August 29, 2018 Slideshows » Columns

Road trip hike: Mitchell and Blue Lakes 

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Located off the iconic Peak to Peak Highway (Colorado Highway 72), north of the funky town of Nederland, the U.S. Forest Service's Brainard Lake Recreation Area is a popular destination for hikers, anglers, cyclists, climbers, campers and picnicking families. There are a number of lakes and reservoirs in the area including Mitchell and Blue Lakes, the hike to which is likely the most scenic.

An easy/moderate hike of under 6 miles round trip, the views of Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake — with a few small unnamed lakes along the way — are beautiful and offer great photo opportunities. During hike there earlier this week, I even encountered an adult and juvenile moose, just feet from the trail. (Never fear...we stayed a respectful distance away, took a bunch of pictures and they eventually crossed the trail and continued on their way.)

How to get there: There are a few ways to get to the Peak-to-Peak Highway from Colorado Springs, so consult your favorite navigation app. Brainard Lake Road is about 9 miles north of Nederland, just outside the town of Ward. Take Brainard Lake Road as far west as you can go, following the signs for Mitchell Lake. The parking lot there is fairly large, but this trail is popular and the lot can fill up on weekends. Entrance fees do apply in the recreation area during most of the year, but holders of Interagency Annual, Military, Senior or Access passes, Golden Age and Golden Access passes do not have to pay additional entry fees. Dogs must be leashed on all trails.
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Bob Falcone
There are two trails from the parking lot. The Mitchell Lake trail is near the small ranger shack near the southwest corner of the lot
Bob Falcone
Trailhead and information signs.
Bob Falcone
Rules and regulations for the trail and the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Bob Falcone
The start of the trail, and a reminder that dogs must be leashed. The mileages on the sign are a bit higher than the actual mileages I measured.
Bob Falcone
There are several areas along the trail with elevated walkways, presumably to keep people from veering off-trail and causing damage to the surrounding terrain when the trail is muddy.
Bob Falcone
At about .45 miles, cross this bridge.
Bob Falcone
At about .5 miles the trail enters the Indian Peak Wilderness Area.
Bob Falcone
Wilderness area boundary sign, and wilderness area rules.
Bob Falcone
The trail winds it's way through a nicely shaded forest. The trail is easy to follow with no intersecting trails. At about .90 miles the trail reaches Mitchell Lake, on the north side of the trail.
Bob Falcone
The trail continues west from Mitchell Lake. A short distance past the lake, this log walkway crosses a stream.
Bob Falcone
A short distance later, another elevated walkway crosses a marshy area. Shortly after, at about 1.25 miles, the trail starts a short, easy uphill section. From here on the trail is predominately large rocks, making the going a bit more difficult. Use caution so you don't twist an ankle.
Bob Falcone
When you see this small unnamed lake on the left, you're less than a mile from Blue Lake.
Bob Falcone
The adult moose we encountered on the trail. A juvenile moose was nearby, but both seemed unbothered by our presence. We stayed quiet and slowly made our way past them and they crossed the trail behind us.
Bob Falcone
At about 2.8 miles, arrive at Blue Lake, at an elevation of about 11,410'. The lake is fed from a stream on the opposite side of the lake, under Mt. Toll. Pawnee Peak to the south and Paiute Peak to the north form a semi-circle around the lake.
Bob Falcone
The hike route.
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Bob Falcone
There are two trails from the parking lot. The Mitchell Lake trail is near the small ranger shack near the southwest corner of the lot

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