Boulder, CO: Blue Lake - Backpacker

Boulder, CO: Blue Lake

Sampling the best of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, this 5-milers traverses alpine meadows up to a sparkling lake perched below the Continental Divide.

From the Mitchell Lake Trailhead in Brainard Lake Recreation Area, this route climbs steadily toward Mitchell Lake (0.8 mile from the trailhead), and Blue Lake, another 1.7 miles up the trail. Several ponds and stream crossings pepper the route, and the trail crosses two impressive bridges along the way: one 15 feet above a fast-moving drainage, and the second, a picturesque double-log bridge atop a wide, tumbling cascade.

At mile 1, the climb intensifies up a series of increasingly narrow and rugged steps. Notice the changing vegetation and twisted, wind-blown trees as you pass several unnamed ponds and approach the towering mountains above Blue Lake. With the Continental Divide peaks (Pawnee, Mt. Toll and Paiute, all above 12,900 feet) and Mt. Audubon’s talus slope towering overhead, it's difficult to focus on the trail, but be sure to watch your footing: the rocky path is an ankle-twister and it is easy to lose track of it under just a few inches of snow. At Blue Lake, large, scattered rocks offer shore-side picnic seating and user-created trails along the lake's north shore offer a peek at the lake’s west end waterfall and additional exploration opportunities upstream.

-Mapped by Kristy Holland and Steve Johnson

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 4.0



Location: 38.87955, -120.0709833

After passing small rustic church and fire station on L, see trailhead for Lily Lake, Glen Alpine Falls, and Desolation Wilderness (worth a short hiking detour). Or bear R over bridge and continue to Stanford Sierra Camp at end of road.


Location: 38.9067833, -120.0444167

At junction of Tahoe Mountain Road, continue straight on windy, somewhat hilly, one-lane road.


Location: 38.9335, -120.0497

From bike path, turn L (crossing CA-89) onto Fallen Leaf Road and follow narrow, bumpy country road with no shoulders as it gently climbs up to the junction of Tahoe Mountain Road over the next few miles. Road winds through open forest and fields with occasional mountain views.


Location: 38.9337333, -120.0494333

Jct.: at end of Fallen Leaf Road, cross CA-89 and turn L to rejoin bike path; continue N on bike path.


Location: 38.8840333, -120.0727833

Stanford Sierra Camp is backed by jagged mountains and overlooks the lake (good lunch/rest stop). Retrace your route along Fallen Leaf Road and rejoin the Pope-Baldwin Bike Path.


Location: 38.8975833, -120.0552333

Continue straight at jct. of Emigrant Road, passing through residential area, with views of lake through trees on R. Rolling road descends to lake and follows along shore, with houses on steep hillside to L.