Wildflowers in Bloom: A Family Hike to Mitchell Lake

Recalculating. In a word that is how I can sum up what it’s like to hike with a growing family.

Earlier this year I wrote about one of our all-time favorite hikes to Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. This summer, the 6.2 mile journey just wasn’t feasible with our 4.5-year-old and a 2.5-year-old. However, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit one of our favorite places in Colorado, so we drove to Brainard Lake Recreation Area which is about 50 minutes from where we stay in Estes Park.

We have an America The Beautiful Pass which covers entrance into federal recreation areas including Rocky Mountain National Park and the Brainard Lake Recreation Area which is run by the U.S. Forest Service. For our family, the inclusive pass is a good annual investment.

Typically, I recommend hiking early in the morning to avoid crowds, but we took a chance and arrived at the park around 3:30 on a Friday afternoon just after a rain shower had rolled through the area. We were lucky to get into the park quickly (expect long lines on weekends/holidays). We also grabbed a parking spot at the Mitchell Lake trailhead.

Mitchell Lake Hike in Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness. Features forest, lake, wildflowers, mountain views. Round trip 2 miles. Short family-friendly, dog-friendly hike. Mitchell Lake Trailhead

This is the same path you go on to get to Blue Lake, but we decided to hike to Mitchell Lake which is only 1 mile each way. My preschooler can hike this distance on her own.

This heavily wooded trail leads to Mitchell Lake
Tall pine forest

Good news for families with furry children – dogs are allowed here, but must be kept on a leash.

Dogs are allowed at Brainard Lake Recreation Area

We crossed a bridge over Mitchell Creek before officially entering into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

A wooden bridge crosses over Mitchell Creek
Wooden bridge over Mitchell Creek

There is a lot of water along this trail which attracts mosquitoes. We regretted forgetting our bug spray as we were bombarded.

Mitchell Creek flows from Mitchell Lake
Mitchell Creek flows from Mitchell Lake

Most of the hike is heavily wooded, so views are limited until you arrive at Mitchell Lake which opens up to an impressive backdrop of Mount Audubon.

Mount Audubon

Even in early August, we found little patches of snow to play in.

Snow near Mitchell Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Just seeing the stunning array of wildflowers makes this hike worth the drive from Estes Park. When you add in the lush forest and mountain views, it’s a 2 mile hike that is tough to beat! (just remember the bug spray!)

Wildflowers bloom near Mitchell Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Homer Rouse Trail – Revisited

A couple of years ago, I wrote about our hike on the Homer Rouse Trail in Estes Park, Colorado. We’ve noticed some pretty major changes to the area, so we decided to revisit the hike on our most recent trip.

We were lucky to have two cars with us, so we decided to leave one parked off of Fish Creek Road near the turnoff to Cheley Colorado Camp. We shuttled our family so that we could walk downhill one-way from the Lily Lake/Twin Sisters parking area back to our parked car. (Last time we walked both ways)

Park near Lily Lake and Twin Sisters to start hike on Homer Rouse Trail

Going one-way made the hike approximately 2 miles, which was attainable for our 4-year-old to walk on her own while my husband carried our 2-year-old on his shoulders.

The Homer Rouse Trail is a public trail that is on private property. It is not in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Walk by Historic Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado

We walked past the historic Baldpate Inn before entering the gravel road where motorized vehicles are restricted. Horses, bikes, and dogs are welcome on the trail. We passed by groups on horseback and on a bike riding tour that looked challenging and fun. Friendly dog owners allowed our girls to pet their playful pets, which was the highlight of their walk.

Trees Cleared on Homer Rouse Trail

We didn’t walk far before we came to areas along the trail that were cleared of trees. I’ve heard two theories about the clearing. The first is that the trees were cut down to help prevent potential forest fires.

Aspens in Estes Park Colorado

The second theory is that the trees were not native to the area, so eventually the forest will grow back with new trees that will thrive. (I’m guessing aspens)

Trees cleared by Twin Sisters in Estes Park Colorado

I thought seeing so many trees down would ruin this hike for me, but if I trust that the goal is long-term forest conservation and restoration, I can see the positive. The views of the surrounding mountains and valley below are much more open.

Wildflowers in Estes Park Colorado

And wildflowers were popping up where once they would have more competition for sunlight. Here is an article from Estes Park News with more details.

Homer Rouse Trail is a dog friendly trail in Estes Park Colorado

Besides the vast views, my favorite part of the trail is when the dirt road turns into a narrower wooded section of the hike.

Fish Creek

We continued downhill through the pines until we reached a small bridge over the creek. We turned right on the dirt road for the final stretch.

Twin Sisters views

I took one last look back at Twin Sisters before we arrived where we parked our car. It’s amazing how much the Homer Rouse trail has changed in the last couple of years, but I think it’s still a hidden gem.

If you are looking for more hikes that you can take your dog on, check out our new page – Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park, Colorado.

Add This to Your Hiking Bucket List! Blue Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness

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.

Mitchell Lake is 10,500 ft in elevation.

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.

Mountain stream with wildflowers blooming in August

Once past Mitchell Lake, the trail climbed up through rocky terrain with expansive views of the surrounding mountains.

Enjoy expansive views

There were several pools and lakes along the trail.

Flowers adorn the mountain side

Hiking through the rain and mist.

Blue Lake sits at 11,300 ft in elevation.

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:

Blue Lake via Mitchell Lake Trail

Brainard Lake Recreation Area Summer Season Map