Trail Length: 8.00 miles (roundtrip)
Trailhead Elevation: 10,378’
High Point: 11,380’
Elevation Gain: +1,002’ (Total Elevation Gain: 1,077’)
Trailhead Location: 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.
We were deciding where we wanted to go hiking a few weeks ago. I have been following a few other hiking and photography groups on social media and saw that people were posting some great pictures of moose they had seen in the Brainard Lake area recently. We haven’t been to Brainard Lake and the Indian Peaks Wilderness for several years. It is a beautiful area but always very crowded. But we were excited about the idea of seeing moose. The best time to see moose near the lake is either at sunrise or sunset, before they head up into the woods. We decided we would go for it and head up for sunrise. Many people might think we were crazy, but we set our alarms for 3:30am on Sunday morning as it was about a 1 ½ hour drive to Brainard Lake from our house. We left the house shortly after 4:00am and arrived at the lake about 5:45am, shortly after sunrise. The lighting was great on the peaks and Brainard Lake itself was calm and peaceful, providing for some great reflection shots.
We headed out on a trail near the lake to see if we would be lucky to spot some moose. After walking a short distance through the willows near the lake, we spotted three bull moose. It was hard to get a good view as they were hidden amongst the willows. As they were moving their heads about, we could see the willows moving and see their huge antler racks protruding above the willows. Of course, we were reluctant to get too close. It was fun watching them but we did keep our distance. We did get a couple of good shots.
We got some more great reflection shots of Brainard Lake while we were watching the moose.
A reflection of Mt. Audubon (13,223’) in Brainard Lake
Lisa also captured some nice wildflower shots with the morning dew still on them as well as the dew on the grass in the surrounding marshy area.
We saw a few other photographers over near where the moose were heading so we headed over in that direction, hoping to get some better views of the moose. We were able to get quite close (probably too close!) and continued to watch them forage through the willows.
After watching and photographing the moose for about 1 ½ hours, they finally headed up into the forest so it was time for us to start our hike to Mitchell and Blue lakes.
Our hike was going to be extended by an additional mile (2 miles roundtrip), as they did not yet have the trailhead parking lots opened so we had to start from the day use parking area near Brainard Lake. We found out later from a park ranger that the upper lots were going to be opening in the next week or so. I asked why they weren’t yet opened as they weren’t blocked by snow. He said the wilderness management is trying to reduce the impact on the trails when they are still muddy and snowy. I guess hiking an extra mile and the limited parking (by having the upper lots closed) in an area where parking is already at a premium may deter some people from making the hike. There were still other people on the trail but not as crowded as it gets in the middle of summer.
A nice shot of the Indian Peaks as we headed in the direction of the trailhead.
After the first mile of hiking, we arrived at the official start of the trailhead.
We headed down the trail. Not too far along the trail, we came to a crossing of Mitchell Creek. Fortunately, there was a bridge.
More wildflowers along the trail.
We arrived at Blue Lake only a mile up from the official trailhead.
Blue Lake with Mt. Audubon on the right
We continued on up the trail towards Blue Lake. There were certainly more snow fields around and above Mitchell Lake.
Another stream crossing, no bridge this time but there were some logs strategically placed across which allowed us to get across without getting wet. Some beautiful wildflowers in the middle of the stream.
On up we climbed through more snow fields towards Blue Lake.
We arrived at Blue Lake approximately 4 miles from where we had parked. The lake was completely frozen over yet.
Blue Lake with Mt. Toll (12,979’) in the background
I have been trying to remember to take a picture of my hiking boots on every hike we take. I often like to post the picture on our Hiking and Travel Adventures Facebook page with this quote:
” It has been said that a pair of shoes can change your mood. What about a pair of hiking boots. Those, now those, can change your life!”
After a lunch break at Blue Lake, we headed back down the trail.
A couple of the small ponds along the trail as we headed back down.
Another shot back at Brainard Lake after our hike.
The map of our route to Blue Lake.
An awesome day in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. We were blessed with seeing moose up close and were blessed with gorgeous weather with such deep blue skies for an incredible hike! The Indian Peaks Wilderness truly is a beautiful area!