Mitchell Lake, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Mitchell Lake - 1.8 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Mitchell Lake (10,735')

Mitchell Lake (10,735')

Round-Trip Length: 1.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,525' - 10,735' (10,747' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +210' net elevation gain (+244' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Mitchell Lake - 1.8 Miles Round-Trip

Mitchell Lake (10,735') is located .9 miles from Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It occupies a broad, damp flat on Mt Audubon's south flank. Mild trail conditions are well-suited for families, winter recreation and those with limited time or abilities.

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Visitors will enjoy good views of surrounding peaks, abundant wildflowers, excellent fishing, and numerous outlying ponds to explore.

The Mitchell Lake trail rises gently in a high subalpine forest to Mitchell Creek and the official Indian Peaks Wilderness Area boundary (.45 miles : 10,646'). It continues easily to the first of several spurs on the south shore of Mitchell Lake (.9 miles : 10,725').

Social trails lead through the soggy vicinity to more secluded outlying ponds and tributaries. Head to the northeast shore for terrific views up-valley that include Mount Toll (12,979'), Mt Audubon (13,223') and Little Pawnee Peak (12,466').

Mitchell Lake straddles an ecological transition zone between the subalpine and alpine tundra. Just below Mitchell Lake is a tall spruce-fir forest; a slight rise in elevation sees a rapidly thinning forest comprised of krummholz - a German word meaning twisted wood.

Krummholz describes the stunted, irregular growth patterns of trees in the transition zone. Poor soil, thin air, strong winds, and extreme weather limit and deform growth at these elevations. Higher up the valley wooded vegetation disappears altogether, replaced by the alpine tundra's hardy grasses, mosses and lichens.

Most alpine plants are perennials, some are dwarfed, but their blossoms may be full-sized. Flowering plants often have dense hairs on stems and leaves for wind protection, or pigments capable of converting sunlight into heat.

Cushion plants avoid wind by growing close to the ground, and anchor themselves with long taproots. Grasses and sedges take hold in richer soil beds.

Non-flowering lichens can photosynthesize above 32 degrees, and outer fungal layers can absorb more than their own weight in water.

Moose are known to visit the Mitchell Lake Trail corridor in late summer-early fall after passes along the Continental Divide have cleared. Elk sometimes appear on higher ridgelines, while marmot are frequently seen amid the talus just above Mitchell Lake.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 05.001 W105 34.910 — Mitchell Lake Trailhead
  • N40 05.145 W105 35.309 — .4 miles : Cross Mitchell Creek
  • N40 05.215 W105 35.669 — .9 miles : Mitchell Lake

Worth Noting

  • Blue Lake is a relatively easy 1.6 miles and 600' climb from Mitchell Lake.

  • This is a heavily used trail. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Mitchell Lake is located in the Indian Peaks' Four Lakes Travel Zone. Due to heavy use, summer camping is not permitted in the vicinity.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.

  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

  • Campfires are prohibited east side of the Continental Divide, as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.

  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.

  • Packstock are prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.

Rules and Regulations

  • There is an $11 fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Fees, Parking, Pet, Camping and Trespassing regulations are strictly enforced.

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times on trails within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Directions to Trailhead

The Mitchell Lake Trailhead is within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, located off of CO 72 (13 miles north of Nederland, just northwest of the town of Ward).

From Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road. In 2.7 miles you'll reach a pay station. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Continue another 3.1 miles on the paved road to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. This road is closed at the halfway point from late October through late June or early July (depending on snow).

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"I made a short film showing this area. Maybe you'd enjoy seeing what it's like and not just reading about it?"
Michael  -   -  Date Posted: November 14, 2016
"On my way can't wait haven't been there since I was a child."
daphne brook  -   -  Date Posted: September 6, 2013


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