Hiking Brainard Lake
Blue Lake via Mitchell Lake
Distance: 2.5 miles one way
Elevation: 10,480 to 11,320 feet
Highlights: Lakes, creeks, mountains, wildflowers, forest
Topo map: Ward
Blue Lake is one of the gems of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Mount Toll (elev. 12,979 feet) rises majestically above it, a waterfall cascades into its upper end, and wildflowers surround it. Starting at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (see map), the well-marked trail climbs through a coniferous forest to Mitchell Lake in 1 mile. It skirts the left-hand side of the lake, crosses a creek on logs, and climbs through subalpine terrain to Blue Lake, which nestles into tussocky knolls at timberline. Parrys primrose, mertensia, and candytuft are especially luxuriant at the creek crossing just beyond Mitchell Lake, and several tarns grace the way between the two lakes. Just before the final climb to Blue Lake, a lovely, broad cascade flows from beneath a snowbank.
A steep, difficult climb from the upper end of Blue Lake, involving talus-scrambling and snowfields, leads to a saddle between Pawnee Peak and Mount Toll, and from there to either summit. Although you can see occasional signs of a trail along this route, it is not officially maintained, and the snowfield on Mount Toll can be dangerous. It's possible-but strenuous-to cross the saddle, drop down to the Pawnee Pass Trail and return to the Mitchell Lake parking area via Isabelle and Long Lakes. Note that the entire section between Blue Lake and Pawnee Pass Trail is off-trail and difficult. Take along a topo map.The trail to Mount Audubon also begins at the Mitchell Lake parking area.
Take CR 102 west from the Peak-to-Peak Highway (SR 72). At the end of CR 102, circle Brainard Lake to the junction for the Long Lake and the Mitchell Lake parking areas. Turn right and continue past the Long Lake turnoff to the Mitchell Lake parking area.
© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication