One of my favorite places to hike in Colorado is in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I was flipping through our family hiking journal and came across what is best described as a love note about a hike we took to Blue Lake a few years ago. Despite the cold and rainy weather, I left enamored with the beauty we enjoyed along the trail. I’m surprised I haven’t written about this hike until now.
Brainard Lake Recreation Area
The hike to Blue Lake begins in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, a popular hiking destination in Colorado. It is located approximately 1 hr 20 minutes from Denver, 50 minutes from Boulder, and 50 minutes from Estes Park. If you buy a pass to get into Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s good to know that there is a separate fee to get in to this National Wilderness Area. There is a lot of great hiking here for both humans and their pets. (dogs are allowed to hike on leash.)
The best way to get to Blue Lake is to begin at the Mitchell Lake trail head, but because of this destination’s popularity, we had to park a little further away near Brainard Lake.
Our hike was 6.2 miles round trip and gained 1,250 feet in elevation. Brainard Lake Recreation Area starts at a high elevation so snow typically sticks around longer in the season. Ideal hiking is late July through August.
Once past Mitchell Lake, the trail climbed up through rocky terrain with expansive views of the surrounding mountains.
We took this hike back in August 2016. It felt like an accomplishment for all of us because our toddler endured the rainy, cold weather. My husband carried our daughter the longer distance and greater elevation gain on his back. I was carrying a little one too because I was pregnant with our second daughter who is now 2!
Time flies, but it’s great to look back at all of the memories we have made along the way.
Additional Information About Blue Lake and Brainard Lake Recreation Area:
This Lenten season our family is focusing on ways to cut back our wasteful habits that have a negative impact on ourselves, neighbors and the environment. This week I am very excited about a couple things that are related to this goal.
Free Ozark Native Tree & Shrub Program
The Beaver Watershed Alliance provided our community a variety of trees to plant in our yards to reforest. My husband spent an afternoon planting a dozen or so trees (because he is awesome) and I’m crossing my fingers some of them grow. I’m also thankful for the local volunteers who planted trees along the river. It’s inspiring to see people working together to keep our lakes, rivers and streams healthy.
Beautiful Lives Thrift Boutique in Fayetteville, Arkansas
There are just so many reasons why I loved shopping with my sister this weekend. One of the highlights was discovering the Beautiful Lives Thrift Boutique that sells upscale used clothing at an affordable price and donates profits to charities. My sister bought me a green Express shirt for $5 that I’m looking forward to wearing on St. Patrick’s Day. I enjoy consignment shopping because I can get new items in my closet without contributing to some of the social and environmental negatives that come out of ‘fast fashion’.
Ways We Are Reducing Waste at Home
I mentioned our goals last week (here), but I thought I would share a few updates:
Less Glass – We are limiting alcohol consumption to weeknights only, so instead of having a glass of wine and watching an episode of Mad Men we are sipping decaf tea. We thought about stocking up on sparkling water, but decided the extra cans would be counter productive.
No Drive Thru Foods or To-go Drinks –We’ve been doing a good job at mostly eating at home, but my daughter requested Chick-fil-A this afternoon and I obliged. I don’t think we cut out much waste by going inside which was a bummer, but I cut back where I could by not taking a plastic straw or the awesome disposable place mats that they offer for kiddos.
No Shopping Bags – This goal was the one that I got the most feedback on. I’ve heard several people are giving up plastic bags for lent and I’m excited we are doing it together!
Avoid Single Serving Packaging – This goal has been harder – my kids basically ate a big bag of goldfish in a day. Also, I’ve been struggling to maintain portion control on things like almonds. We will figure this out, but I think it’s our biggest struggle so far.
Finally, I said I would share updates on instagram (#lesswastelent) and I’ve been failing at this mission because reducing waste is hard to get a pretty picture of. I tried to pose our 2-year-old with an umbrella by one of our new little trees, but it was raining and the umbrella blew away and she fell down and got muddy. It was a complete picture taking fail. So, if you want to share any ideas or pictures with me, I would love to see them!
It’s official – we have been away from Rocky Mountain National Park for far too long! But the count-down is on because we reserved our cabin for a trip at the end of May. In anticipation, I’ve been taking a look back through our family’s hiking journal and came across a hike that I haven’t shared before.
Back in May of 2016, we ventured to Hollowell Park because it was an area in RMNP that we had never explored. We hoped it would be a good place to hike with our toddler during the spring season when some higher altitude hikes are still covered in ice and snow. The Hollowell Park turnoff is approximately 8,300 ft in elevation according to the park’s website. In comparison, Bear Lake is 9,475 ft.
I took a picture of the sign at Hollowell Park to give myself a visual of all the destinations you can hike to including Cub Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Bear Lake. Hiking from Hollowell Park is not the most direct route to these popular attractions, but it could be a good alternate route to avoid some of the crowds during peak visitor season.
Mill Creek Basin
We decided to hike to Mill Creek Basin, which is a less popular destination in the park. Our hike was 1.9 miles each way which began in an open grassy area and climbed an additional 600 feet of elevation through towering pines.
The trail followed a mountain stream called Mill Creek. Several snowy patches remained on the trail along with muddy portions caused by recent snow melt. We crossed over a small wooden bridge to get to the Mill Creek Basin, a meadow with aspens which I imagine are even more beautiful in autumn.
Avoid Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you are interested in additional trails that we think are good for avoiding crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park, I wrote a post about the Glacier Creek trail here.
Spring Hiking in RMNP
Spring can be a tricky season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park because the weather varies day-to-day. Here are some additional lower elevation hikes you might consider:
Lily Lake -this post really highlights the unpredictable weather in RMNP!
Best Hikes Under 5 Miles
The hike to Mill Creek Basin was just under 4 miles round trip. When we plan hikes for our young family, we typically aim for hikes that are similar in length. We broke down some of our favorite family-friendly ‘short hikes’ with details to help plan your adventure in the pages linked below:
Lent begins next Wednesday, March 6. This year we decided our family is going to focus on creating less waste for the 40 days leading up to Easter. I’m hopeful that the efforts we make will help us create new habits that will make a lasting impact on our environment and also lead us to become more intentional consumers.
I should start by giving my husband credit for his weekly trips to the recycling center. We currently do not have curb-side recycling available at our house.
Seeing the recycling pile up has made me want to buy less things altogether. We have a lot of room for improvement, so we are focusing on 7 key areas that we think will make the biggest impact in our home.
7 Ways to Reduce Waste at Home
Less Glass – Something we typically give up during Lent is drinking alcohol during the week. Not only is this good for us physically, but this year we are focusing on how our decisions make an impact beyond ourselves and how little decisions add up over time.
No Drive Thru Foods or To-go Drinks – There seems to be a theme about how things that aren’t great for our bodies are also not great for our planet. Have you been through a drive thru and got a bag of garbage per person who orders!? I have and if the french fries don’t hurt my stomach enough, seeing all that trash sure makes me feel sick. That also means no more coffee to-go unless I bring my own cup.
No Shopping Bags – I started ordering groceries online and picking it up at the store which felt like a life-saver during cold winter months when I didn’t want to drag two young kids into the store. But… the bags!! We started collecting piles and piles. Even though I’m recycling or reusing them, I still feel awful and therefore I will be shopping the old fashion way (in the store) with my tote bags.
Less Gas – Occasionally, my girls fall asleep in the car unexpectedly. In an effort to get a nap in, I drive around town happily sipping on a latte enjoying my quiet moment without much thought to the gas I’m wasting. My new solution will be to park and listen to a podcast or read a library book. It’s getting warmer, so I can turn off my car and open a window to enjoy the spring breeze.
Reduce Paper – We get a lot of junk mail and I also have a habit of picking up free magazines. I’m going to email/call to unsubscribe from mailing lists and I’m also going to stop myself from picking up free items.
Save Electricity – when I was a kid my Dad gave me a badge and called me ‘the power patrol’. My job was to go around the house and turn off lights. I think my girls will love to continue this tradition.
Avoid Single Serving Packaging – I love 100 calorie pack almonds. It’s so convenient to have them counted out for me so I don’t eat too many, but I’m really going to focus on purchasing products that aren’t packaged individually (goldfish, yogurt, apple sauce, popsicles, etc.)
Our final goal this Lent is to donate to and support nonprofits that are making a positive impact on our environment including the National Park System that we love so much.
I’m sharing my ideas because I know a lot of people want to do something meaningful for Lent, and I’d love to have you join us! I’ll be posting about our progress on Instagram with the hashtag #lesswastelent.