Watanga Lake, Roaring Fork Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Watanga Lake - 8.6 miles

Roaring Fork Trailhead

Wantanga Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Wantanga Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Round-Trip Length: 8.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 8,320' - 10,772' (10,798' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,452' net elevation gain (+2,780' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Watanga Lake - 8.6 Miles Round-Trip

Watanga Lake (10,772') is located 4.3 miles from Roaring Fork Trailhead on the west side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The lake is fairly small but set among broad, flat meadows that give it a larger and particularly spacious feel.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Roaring Fork Trail climbs steeply in the first mile, then moderates along the creek to the Watanga Lake - Stone Lake split.

The Watanga Lake Trail turns north and climbs 965' in 1.65 miles through an attractive subalpine forest to the lake. Several large ponds and meadows can be found just above the lake and are fun to explore:

The trail runs level around Pete’s Cove to the IPW Boundary (.18 miles), past which it climbs 810’ in just .8 miles to a bridge across the Roaring Fork (1.0 miles : 9,172’). Enjoy views over Granby and a bumper crop of thimbleberries on this challenging segment.

Travel eases up the north side of the creek in a progressively healthier forest (1.5 miles : 9,295’). It rises in short spurts to bridges at 2.35 miles and 2.58 miles into a brushy clearing at the Watanga Lake Trail split (2.65 miles : 9,805’). A number of campsites can be found in this wide, level area.

The Watanga Lake Trail arcs north and hops a creek to a new log bridge (2.9 miles : 9,860'), then forks right to hop the creek again (2.95 miles). This crossing can be deep / swift during peak runoff.

Grades steepen to another creek-hop (3.2 miles : 10,060') and into a thinning forest with good views south of Mount Irving Hale. You'll get a good sense of the challenging climb to Stone Lake from these points.

The trail dips to and crosses a creek (3.5 miles : 10,315'), then skirts a large meadow into a mature spruce-fir forest. Large, well-spaced trees with verdant ground cover and braided streams distinguish this attractive segment. Expect some tedious deadfall.

The trail turns sharply up the right side of the drainage (3.95 miles : 10,590') and switchbacks to a crest, from which it drops gently to Watanga Lake (4.3 miles : 10,772').

The lake entry point may hold snow well into July and can be a little tricky to maneuver out of. Head counter-clockwise to reach outlying meadows and ponds, and climbing routes to Watanga Mountain (12,375') on the Indian Peaks - Rocky Mountain National Park Boundary.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 07.771 W105 45.845 — 0.0 miles : Roaring Fork Trailhead
  • N40 08.060 W105 45.826 — .5 miles : Steep climb over Lake Granby
  • N40 08.371 W105 45.493 — 1.0 miles : Cross bridge over the Roaring Fork
  • N40 08.553 W105 45.119 — 1.5 miles : Travel moderates along north side of creek
  • N40 08.763 W105 44.734 — 2.0 miles : Short steep intervals along creek
  • N40 08.936 W105 44.487 — 2.35 miles : Cross bridge
  • N40 09.017 W105 44.306 — 2.58 miles : Cross bridge
  • N40 09.025 W105 44.237 — 2.65 miles : Stone Lake - Lake Watanga trail split
  • N40 09.198 W105 44.050 — 2.8 miles : Cross log bridge
  • N40 09.229 W105 44.030 — 2.94 miles : Cross creek
  • N40 09.366 W105 44.102 — 3.15 miles : Cross creek
  • N40 09.563 W105 44.206 — 3.5 miles : Begin switchbacks
  • N40 09.871 W105 44.195 — 3.95 miles : Steep switchbacks
  • N40 09.895 W105 44.116 — 4.25 miles : Crest over lake
  • N40 09.933 W105 44.090 — 4.3 miles : Watanga Lake
  • N40 09.762 W105 43.845 — Large ponds

Worth Noting

  • Camp only in established sites in the Watanga Lake vicinity. Avoid trampling sensitive vegetation around the lake, meadows and ponds. Outlying areas are usually damp and easily disturbed.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for backcountry camping in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, June 1 - Sept. 15. Permits are limited.
  • Permits are $5 per party. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) or Boulder Ranger District (303.541.2500) in advance to secure a permit.
  • Click here to download the Indian Peaks Wilderness Permit Application.

  • Permits must be picked up in person at either Ranger Station, or ordered in advance by mail. There is no online reservation system for permits.

  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs. Group size is limited to 12 people or people and stock combined.

  • There are no designated backcountry campsites at Watanga Lake. Dispersed camping only. Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact. Camp at least 100' away from all trails, lakes and streams.

  • Fires are permitted in this travel zone, with potential seasonal and location-specific restrictions. Fires are not permitted at or above treeline, or within 100' of any lake, trail or stream.

  • Falling trees are a potential hazard, especially in areas with high concentrations of beetle kill.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted at Stone Lake, Upper Stone Lake, Watanga Lake and along the Roaring Fork with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $5 day use fee to access the Roaring Fork and Monarch Lake trailheads, payable at two self-service stations on Arapaho Bay Road. The pay stations are located on either side of the road, just after the turnoff from Highway 34.
  • Pets must be leashed at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

The Roaring Fork Trailhead is located 61.9 miles north of I-70 in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The trailhead is 9.6 miles east of Highway 34 on Arapaho Bay Road along the NE shore of Lake Granby.

From I-70, take Exit #232 for Rocky Mountain National Park and Winter Park. Drive 46.9 miles over Berthoud Pass and through the towns of Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash to the split for HWY 34.

Veer right on Highway 34 and drive 5.4 miles to Arapaho Bay Road in Granby. Turn right (east) on Arapaho Bay Road, and don't forget to stop at the self-pay station just after this turn. Follow the graded dirt road 8.8 miles to the split for Big Rock Campground and Roaring Fork Trailhead. Turn left and continue .8 miles to the trailhead.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301

Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Backpacked up to the lake--not another soul up there. Hike was more so a little less than 5 miles each way and very steep for the first mile or so and the last couple miles. Took about 3.5 hours to get up and a little over 2 hours to get down. "
Ellyn  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: July 2, 2018


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