Trailhead: Brainard Lake Day Use Lot**
Distance: 8.3 miles***
So here's the deal with this hike. It's technically only 6.3 miles, but the Brainard Lake Recreation Area is so popular that all of the parking lots were full. We parked in the day use lot and had to walk a mile to get to the trailhead (which was beautiful and definitely worth it, but also kind of a pain). If you decide to do this hike, chances are what I have written is what you will end up doing, but if you get lucky - head to the Mitchell Lake trailhead for parking. From there it's a 6.3 mile round trip hike to Blue Lake.
Rachel suggested we do a hike together, and I leapt at the opportunity to get to more alpine lakes. Having fallen head-over-heels in love with the Indian Peaks Wilderness when we hiked to Diamond Lake, I knew that I wanted to do something there. After lots of google searches, and differentiating between this Blue Lake and the one in Silverton, we decided on a 5:15 am meet-up for a 7:30 am start to our day. Logan and I were late (as per usual), but the drive went by much faster than we expected and we managed to get to the Rec Area by 7:10. It costs $11 to get in, and they're really good about blocking off the parking areas that are closed to avoid congestion.
After a pitstop at two different bathrooms, we were on our way! It was such a perfect morning, we didn't even mind walking on the road for half a mile. I was a little disappointed when we weren't able to park at the trailhead, but once we got off the road and onto the trails that lead us to our trailhead, I changed my mind. It was beautiful and just meant a longer day in one of my new favorite places.
After a mile we finally reached the official trailhead. There were lots of cars in this lot (and it's always nice to see that things are actually full when you're told they are), but surprisingly few people. There's lots of backpacking in the area, so I'm guessing most people had backpacked out for the weekend, filling up the lot for us normal day hikers. We ducked into the woods and started heading up.
After a mile, we reached Mitchell Lake. It's absolutely beautiful, especially in the early morning when the sky is clear and there's not much wind. We took a break to take some pictures and apply some bug spray (that smelled surprisingly like pickle juice) and then headed onwards.
From Mitchell Lake we started heading up. There's about 1,500 ft of elevation gain on this hike, so not a ton, but enough that we quickly warmed up and starting thinking about taking a break.
After 3 miles (4 from where we parked), we reached treeline and then in a few hundred feet, the lake itself. Immediately we were in awe - it was huge, for one thing, and stunning for another. We scrambled down to the edge and then walked along the side until we were about opposite from where the trail put us. This meant we were no longer seeing the mountain's reflection in the water, letting it look as crystal clear blue as it really is.
After some more snacks, dark clouds started rolling in so we decided it was time to head down. Soon after we started to hear thunder, so we definitely made the right decision. A mile or two from the trailhead, we randomly came across a group of three JMU grads! Logan was super stoked to meet these guys out in the middle of Colorado, and after a few minutes of talking, realized that one of them went to grad school at DU! It's really a small world, and it felt good to find some fellow Virginia transplants out here on the trail.
Overall, this trail was incredible. I am definitely head-over-heels in love with the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and I am excited about what's going to come next!