Blue Lake, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Blue Lake - 5.1 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Blue Lake (11,355')

Blue Lake (11,355')

Round-Trip Length: 5.1 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,525' - 11,355' (11,371' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +830' net elevation gain (+905' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Blue Lake - 5.1 Miles Round-Trip

Blue Lake (11,355') is located 2.55 miles from Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It fills a large, rocky cirque framed by Pawnee Peak (12,943'), Mt Toll (12,979'), Paiute Peak (13,088') and Mt Audubon (13,223').

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

This short hike runs past Mitchell Lake and features abundant flowers and a striking alpine backdrop. Unmaintained routes continue on to Upper Blue Lake, Mt Toll and Paiute Peak:

The Mitchell Lake Trail rises gently to the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary (.45 miles : 10,646') and Mitchell Lake, which occupies a broad, marshy flat at the base of Mt Audubon (.85 miles : 10,725').

The trail crosses Mitchell Lake's inlet on a long footbridge (1.1 miles) and steepens into the valley's center. Blue Lake's outlet pools up in several places along the way forming a string of large ponds that are worth exploring. Look for moose in this willow-lined corridor.

The trail undulates through patchy krummholz with a good look at Mt Toll's conical summit. It clears treeline by a wide cascade and crests on the east shore of Blue Lake (2.55 miles : 11,355').

The open shore offers room to explore and a complete view of the upper valley including Little Pawnee Peak (12,466'), Mt Toll (12,979'), Paiute Peak (13,088'), and Mt Audubon (13,223'.

Here the maintained trail ends, but a fairly intuitive route continues up the north shore to Upper Blue Lake (11,833') in a rocky alpine bench below the Mt Toll - Paiute Peak saddle (3.35 miles : 11,901'). Strenuous and potentially technical routes continue on to Little Pawnee Peak, Mt Toll and Paiute Peak.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 05.001 W105 34.910 — 0.0 miles : Mitchell Lake Trailhead
  • N40 05.145 W105 35.309 — .4 miles : Cross Mitchell Creek
  • N40 05.215 W105 35.669 — .9 miles : Mitchell Lake
  • N40 05.200 W105 35.836 — 1.1 miles : Cross Mitchell Lake inlet
  • N40 05.204 W105 36.213 — 1.5 miles : Bend south into center of valley
  • N40 05.070 W105 36.702 — 2.0 miles : Moderate climb on rocky trail
  • N40 05.240 W105 36.870 — 2.35 miles : Travel beside Blue Lake outlet
  • N40 05.308 W105 37.050 — 2.55 miles : Blue Lake

Worth Noting

  • Blue Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Moose are common in the Blue Lake area, typically in late summer-early fall after passes along the Continental Divide have cleared. Elk can be seen on higher ridgelines, while marmots are common along the trail.

  • Blue Lake is one of four lakes in the Indian Peaks' 4 Lake Travel Zone (the others are Mitchell Lake, Long Lake and Lake Isabelle). Given its heavy use, camping is not permitted in this zone June 1 - September 15.

  • The Blue Lake trail can be wet, muddy and snow covered well into summer. Remain on designated trails and avoid trampling on delicate vegetation.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (which covers Mitchell, Blue, Long and Isabelle lakes) May 1 - Nov 30.
  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15 in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.
  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.
  • Campfires are prohibited on the east side of the Continental Divide (including the Four Lakes Travel Zone), as well as at Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.
  • Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.
  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.
  • Stock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.
  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's an $11 fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Fees, Parking, Pet, Camping and Trespassing regulations are strictly enforced.

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times on trails within the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Directions to Trailhead

Blue Lake is accessed from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The trailhead is located 5.7 miles west of CO 72 (Peak to Peak Highway) on Brainard Lake Road. Brainard Lake Road is located 13 miles north of Nederland, and just northwest of Ward.

From Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road and drive 2.7 miles to the entrance station. 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.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Beautiful hike and lake. Well worth the moderate effort required. Fairly heavily travelled for a weekday. NOTE: the $10 entrance fee for Brainard is CASH OR CHECK ONLY - no credit/debit cards accepted."
Barry Baker  -  Longmont, CO  -  Date Posted: August 10, 2016
"The trail above the Mitchell Lake is in a bad shape, apparently due to heavy foot traffic."
Mik Sawicki  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: July 24, 2016
"Love this hike. Had not been up there in a couple years but it remains a stunningly beautiful hike. We backpacked up our 14 month-old grandson who enjoyed getting out and the meadows along Mitchell Lake."
Jim  -  Mesa, AZ  -  Date Posted: August 19, 2015
"This is one of my favorite hikes. Pretty gentle for the most part with wide open beautiful views. We saw huge moose on the way up. At one point their is a fairly large "Stair case" of rock, but its short. You have to cross several streams which make it really worth it. View at the top is amazing."
John V.  -  Westminster, CO  -  Date Posted: August 18, 2015
"Who was lake brainard named after."
John Fulton  -  Austin texas  -  Date Posted: July 28, 2015
"Beautiful hike, perfect conditions. The trail was dry, and it wasn't very crowded, only passed a handful of groups on our way up. Lots of flowers. The moose were pretty active, too, which was great to be able to see!"
Jazz  -   -  Date Posted: July 23, 2015
"Hi Ladia, you should post this on our forums as well - I'm sure you'll get some excellent replies from recent trekkers. :)"
ProTrails  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: December 11, 2014
"Any insight on how this trail tends to be in February? Would love to check it out this winter. Any trail beta is much appreciated. Thanks!"
Ladia  -   -  Date Posted: December 11, 2014
"Went up there on the 25th. It was CRAZY WINDY and about 15F. I went about 3/4 mile on the Waltrop trail before turning around due to crappy conditions. It has about 2-5 inches of snow. I carried snowshoes but did not need them. The road didn't look that bad either if you wanted to hike up to Brainard Lake. I expect the conditions will be better in December."
Andrew  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: November 26, 2014
"Any recent trail reports for this hike? I know the high country has been getting snow lately."
Justin  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: October 15, 2014
"A great hike! A bit rugged, lots of rocks in the trail. The hike to Upper Blue takes some work but it was worth the effort. "
bradrcole  -   -  Date Posted: August 20, 2014
"Any information on the conditions on Blue Lake Trail yet this summer?"
Monica  -  Greeley  -  Date Posted: June 30, 2014
"My son was born yesterday and there are pictures all over the hospital of this lake and that area and 2 of my buddies and I did this hike starting from monarch couple months ago it was beautiful and amazing grAt hike a lil rainy but worth it amazing place to be, a lake on top of the continental divide at 11,000 feet we filtered water from blue lake and it felt amazing to be ingesting amazing energy in that spot I felt so powerd up after the lake beverage I suggest any one who is adventurous to take some out of there life and go include your self in the beauty of this out standing lake talk about uplifting ur self !"
Dalton  -  Granby  -  Date Posted: February 6, 2014
"One of the best hikes in all of Colorado!"
jarls  -  Boulder, COlorado  -  Date Posted: March 7, 2013
"Is fishing allowed? The kind you can mercury...not just catch and release."
Dana  -  Aurora  -  Date Posted: February 13, 2013
"Family of 4 moose at Brainerd. Hike up to blue warm and perfect. Not badly crowded. CO72 sublime colors. With bfast at Sundance near Ned can't be beat. "
Tim Beres  -  Brainerd and Blue  -  Date Posted: September 14, 2012
"Ancient History dept. Beautiful Hike, I use to go there regularly when I lived in Denver in the early eighties. Even then, I was pretty much a C potato. Last time I went was with my wife, couple days after our wedding in Central City. Beautiful place. Renew yourself, each time you go, remind yourself that you are new when you visit with this beautiful place, each time, you will find you are younger than when you set out. "
kevin  -  baton rouge  -  Date Posted: August 13, 2012
"Wonderful half day hike. Trail in very good condition. Observed a bull moose close to Blue Lake. Several terrific viewing spots at the lake. Worth your time and effort $9.00 entrance fee. Heavy usage, get to parking lot early. "
James  -  Chicago, Il  -  Date Posted: August 7, 2012
" We saw 3 moose at Brainard Lake on the way up- great way to start the day. Got to the trailhead around 8:30 or so- parking was running out but we snagged a spot. WONDERFUL trail! Lots of wildflowers on the way up and several smaller, pretty lakes--- but definitely don't stop until you make it to Blue Lake. What a beautiful spot. Will definitely be visiting again!"
Susannah  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: August 4, 2012
"Absolutely Gorgeous. However, I disagree with the noted distance. With my gps, I calculated it closer to 3.5 miles up to Blue Lake. "
Melissa  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: July 23, 2012
"Absolutely stunning hike, my favorite scenic one I've ever been on. Completely melted out, flowers everywhere"
Aaron  -  Littleton, CO  -  Date Posted: July 5, 2012
"Still a lot of snow. Little help with GPS, found the lake. You can see my pics on my facebook page at Dizmang Photography. Lake was still completely frozen"
 -   -  Date Posted: June 5, 2012


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