Mt Audubon, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Mt Audubon - 7.9 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Mt Audubon (13,223') with Little Blue Lake (left) and Blue Lake (right) at its base

Mt Audubon (13,223') with Little Blue Lake (left) and Blue Lake (right) at its base

Round-Trip Length: 7.9 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,508' - 13,223' (13,223' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,715' net elevation gain (+2,789' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Mt Audubon - 7.9 Miles Round-Trip

Mt Audubon is located 3.95 miles from Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It's the 6th tallest peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and highest with a maintained trail up to the summit. Visitors will enjoy miles of open tundra with big views across the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park.

65% of this trail runs above treeline. Anticipate variable weather conditions, and get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail begins on a mild grade that banks sharply left at .25 miles (an important mark when snow covered) up to a break in the forest against the steep south flank of Mt Audubon (.72 miles : 10,856').

The trail turns right on steep switchbacks with expanding views of Mitchell Lake, Little Pawnee Peak (12,466') and Mt Toll (12,979'). Tall spruce give way to krummholz, willow, forbs and sedges on the rapid transition through treeline (1.4 miles : 11,238').

Anticipate rocky conditions much of the way, and lingering snow through mid-summer. The next two miles lead through steep, open tundra on a rather direct, cairn-marked route to the summit.

The trail bears left at the Beaver Creek Trail split (1.7 miles : 11,375') with a good look at Longs Peak (14,259') and Mt Meeker (13,911') to the north.

Travel briefly moderates across a wide flat (2.05 miles : 11,650') with partial views of Mt Toll, Navajo Peak, Apache Peak, Shoshoni Peak, and Pawnee Peak. It pushes through a few steep switchbacks (2.5 - 2.75 miles : 11,977' - 12,144') to a saddle with social routes branching off to two unnamed peaks to the north.

These peaks (12,706' and 12,114') are good x-country alternatives to the busy Audubon summit, offering solitude and views across Coney Flats and Rocky Mountain's Wild Basin Area.

The main trail curls north of the summit and levels on a saddle directly beneath it (3.5 miles : 12,700'), positioning you for the final .45 mile - 523' climb through a rugged talus field. A large cairn and rock barrier span the trail, a signal for you to turn left into the talus.

It's possible to overshoot this demarcation, but you'll quickly find yourself staring down a perilous drop to Upper Coney Lake (10,940').

Identify cairns before heading into the talus. The path is vague at best - even with cairns' guidance - and it's likely you'll discover several alternative routes along the way.

Proceed cautiously and follow the most direct path to the summit (3.95 miles : 13,223'). Enjoy wide ranging panoramas, an up-close look at neighboring Paiute Peak (13,088') and 8 rock wind shelters on Mt Audubon.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 05.024 W105 34.873 — 0.0 miles : Beaver Creek Trail - Mt Audubon Trailhead
  • N40 05.190 W105 34.951 — .25 miles : Trail bends left
  • N40 05.278 W105 35.109 — .5 mile mark
  • N40 05.428 W105 35.231 — .72 miles : Turn right up switchbacks
  • N40 05.469 W105 35.207 — 1.0 mile mark
  • N40 05.734 W105 35.071 — 1.4 miles : Clear treeline
  • N40 05.915 W105 35.184 — 1.7 miles : Mt Audubon - Beaver Creek Trail split
  • N40 06.017 W105 35.528 — 2.0 mile mark
  • N40 06.166 W105 35.921 — 2.5 miles : Begin minor switchbacks
  • N40 06.212 W105 36.017 — 2.75 miles : End minor switchbacks
  • N40 06.128 W105 36.515 — 3.2 mile mark
  • N40 06.200 W105 36.789 — 3.5 miles : Turn left at cairn up talus field to summit
  • N40 06.150 W105 36.787 — Summit approach mark #1
  • N40 06.140 W105 36.825 — Summit approach mark #2
  • N40 06.105 W105 36.864 — Summit approach mark #3
  • N40 06.038 W105 36.928 — Summit approach mark #4
  • N40 05.954 W105 36.976 — 3.95 miles : Mt Audubon Summit (13,223')

Worth Noting

  • The alpine tundra is a fragile ecosystem with growing seasons as short as 12 weeks. Elk migrate here to give birth and escape summer heat, joining year-round residents such as marmot, ptarmigan, and mountain goat. Bighorn sheep may also be seen early spring - late fall.
  • This is a heavily used trailhead with limited parking. Arrive early to secure space and avoid crowds.
  • Call ahead for trail conditions and trailhead access (the winter gate at the pay station can remain closed through mid-July, depending on snow).

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15. Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.

  • 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 stock 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.

  • Where there are no designated sites, dispersed camping rules apply. Camp at least 100' away from lakes, streams and trails. Camp in previously used sites whenever possible to minimize impact.

  • Packstock is 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's 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

Mt Audubon is accessed from the Beaver Creek Trailhead, located on the north end of the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking lot 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 parking lot. 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.


"A comment on hiking to Mt. Audubon with a dog. If you walk your dog around the block a few days a week, then absolutely do not take it up Audubon (or any other peak for that matter). My dog (age 4.75) has made 4 ascents of Audubon with no issues. That's because she runs and hikes with me 5-7 days per week. She's been to the summit of dozens of other peaks including several 14ers. So if you and your dog are fit (meaning having legs, lungs, and paws that are in shape from lots of running/hiking), Audubon should be a walk in the park for both of you. BTW, although Sunday broke the high temperature record in Denver, it was blwing a gale and freezing on the summit of Audubon. Don't forget to pack hat and gloves and maybe even a coat for your pooch. "
Alphonso  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: September 5, 2017
"Absolutely the best day of my life,when I got to Brainard lake there were 3 Bull Moose feeding on the Willows about 30 ft from the road,absolutely amazing,the hike is only moderate for the first 3 miles,I did it pretty easily,the last mile to the summit I'd say you gain probably 1,200 ft,the trail is rocky the whole way,I should say all rocks in most places the last couple miles,there's a fair trail part way to the top but after that it's nothing but boulders for the last 500 ft in altitude gain I'd say.It's going to take a long time to get up and down this part so start real early,it must have taken me about 45 minutes to reach the trail again. This Mtn has the best summit views of any that I've clmbed,it's worth doing again. A note to anyone thinking about taking your dog,it is stupid and selfish to take your dog on this one because your dog could easily slice it's paws on parts of this trail where it's nothing but small rocks,and secondly when your near the top it would be easy for your dog to break a leg in that jumble of boulders on your final push up the summit,LEAVE YOUR DOG HOME IF YOU REALLY LOVE HIM!"
Donald  -  Aurora  -  Date Posted: July 22, 2017
"Sunny, warm, patchy snow but was shallow and easy, no gear required. Early stages of wildflowers. "
liteiceberg  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: July 2, 2017
"Vistas are amazing. Try to pick a day where thunderstorms are a remote possibility like my day. I am in moderate shape and found the hike to be not quite as challenging as many posts would indicate. If you want solitude this isn't the trail for you. Almost as busy as longs peak"
teddy B  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: July 11, 2016
"Hiked in from the Conney Flats access trail head. The access road is definitely a challenge for people who don't know how to drive on small roads with large rocks and 4-8" deep water. Today was a very dry day as well. I saw a Cherokee trailhawlk attempt it, I heard an axle snap about 20 min later. . . Hiking trail wise, the beaver creek path is not quite as steep as it might appear and I was able to summit in just under 4 hours. There was still plenty of snow fields to slog through so higher boots or gators might not be a bad idea still. Once I reached the Audubon trail merge it was VERY breezy and got a bit on the chilly side. The ascent is steep and slow (figure about 1.5 hours for the last 1.5 miles). You can rush it, which i did on the last scramble, but you should be comfortable with fast scrambling and be able to read open rock faces. You can decent down anyway you like, but watch out for altitude spoofing, because while the snow field below looks small and fun, i watched two people go to their waste and realize its actually another mile back up. The decent was very fast and easy making the whole 5.6 return in less than 3 hours go at approx 20 min miles."
Max Cohen  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: July 10, 2016
"Yes dogs are allowed but use your judgement. It is predominantly rock on the trail; I hiked it this morning and other than the first 3/4 mile it is crossing scree fields. You guys gave a GREAT detail of the trail and helped me find the cairn route to the summit with zero issues. "
Chris  -  Longmont Co  -  Date Posted: September 2, 2015
"This was a difficult trail with extensive boulder fields to maneuver. Took my dog and her paws are torn up. We didn't make it to the summit, and glad we were off the mountain by noon, as weather rolled in, as usual. Other reviews mention a stroll through a meadow with wildflower, that was no the case! "
Kelly  -  Allan's park, co  -  Date Posted: August 4, 2014


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