Brainard Lake Rec Area: Blue Lake Via Mitchell Lake

Distance8.48 mi
Elevation Gain1224 feet
My Time4 hr 14 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownNederland
Food NearbyLeft Hand Stand

In my second trip to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area I decided to try to make it up to Blue Lake. I also had even more people tell me that there are Moose up there, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t think they exist so I had to take another look. The entire area is beautiful and nestled up to the Indian Peaks and really great place to explore.

To Mitchell Lake

If you are lucky and get there early enough you can park in the day parking area. If you don’t get there early enough you will have to add an extra couple of miles to your walk from the remote parking area. I’m an early bird so I made it into the lot.

From the lot you will have to walk on the road past Brainard lake until you get to a trail that will take you to the Long Lake and Mitchell Trailheads. Take that trail and follow the signs toward Mitchell and you will end up in another parking lot (with another bathroom if needed) that will have the start of the trail. Because Brainard Lake has such a nice view I just have to give you a gratuitous picture.

The view from Brainard Lake. Surrounded by pine trees with tall snow capped mountains in the distance

The beginning of the trail is pretty easy and takes you through some wooded areas. The footing is pretty good and hard packed dirt with some rocks and roots. There are also several area’s where they have put wood planks down to walk on. Mitchell Lake is pretty cool. There is a small path that leads down to it where you can see the lake surrounded by some mountains. There wasn’t much room so most people only stayed a few minutes.

From Mitchell Lake shoreline the lake leads up as to look like it is touching a rocky mountain in the background.

Mitchell to Nameless Lakes

I’m not sure what they are actually called but the next step will be to go from Mitchell and past two smaller lakes. First you cross a really nice stream that feeds down to Mitchell.

The stream leading down to Mitchell lake.

After you cross the stream you will start with the main section of elevation gain on your way to Blue Lake. In the next 1.3 miles you will gain about 400 feet of elevation. It isn’t terrible but the footing also gets a lot worse. Once you clear that stream the terrain gets very rocky with a lot of large rocks sticking up in the trail with a scattering of the loose rocks that make the going somewhat slower than the path to Mitchell. The view of these nameless lakes is really nice from above on the trails.

The view of the Nameless lake from above on the trail head.  The lake lies in a clearing surrounded by a smattering of trees

Path to Blue Lake

Once you clear the second “Lake that shall not be Named” the trail sort of dissapears as you start to walk over very large rocks. There are cairns located on the rocks to help you keep your way and there are small sections of trail in between the large rocks. It isn’t terribly difficult but a little bit different if you aren’t used to this style of hike. There are some amazing fields of wildflowers on this section as well. After another half mile and 300ish feet of elevation gain you will find yourself at Blue Lake.

Blue Lake completely surrounded by mountains and showing a crystal blue color.

Blue lake is absolutely stunning and the hike up, while challenging, isn’t too difficult for the view you are rewarded with. If you are scared of heights take my advice and stop here. Enjoy the lake. Have some snacks. Take a nap. Or if you aren’t scared of heights continue reading.

Path to Little Blue Lake

The path to Little Blue Lake takes you around Blue Lake and leads to some really amazing views of the lake. As the trail starts to rise above the lake though it gets really difficult. The trail become mostly just walking over boulders. Luckily it gives you a chance to cross some small streams too. Or more accurately, the Fatman has a chance to step into small streams.

After some relatively challenging bouldering comes the part that the Acrophobics won’t like. There was a snow patch at the top of about a 70 degree slant, on top of a 60 foot slide down to the lake. I would like to call this the Ice Slide Death Trap pass.

The path across the snow with a sheer drop to the lake below.

I took one step on the Ice Slide of Death and my foot started to slide. I then took a seat on a nearby rock and cried very deeply inside for a few moments. An older couple then came by and told me to dig my heels in and I’d be fine. After watching them cross like gravity didn’t pertain to them I decided to give it a go. I made it! After the slide of death though the bouldering got bigger and more difficult and I was no longer comfortable. No shoulder no boulder I always say. I crossed the stream across some easier boulders and found my way to another unnamed pond.

Finishing up

So the pond, which I have now dubbed FMLT pond is really a collection area of glacier melt and is really nice. I sat on a rock and since all the other people were headed up to Little Blue Lake, I had FMLT pond all to myself. The pond also had a stream that left it and flowed down to Blue Lake. It was really one of the nicest, most relaxing places I have been.

The stream leaving the glacier pond and flowing down towards Blue Lake

Then it was time to make my way back over the Ice Trap. This time was much worse because I was headed down while crossing so the fall to the lake was in my view. I froze up a bit but made it across, although It took me a good 10 minutes and exactly zero breaths.

On the way down not only did I see my first moose but I saw four of them so I guess I have to believe that they exist now. The first two males were laying by the Nameless lake. They are enourmous but were two far away to get a good picture. (Although my attempts are in the gallery) Closer to Mitchell Lake there was a mother and calf eating in a clearing about 40 feet away from the trail. I stayed long enough to get a picture but did not want to bother them so took off pretty quick.

Distance and Elevation

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 8.48 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,224 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 11,433 feet. I was also moving for a total of 4 hours and 14 minutes.

Effort

This one was a challenge. There was a lot of walking on rocks and small steps especially on the way down. Fitbit decided that my 20 minute break to eat some jerky and enjoy the view was enough to break this up into 2 workouts today. Here are those stats.

Terrain

While the footing is pretty good near the beginning of the trail that is in the woods it does get a bit rougher the further you go. After Mitchell Lake it get very rocky with large rocks poking through the trail and smaller loose rocks. As you get closer to Blue Lake the trail basically disappears and you need to follow cairns as you traverse larger rocks. After the lake getting to the Upper Blue Lake section it is nothing but boulders and some snow patches and is rather difficult for anyone who doesn’t spend a lot of time on boulders. Hiking shoes and poles would be recommended.

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

This area is absolutely stunning. The views alone are worth the price of admission but the intricate systems of streams and lakes and overlapping trails make it one of the best places to spend time in the Denver area. I would suggest staying at Blue Lake. If you are an accomplished hiker the boulders might not be that big of a deal to you but someone of moderate to lower skill level can get themselves in trouble on the way up to Little Blue Lake. If you have an opportunity to make it the Brainard area I would suggest it. There is a $12 fee for cars but there is so much to do and see. I really have enjoyed my two hikes here.

After the hike I found a really gem of a place in the Left Hand Stand. Great people and great snacks and an all around great experience.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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