Hike to Blue Lake

6 miles 1000 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

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.

Tips:
  • 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
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Tags

Photography
Hiking
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Groups
Lake
Picnic Area
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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🥉Contributor

about 3 years ago

Awesome Hike, but Cold

This hike was fantastic, aggressive elevation gain for the first 3 miles, but the view of the lake at the top is well worth it. We went this past Saturday and it was absolutely freezing and raining at the top, so don't forget to pack a warm jacket and possibly a rain coat. Enjoy!

about 3 years ago

Lakes, Galore!

A lovely hike, moderate in difficulty and VERY popular! Got there before 9am on a Sun and still had to park in overflow parking. Overall people were very friendly and accommodating and of all ages and abilities. We needed to keep our eyes on the trail to navigate the many rocks, boulders and tree roots. Unfortunately, I didn't do a great job of that 1/2 way through the decent, for I managed to sprain my ankle pretty severely. Luckily, being able to put my foot in an icy cold lake on the way down, coupled with my husband finding me some sticks to use as support helped me slowly hobble my way down the mountain. The trees, meadows and lakes were quite scenic. It would've gotten 5 stars were there some opportunities for more expansive views. The mountains around us were mostly gravely from erosion and being that we were in narrow valleys, the mountains beyond were not in view.

Explorer

🥇Top Contributor

over 3 years ago

Stunning

This hike is absolutely gorgeous the whole way up. It wasn't crowded at all, and even less so once we passed Mitchell Lake. Heads up, though, the entrance fee is $11 as of 2017, and parking fills quickly. We got there right at 7 am and three of the four lots were totally full.

over 4 years 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.

Explorer

🥇Top Contributor

almost 5 years 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.

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