four-mile loop a fine hiking location for families with children. Horses, bicycles, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles are prohibited. The loop shadows the shoreline, with the lake in sight most of the time. The trail is open year round and a favorite with cross-country skiers and snowshoe hikers. Monarch Lake thus maintains an aura of silence, pierced only by the natural sounds of wildlife going about their daily activities. Those following the outward branches of the trail, however, encounter steep climbs, many creeks to be crossed, spectacular views of nearby peaks and the intersection of multiple other trails. It is here the Indian Peaks Wilderness backpackers and backwoods campers enter the wilderness to test their limits.

All visitors must obtain an Arapaho National Recreation Area pass for a nominal fee. Those heading into the Indian Peaks Wilderness must also purchase an Indian Peaks Wilderness Backcountry Permit which authorizes them to camp overnight in the area. A ranger station is located at a cabin near the dam, with vehicle parking, restrooms and regularly-scheduled, ranger-led talks and guided walks in the area. Several camping areas are located downstream along Arapahoe Creek at Lake Granby.

The surrounding area is well-supplied with guest lodgings including guest ranches, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts and motels along the highway that runs past Lake Granby. There are also ski slopes, snow parks, golf courses, music festivals, antique shops, mine tours, small historical museums and small towns filled with historic charm in the general vicinity. Visitor can find plenty of activities to keep them entertained when not hiking. Lake Granby has swimming beaches and a marina for power boating fans, so those with a yen for less physically exhausting activities will be fully occupied. Both the town of Granby and the town of Grand Lake offer a full complement of restaurants, shopping and supplies.

Monarch Lake reservoir was created to aid logging near the turn of the last century. Businessmen from the Boulder area created the Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company, near Arapaho Creek. They solicited investors and created several subsidiary companies to engage in logging and other activities. A small dam was built near the junction of Arapahoe Creek and the south fork of the Colorado River to run a sawmill, store cut logs, then float them down the river. At one time the town of Monarch was booming, with boarding houses, stores and spin-off businesses. A railroad spur was even built to connect the town to the main railroad lines. Unfortunately, the gold and copper deposits never materialized, the trees fit for logging were soon cut, and the final remaining big business in town – a box company – burned. Investors found that the financial reports were all speculative; the businesses never did make any money. The town was slowly abandoned and now lies under the waters of Lake Granby. All that is left to memorialize Monarch’s passing is a ‘steam donkey’ engine sitting next to the trail to Monarch Lake and the remains of a group of the workers’ cabins near the trail. And of course, Monarch Lake.

Lodgings are easily found near Monarch Lake, both in nearby towns and occasionally private properties nearby. There is no real estate available along the shoreline of Monarch Lake as it is all public lands. In other areas, however, existing homes may be found and, on occasion, building sites. Because the lake is less than 100 miles from Denver and Boulder, the area is increasingly popular for vacation homes and ski cottages. Some property may be available along the creeks at times but it likely will take some diligence to locate. Once you see Monarch Lake, you’ll understand its popularity. So bring the backpack or the skis and come make the trek around Monarch Lake. One trip and you’ll be hooked. And, watch out for moose!

Things to do at Monarch Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Antiquing
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Monarch Lake

  • Brook Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Grayling
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sucker
  • Trout

Monarch Lake Photo Gallery

Monarch Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Surface Area: 142 acres

Shoreline Length: 3 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 8,353 feet

Maximum Depth: 8 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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