Hike to Blue Lake

Colorado Blue Lake (Brainard Lake Recreational Area)

Added by Amy Kesic

  • Distance: 6 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 1000 feet
  • Duration: Half day
  • Close proximity to Denver, Boulder, or Estes Park

Located in the Brainard Lake Recreational Area (west of Nederland, CO in the Indian Peaks Wilderness), this gem isn’t exactly a well-kept secret, but it has all the beauty that you could ask for in a relatively easy Colorado hike.

To get the full effect of the lake, you may want to plan your hike in late summer, as the lake can remain partially frozen through much of July. And while I wouldn’t characterize this as a wildflower hike, there are several pretty areas with flowers that bloom in July and August. Keep your eyes open for wildlife; this is a known area for moose sightings! A great hike for out-of-staters making an altitude adjustment or on a time crunch and close to Denver, Boulder, or Estes Park.

The hike starts at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, where there are bathrooms, maps, and a garrulous park ranger. In the first mile you’ll hike through a forest and cross a picturesque creek twice. Continuing toward Blue Lake, the trail runs alongside a series of small lakes and ponds catching the snow melt. On a clear day, these look like brilliant sapphires in a bed of emerald green foliage. The gray Indian Peaks ahead will keep you moving on, and the terrain steepens as you near Blue Lake, but nothing that will deter any but the most unfit hikers. You can hear the rushing waters of the creek as it becomes a series of small waterfalls.

At first glance, you may think the lake doesn’t look very blue at all. This would be because as you approach from the east, the reflection of the mountains towards on the west and south sides of the lake cast their gray reflection on the water. The trail “officially” ends at the east side of the lake, but if you continue along the north side, the lake becomes bluer the further west you go.

Because of the many feet trod here, an unofficial trail does exist along the north side and west of the lake to Upper Blue Lake. Inexperienced hikers should not go further than the west point of the lake, as the terrain becomes less of a hike and more of a scramble, with many slippery spots. For the adventurous, you may continue another 0.6 miles through the thick willows, across the snow field, and up the rocky mountainside to see the smaller Upper Blue Lake.

At the west end of the lake, the water is a brilliant blue-green, with a lovely waterfall flowing down from the south-side cliffs. The most prominent peak, to the southwest of the lake, is called Mt. Toll. At 12,979 feet, it’s not as tall as some of its 13er neighbors, but it’s a scenic view to be sure. (Only experienced climbers should attempt to climb Mt. Toll, as it is a strenuous Class 2 climb.)

There are a lot of large rock outcroppings on the east end that make for good picnic spots. Relax, refuel, and take in the scenery for a while before heading back down.

Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Continue 3 miles to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (follow signs). The road is closed between the fee station and trailhead from late October through late June or early July (depending on snow). Parking at the trailhead is limited. Additional roadside parking is available in designated spaces only.

  • Parking is limited and the area is popular, so arrive early to secure your parking spot
  • $10 parking fee (good for three days) upon entering Brainard Lake Recreational Area
  • For a truly "blue" lake, plan your hike on a clear day
  • Temperatures can be cool at high elevations, so pack a light jacket or long-sleeve tee
  • Moose are known to be aggressive, so if you see one, stay back

Pack List

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Daypack
  • Camera
  • Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes
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Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1000 Feet



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Picnic Area

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3 months ago

A popular but beautiful hike

The hike to the lake is easy and beautiful. That, combined with its distance from Boulder and Denver, make it very popular on the weekends. In mid July the temperature was great and there was still ice on the lake and snow at the top. There are many stunning vistas but sometimes the trail can feel like an amusement park with how crowded it is.

3 months ago

12 months ago

Get there early!

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is the perfect spot for the outdoor enthusiast, but if you're planning on doing this hike on the weekend then definitely get to the entrance gate early in the morning. If you wait til later in the day, be prepared to wait in line at the entrance gate, sometimes for half an hour or longer! Besides, an early morning start will ensure that you miss the afternoon thunderstorms that roll through the area in the summer months.

12 months ago

over 1 year ago

don't skip out of this hike because it's too easy, it have too many views that you wouldn't want to miss out on!

over 1 year ago

almost 2 years ago

Get up there in the winter for some easy intro showshoeing! Also a great place to see some Moose.

almost 2 years ago

Added by Amy Kesic

A mom who decided to get fit a few years ago, I took up running and hiking to keep myself moving. Since moving to the Front Range foothills a year ago, I've spent my free time discovering all the trails I possibly can. I'm in love with Colorado and the Rocky Mountains; I also like to take pictures, and I share my adventures here on The Outbound and on Instagram at @run2themountains.

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