Home > Lakes of Indian Peaks Wilderness

Lakes of Indian Peaks Wilderness

September 6, 2004

Mitchell Lake, Blue Lake, Long Lake
Round-trip distance: 7.5 miles

Where oh where. . . do you beat the crowds of Labor Day vacationers, especially when the weather is perfect? I wish I could say I have an answer to that question. Do not despair, however: the crowded trails we encountered today did not diminish the worthiness of the wilderness. In other words, I had a great time!

Tracy, Ben and I went to the Indian Peaks Wilderness today, more precisely the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. There were a good number of cars there when we pulled in about 8 AM. A fresh snowfall graced the mountains and even the forests we began walking through, but today was calm and sunny as could be. This, of course, made for some great photo opportunities.

A mile into our hike we came to the beautiful Mitchell Lake, which has an impressive backdrop of Mount Audubon and its connecting ridge. Up until this point there had not been much snow on the actual trail, but now the trail turned to one long slippery string of ice, surrounded by a good bit of snow. Eventually, we would find ourselves walking entirely on snow, easy to pack because of the ever-warming sun.

At one point we had to cross an ice-covered log to get across a raging creek. This was fun.

The trail became steeper and icier as we continued uphill, toward the mountains. We passed several small ponds and after a while broke free from the trees altogether. The creek still wound alongside us, and at one point we stopped to look at a small ‘waterfall’ tumbling down the ridge. One final trudge uphill through the snow brought us to our destination: Blue Lake.

Other than the scenery, the first thing I noticed here was the wind. It wasn’t bad, but after having walked through the chilly but calm morning air, this added an extra chill to my spine. The conical Mount Toll predominated in the skyline behind the lake. Following downhill with our eyes we were able to see a defined runoff of cold mountain snow-water, dumping into the far side of the lake.

We climbed around some of the boulders on the east side of the lake for different views and photo ops, then we decided to head back down.

Several people had beat us to Blue Lake, and more were coming up as we started down. Having begun comparatively early, we definitely beat the crowd, but on the way out we found ourselves passing in-bound hikers quite often. This was not the most annoying part of our hike though. The sun and hikers had already changed a good bit of the ice on the trail to a nasty, slippery slush, which was soaking our feet quite effectively. By the end of the hike, all of our feet were floating in our shoes.

Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable hike. Returning to the car, we found the parking lot overflowing with vehicles. Even as we stopped to rest and eat, someone walked over to us and asked if we were going to be pulling out soon so they would have a place to park.

Our original plan was to do two hikes today: the five miles to Blue Lake and back, and the four miles to Lake Isabelle and back. So far, so good. But, it didn’t take long to realize we shouldn’t have given up our parking spot. The Long Lake Trailhead (to Isabelle) was not far from where we were, but it was back a different, adjoining road. We drove to that trailhead and, of course, found no open parking spots. Continuing out to the loop road around Brainard Lake, we saw that there were cars everywhere, parked in a seemingly endless string along the road. Eventually we came to the end of the string and pulled in, where we decided what we would do next.

Not far back the road, we found the Niwot Cutoff Trailhead, which we discovered to be a rather steep half mile of trail back to Long Lake. It was definitely worth going back to the lake, because the views of some more of the Indian Peak Wilderness mountains were fantastic! The lake itself was impressive, as its 40 acres stretched on for quite a long time. Some canoers had even carried their vessel to the lake and were busy paddling around on the distant side.

However, with everyone’s feet being soaked, and the crowds continuing to suffocate the pretty area, along with the unexpected detour due to lack of parking, we decided to not go all the way to Lake Isabelle. Instead, we hiked the loop trail the whole way around Long Lake, which, I must say, was longer than I had even imagined! We got some great views of the lake along the way, as well as the Continental Divide, sitting proudly to the west.

We returned to the car the same way we had entered, and called it a day. We finished again at 2 o’clock, allowing me plenty of time to dry my feet and take an afternoon nap.