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

2 Day Itinerary in Estes Park with Toddlers

When we are on vacation with our young girls we try our best to stick to a regular routine and take advantage of unexpected moments. If you are looking for ideas on how to spend a couple days in Estes Park with your young family, here are a couple days we recently enjoyed in our favorite mountain town.

Day 1 Itinerary in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park 
First thing in the morning we drove to Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park so the girls could burn off some energy by walking around the gorgeous half mile loop. We love this hike because our girls can both walk at their own pace and stop to climb rocks and look at trout. The views of the Continental Divide are stunning – one time we spotted a moose right in the middle of the lake!

Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we went to Trailhead Restaurant which is attached to the Fall River Visitors Center. We sat outside on the deck and sipped cups of hot chocolate and split warm, gooey cinnamon rolls. The girls played on the attached playground and we enjoyed views of Deer Mountain.

After some quiet time and naps at our cabin, we headed back out in the evening to Snowy Peaks Winery in downtown Estes Park. They have a great kids area with toys and art supplies which occupied our girls while we enjoyed Colorado wine. After the tasting we all headed downstairs and back out to the garden where local bluegrass duo Dahlby & Nadine inspired our own duo to joyfully twirl in circles behind our table.

We went to the playground across the street before heading down the River Walk to Mama Rose’s, an Italian restaurant for dinner. We weren’t lucky enough to grab an outdoor table by the Big Thompson River, but we enjoyed our spot inside. Our three-year-old enjoyed a flight of milk: strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and white. She was nice enough to share sips with her little sister.

Day 2 Itinerary in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park & Brainard Lake
We started out our morning with another favorite lake hike. Lily Lake loop is less than a mile and it’s flat so our girls can hike on their own. Lily Lake is located six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. We enjoyed spotting muskrats swimming the in the lake as well as the awesome views of Twin Sisters Peaks, Longs Peak and Lily Mountain.

Mountain Views around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate at Coffee on the Rocks. Our girls love walking around the duck filled pond behind the coffee shop. We also ventured into Red Rose Rock Shop which shares a parking lot. The girls each thoughtfully selected pink sparkly rocks from the abundant display.

Rock Shop Estes Park Colorado

We got back in the car with the treasure and our 1.5-year-old instantly fell asleep. We decided to seize the opportunity by grabbing an amazing take-and-go sandwich from Scratch Deli & Bakery and driving to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. This popular hiking destination has been on our bucket list all summer. It’s located 50 minutes away from Estes Park. After sitting in line at the entrance we eventually got a parking spot, which was lucky on a holiday weekend. We got out and hiked around the breathtaking setting.

Hiking with Kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake Colorado

Even though it was overcast and eventually started to hail, the trip was still worth it!

Brainard Lakes Colorado, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Rainy Afternoon Activity in Estes Park, Colorado
The hail was brief but cut our adventure short. We decided to go swimming indoors when we got back to Estes Park. The Estes Valley Community Center opened a new pool with a lazy river, slides and water play area. There are resident and non-resident fees to use the facility. We had so much fun!

We wrapped up our vacation at Rock Cut Brewing Co. which has games and picnic tables outside. We ordered Chinese takeout from the restaurant next door and saw other people order pizza from across the street. There is typically a food truck option as well.