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FATMAP difficulty grade
The Waterdog Lakes lie in an absolutely gorgeous location: almost exactly at treeline, and below a rocky mountain ridge that rings the valley.
The ridge itself is actually the Continental Divide, with water falling on the mountaintop running to the Atlantic Ocean on the Waterdog Lakes side, and the Pacific Ocean on the opposite side. Many of the best hikes in the greater Salida area require a drive down a rough dirt road to access...
and some of them even require high clearance 4x4 vehicles to get all the way to the trailhead.
Not so with Waterdog Lakes—the trailhead is located right on Highway 50 / Monarch Pass, making this one of the most easily-accessible alpine hikes in the region. The length of this hike is also quite accessible.
While the climb is steep, it's relatively easy to complete this hike in a short half-day (or less, depending on how fast you're moving).
The climb takes place mostly in the trees, with the singletrack switchbacking back and forth as it climbs over loose rocks and boulders.
Up high, the trail begins to break out into alpine meadows, with a short, steep climbing delivering you to a stunning vista at the first lake.
A brief walk around the lake and a climb uphill will bring you to the second major lake, with a third, smaller lake nearby.
If you still have more energy to burn, an unmarked trail climbs steeply up the mountainside all the way to the top of the ridge, where it runs into the Continental Divide Trail.