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Hiking the Indian Peaks Wilderness: Mitchell & Blue Lakes

Blue Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Blue Lake, Indian Peaks WildernessDeb Stanley

Hiking in the wilderness can be difficult due to the lack of roads and long distances to get to your destination. However, that's not the case in a subarea of the Indian Peaks Wilderness called the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Here hikers will find a paved road to their trailhead and amazing lakes that are less than 3 miles from the trailhead.

Some call the Brainard Lake area the four lakes region. The four lakes are: Mitchell, Blue, Long and Isabelle. The trail to Long and Isabell Lakes starts at one trailhead. (Hike report here) The trail to Mitchell and Blue Lakes starts at another trailhead. Visitors can park next to Brainard Lake and picnic and enjoy the lake.

The Mitchell Lake trailhead has a ranger shack, bathroom and a map sign. Two steps on the trail and you are in the forest. The trail is easy to follow and well maintained. For experienced hikers, the one mile hike to Mitchell Lake is fast and easy with just about 200 feet of elevation gain. For visitors though, this hike is not easy. The hike starts at 10,525 feet, that's almost two miles high! Bring lots of water and take it easy.

Mitchell Lake is on the side of Mount Audubon, a 13er. It's 13,223 feet high at the summit. If you explore the east side of the lake, you may even find a pond nearby. (See slideshow for a photo)

Take a break and lots of pictures at Mitchell Lake before tackling the trail to Blue Lake. Depending on the article you read and the sign you see, the distances to Blue Lake vary from 4 miles roundtrip to 6 miles roundtrip. The distance isn't what makes this part difficult, it's the elevation gain. Hikers will climb another 600 feet. That can get your heart breating at 11,000 feet.

As you hike along, there are scenic stream crossings (don't worry, there are log bridges), beautiful little ponds and amazing views. Take your time to enjoy it all. The trail gets quite rocky at times, but make sure you don't just look at your feet as you hike here.

The trail takes hikers above tree line to Blue Lake. This is a large lake at the foot of Mt Audubon, Pawnee Peak and Mt Toll (a cone-shaped pinnacle on the Continental Divide). Rocks on the shoreline can help photographers create interesting pictures. Look and listen for a waterfall on the west side of the lake.

Adventurous hikers may find a faint trail on the north side of the lake to Little Blue Lake above Blue Lake.

After enjoying your time at Blue Lake, return the way you came.

Details: Mitchell Lake, 2 miles roundtrip & 200 feet elevation gain. Blue Lake, about 5-6 miles roundtrip with 800 feet elevation gain.

Fees and info: The main road at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area is typically open mid-June to late September depending on the weather. Read more here.

Directions: From Boulder, take Highway 119/Canyon Blvd to Nederland. In Nederland, head north on Highway 72. After 13 miles, turn west onto the Brainard Lake Road (County Road 102 or National Forest System Road 112). That’s just north of the town of Ward. You’ll drive another 5 miles on the paved road Brainard Lake. Go past the lake and follow the signs to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead.

More trails: For more trails in the area visit the Forest Service website. And check out my trip reports for Isabelle Lake, Lost Lake, Woodland Lake & Skyscraper Reservoir, and Diamond Lake. Read about more hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park, the James Peak Wilderness and across Colorado here.

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