Brainard Lake Rec Area – Lake Isabelle

Distance9.68 mi
Elevation Gain1191 feet
My Time4 hr 25 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownNederaland
Food NearbyLeft Hand Stand

Lake Isabelle in the Brainard Lake Recreational Area was suggested to me by my friends Jenn, Katie, and Dan. They told me how lovely the area was and that they always see moose there. Since I haven’t seen a moose and don’t really believe they exist I figure I would give it a try. Spoiler alert…I still don’t think moose exist but the area really is lovely.

Brainard and Long lake

The parking area for day passes is located very close to Brainard lake. When I got there in the morning there were several people fishing on the lake and the view is pretty nice to start a hike with.

Brainard lake with the Indian Peaks range in the distance.

At this point you can either walk around the lake on the Niwot cutoff trail or take the road. I took the road and it connected with a small trail that says “trail to Long Lake TH”. This is a nice little wooded trail. You can hear a river running close to you and it is seemed a little less than a mile to get to the Long Lake TH. The Long Lake Trail was a little disappointing to me as you never really get close to the lake. Most of the trail is through a well defined path in the woods. There are a couple of clearings where you can see the lake but you never get too close. before long you will come to a crossroads between the Jean Lunning Trail and Pawnee Pass trail. I took the Pawnee Pass going out and took the Jean Lunning coming back. More on JL latter. The Pawnee pass trail continues through the forest on an easy to follow path that leads to another junction with JL and Isabelle Glacier trail. The glacier trail will get you to the lake.

Lake Isabelle

The path to the lake starts out again on a nice forest path. There are some bigger rocks that show up in the trail and some more tree roots. There are a couple of bridges that you will cross over but they are easy to navigate until you start to see and hear one of the nicest waterfall/streams around. I’m going to call it a waterfall but I think technically it is just a stream that is flowing down the side of a mountain. Semantics aside it is really nice. Here are a couple of videos from the lower section and bit higher up that you will see still all below the lake.

As you can see in the second video, you will have to step over a log bridge to get to the next lake. Lake Isabelle isn’t too much further along the path. You will have a bit more elevation gain but all told I think it is close to 700 feet to get to the lake so really not bad if you take your time. When you get to the lake there are a few trails that will get you close to the waters edge or you can continue along the path to walk around the lake.

Lake Isabelle

If you continue along the original path it will take you around to the other end of the lake. The path gets really narrow and at places you will have to walk on top of rocks right on the waters edge in a very narrow, maybe a foot wide, trail. You don’t have to walk around the lake unless you are trying to get to the glacier. Some of the best views are when you first get there. If you do decide to head to the glacier and walk across the narrow path you will have some more elevation. On the opposite side of the trail is a small path that leads to another waterfall that is a really nice place to take a break and grab a snack.

Isabelle Glacier

I would like to tell you the Fatman fought the good fight and made it to the glacier. I’d like to tell you it was beautiful. What I can tell you is I stepped in a stream about halfway up, soaked my sock in super cold water and decided I would come back.

The track to the glacier actually gets pretty steep and rocky. You will have to pass over about 30 yards of snow to get there. Careful for the giant hole in the snow that I made when I stepped down to mid thigh. You will also have to cross about a 2 to 3 foot stream. Once you have done that you will come to an area that is really pretty but still has a lot of snow.

Snow covered valley above Lake Isabelle

Through one of the snow passes I looked down at the tracks and saw bear, cub, elk, and I’m assuming moose (but they don’t exist). I passed that small patch of snow with the tracks and it was time to cross another stream. My foot missed a rock and I sunk in and that was the end of my attempt to see the glacier.

On the way back I decided to take the Jean Lunning trail that I mentioned earlier as it loops back to where we began. The trail is nice especially if you are looking for wildflowers. There are small streams with flowers spread out throughout this trail. A warning though, There are a couple of large trees down on the trail that you will either have to go over or around. As we circled back to where the trail links up with Long Lake there was a really nice little meadow that was just covered with wildflowers.

Nice meadow covered in wildflowers on the Jean Lunning trail.

After that is was just back to the car as some weather was moving in. Here are some stats from today’s hike and many more pictures at the end in the gallery.

Elevation and Distance

My stats are going to be a little more than some of you as I parked in the day use lot and had to hike a ways to the trail head.

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 9.68 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1191 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 11, 300 feet. I was also moving for a total of 4 hours and 25 minutes.

Effort

While the lower lakes are not too difficult, the hike up towards the Isabelle glacier definitely had some steep sections. Overall I am going to place the difficulty as moderate because of some steep and because the hike starts at 10,000 feet. Here are the stats from my Fitbit from hike.

The step stats from today's hike according to fitbit.com.  Today I took 19,382 steps.

Terrain

There was a little bit of everything in today’s hike and the terrain gets more difficult the higher up you go. Near the lower lakes the trail is relatively hard packed dirt with the occasional rock sticking up and some roots and a few muddy spots. As you get towards Lake Isabelle there are some streams you have to cross, both with bridges and without, some muddy sections, and some very rocky sections as well. On the way to the glacier there is snow, streams, mud, rocks and it gets steeper. I would strongly recommend a pair of water proof hiking shoes or boots if you try for the higher lakes.

Access

The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is located near Ward, Colorado on the Peak to Peak highway (Rte 72) and has several hiking trails, the Pawnee Campground, several lakes and is part of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and the Roosevelt National Forest. There is a $12 day pass rate to get a vehicle in and there are other prices for buses and some yearly passes available on their website. There is an OK amount of parking but it does fill up quick. There are restrooms (pit toilets) near the parking and some picnic area’s spread out as well.

Wrap up

If you like lakes and mountain streams this is definitely the hike for you. It is a very crowded hike and there were a lot of bugs out today. Also, there are rumors of the mythical moose sightings but I can’t confirm those. To get to the second lake really isn’t terribly difficult which makes this a nice hike. Based on your skill level you can still enjoy some parts of the hike. Brainard lake, just a few steps from the parking lot offers some lovely views and some picnic areas. The Jean Lunning trail offers some really nice wildflowers without too much of a walk. If you have a little more endurance and are OK with stepping over some small rocks you can make it to Lake Isabelle and if you really want to challenge yourself you can try for the glacier. This is also the hike that I have been told I am now a real hiker. The weather came up really quick and what started as a light rain turned to a heavy rain and then to hail. It went from blue skies to hailing on me in about 45 minutes so really make sure you are always looking to the skies.

If you have a hike you would like to suggest to me, like Jen, Katie, and Dan did on this one, you can always email me at fatmanittletrails@gmail.com. You can also follow and interact with me on the below social media platforms. This hike and all the hikes can be found on my interactive map, which you can find here. Enjoy the Gallery!

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