Brainard Lakes, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Front Range -

Also known as:  Brainard Lake, Blue Lake, Mitchell Lake, Long Lake, Lake Isabelle

The Brainard Lakes are some of the most heavily visited lakes along Colorado’s Front Range. Five small lakes lie within the Brainard Lakes Recreation Area in the east central Indian Peaks Wilderness area of the Roosevelt National Forest. Four of the five – Blue Lake, Mitchell Lake, Long Lake and Lake Isabelle – can only be reached on foot. Brainard Lake Road circles Brainard Lake and leads to Pawnee Campground. The scenic trails are very popular with day hikers. The lakes themselves are small; the largest is Long Lake covering about 40 acres. Three lakes attract anglers looking for catches of rainbow trout, brook trout and cutthroat trout, which are regularly stocked.

Brainard Lake is the first lake most people encounter. The 14-acre lake is easily accessible with non-motorized boats from the concrete public boat launch near the small dam over South St. Vrain Creek. Only eight feet deep, Brainard Lake is also the lowest of the five in elevation at 10,360 feet. Three picnic areas around the lake make it a scenic spot to spend an afternoon, particularly if trout fishing is a part of the plan. The sub-alpine forest setting against the backdrop of the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide make Brainard Lake a popular spot for less active visitors to appreciate the area’s scenic wonders. The road to Brainard Lake and its access to the trails are usually open from June to October, but weather conditions sometimes delay the opening. The gate to the area is 2.5 miles before you reach the lake and, if closed due to snow, visitors can use snowshoes to access the lake. The area around the gate is the Red Rocks Lake Trailhead and is the start of other popular trails used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Hikers also access the Sourdough Trail and Niwot Mountain from here. A small fee is required for day use, and dispersed camping isn’t permitted along the trails.

Nearby Pawnee Campground has most amenities, including water, and can accommodate RVs to 45 foot long. Because this is a very popular campground, reservations are recommended. Bicycles are allowed on the paved roads to Brainard Lake but not on trails unless specifically designated. Brainard Lake lies between two valleys holding the four other lakes. The northern of the two valleys holds Mitchell and Blue Lakes, while the southern valley holds Long Lake and Lake Isabelle. These trail routes are the most popular trails to eight peaks in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. From Brainard Lake Road, one turn-off leads to the parking area at the head of the Mitchell Lake Trail and another to the head of the Long lake Trail. Both trailheads have small parking areas, with two lakes and multiple small ponds located up the trail.

Mitchell Lake is located less than a mile up a relatively easy trail. Located at 10,735 feet elevation, Mitchell Lake is located in a marshy meadow and surrounded by small willows. Fishing here is best accomplished with waders, since there is little firm footing along the shoreline. No information as to the size of Mitchell Lake is found, but sources say multiple undefined trails lead to a number of other small ponds across meadows filled with wildflowers. The official boundary of the Indian Peaks Wilderness is located at Mitchell Lake; great views of Mount Toll, Mount Audubon and Little Pawnee Peak are best seen from the northeast shoreline.

Blue Lake is located beyond Mitchell Lake, almost 2.5 miles from the Trailhead. A much deeper lake, Blue Lake is about 23 acres and up to 100 feet deep. Noted for cutthroat trout, about half of the shoreline is accessible for fishing. Blue Lake is the highest lake in elevation at 11,300 feet and lies in the shadow of Pawnee Peak, Mount Toll, and Paiute Peak. The trail between Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake is ablaze with flowers in early summer and creates an ideal photographic opportunity. No camping is permitted at Blue Lake, and trails to more distant peaks are located throughout the area.

From the Long Lake Trailhead, the trail leads first to Long Lake, the largest lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. At just over 40 acres, the long, narrow lake is a favorite for fishing. Cutthroat trout, brook trout and rainbow trout are all caught from shore. Artificial flies and lures only are allowed. Some areas of the shoreline are quite wet, requiring waders or at least waterproof boots. The lake reaches about 22 feet in depth at an elevation of 10,522 feet. Farther up the trail, Lake Isabelle receives its water from the Isabelle Glacier run-off. Located at 10,868 feet and 40 feet deep, Lake Isabelle is stocked with rainbow trout which may be caught using artificial flies and lures. Most of the shoreline is accessible for fishing and can actually get rather crowded on busy summer weekends.

The Brainard Lakes Recreation Area is only six miles west of the town of Ward and can be reached from Colorado Highway 72. Once a silver mining town, Ward was at one time the richest town in the state. Located on the 55-mile Peak to Peak Byway, Ward is only an hour from Denver and is the jumping-off location for myriad trailheads and outdoor attractions in the area. Between Ward and Nederland to the south, numerous resorts, ski locations and lodges encourage visitors to linger during winter and summer seasons. Numerous festivals highlight the outdoor activities that make this area of Colorado a vacation playground. Some are humorous and irreverent, such as Frozen Dead Guy Days, a week-long celebration of cryogenically-frozen Grandpa Bredo Morstoel. Nederland’s largest annual celebration, the Frozen Dead Guy Days offer music, food, a polar bear plunge, and competitive challenges such as the coffin races. The festival has gained worldwide notoriety over the past decade.

Other festivals celebrated near Brainard Lakes are the High Peaks Art festival, Miner’s Days, the WindFest (kite flying), Nederland 10K Race and other annual events-all drawing thousands of visitors. Local guest ranches, guest cottages and private lodgings provide comfortable space for the more luxury-minded, while multiple campgrounds and trails offer the solitude and rugged adventure so many seek. Some real estate is available for purchase outside of the Roosevelt National Forest. So, plan your trip to the Brainard Lakes to experience the breath-taking scenery with majestic peaks.

*Statistics listed are for Brainard Lake only.

Things to do at Brainard Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Playground

Fish species found at Brainard Lakes

  • Brook Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Brainard Lakes Photo Gallery

Brainard Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Surface Area: 14 acres

Shoreline Length: 1 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 10,360 feet

Maximum Depth: 8 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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