Indian Peaks Wilderness – Blue Lake

Hike to Blue Lake

There are several lakes that go by the name of “Blue Lake” in Colorado, but the one we went to is the Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

The Boulder Hiker Chicks

This was a hike I did with the Boulder Hiker Chicks, a local women’s hiking group. I joined this group back in February, just after we moved to Boulder. My first hike with them was at Chautauqua Park on Valentine’s Day, and I’ve enjoyed many hikes together with them since. It’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and make friends. I’ve always found that the conversations that you have while hiking are a great way to connect. The thing I love most about the group (other than the hikes we do) is the sense of community that is built through hiking together. It’s always so much fun to enjoy the trail together while catching up and discussing various topics along the way.

The Hike

The hike itself is straightforward, starting at the northwest corner of the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking lot. You follow Mitchell Lake Trail past Mitchell Lake (which you hit at mile 0.9) all the way up to Blue Lake. It is 2.5 miles in one direction, or 5 miles out-and-back.

Entering the Park

There is a vehicle fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area that is valid for 3 days. For a regular passenger vehicle the cost is $12. However, if you have an annual national park pass (America the Beautiful Pass), then you can get in without any additional fees.


We arrived at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking lot at 7:30 am on a Tuesday in early September and the parking lot had plenty of space. As we’ve been experiencing in Rocky Mountain National Park, as you head into September, beyond the peak summer hiking season, there tends to be availability up until 8 am or possibly even 9 am. This parking lot has restrooms, as do all the trailheads in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Starting Out

The trail starts out through a shaded pine forest at a gentle incline. Even through it was cold outside (the car said it was in the 30’s), we warmed up quickly as we got hiking.

Mitchell Lake

About a mile in, we reached Mitchell Lake and stopped there to regroup and have some snacks. From Mitchell Lake you can see the towering Mt. Audubon (13,229′) we previously attempted to summit in the background.

Mitchell Lake

Everyone gathered around to take pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Mitchell Lake Boulder Hiker Chicks

Continuing on the Trail

After resting for about 10 minutes, we started hiking again.

Mitchell Lake Trail

The forest opens up and you start hiking in areas around the treeline, and then above the treeline. From here, the trail gets a bit steeper. The whole time to your right you see Mt. Audubon.

Mount Audubon

And the views to the left are also of impressive mountains –

Mitchell Lake Trail

Approaching Blue Lake

Closer to the destination, you start seeing some new peaks. The sharp, triangle-shaped mountain is Mount Toll (12,979′).

Mitchell Lake Trail

Views as you approach Blue Lake –

Mitchell Lake Trail

Mitchell Lake Trail

Blue Lake

Blue Lake itself is at 11,320′ elevation and is estimated to be 100 ft deep.

Blue Lake Indian Peaks Wilderness

Panorama of Blue Lake –

Blue Lake Indian Peaks Wilderness

The mountains surrounding the lake from left to right are – Pawnee Peak (12,943′), Mt Toll (12,979′), Paiute Peak (13,088′) and Mt Audubon (13,229′).

We stopped here to have some food and enjoy the views.

The Return Journey

The return journey downhill was faster than the hike up, but you do need to pay attention to where you’re stepping. Several of us tripped a few times on the rocky path.

Mitchell Lake Trail

The way back featured better views of some of the unnamed alpine lakes along the trail –

Mitchell Lake Trail  Mitchell Lake Trail

Hiking downhill, Mitchell Lake down below –

Mitchell Lake Trail

Recommended as an Easy to Moderate Hike

The 5-mile out-and-back hike to Blue Lake is absolutely beautiful, with views of multiple alpine lakes along the way. The destination in particular is striking and photogenic, a dark blue lake above the treeline, surrounded by twelvers and thirteeners. It was a relatively easy hike, with less than 1,000 ft elevation gain, but may be more of a moderate hike for those who are not used hiking at high elevation – starting at 10,480 ft, hiking up to 11,320 ft.

Although we did not go there on this hike, if you want to hike further, you can go to Little Blue Lake beyond Blue Lake for a 6.2-mile, 1,400 ft elevation gain trek that is considered moderate.

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