A New Guidebook to the Lakes and High Country of Colorado

Toll, Paiute, Audubon, Notabon

Free Chapter from New Guidebook, Classic Colorado Hikes: Lakes, Loops, and High-Ridge Traverses 

Have you ever sat down for a snack break at a high mountain lake and wondered, “Can that peak be climbed?” Or, “I wonder if it’s possible to traverse that ridge”? This new guidebook by seasoned guide and mountaineer Jon Kedrowski answers those questions.

Dr. Jon has outlined and selected some of his favorite hikes to backcountry lakes (including places to swim in summer or ice skate in winter!). Some hikes are loops, meaning you will be able to hike to a lake or series of lakes and return to the trailhead by a different trail. Then, an extra route—such as climbing a peak or following a high-ridge traverse from peak to peak—is suggested. Plus, in the “Dr. Jon’s Extra Credit” sections, he dishes out even more options for creating your own adventures. Tap in to your desire to be an explorer: Grab this guidebook and a map and let your imagination run wild. Enjoy making your own adventures into some wild basins in the remote corners of Colorado!  

Enjoy a free chapter and pre-order your copy of this highly anticipated guidebook today!

Images courtesy of Jon Kedrowski

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MITCHELL LAKE—BLUE LAKES—PAIUTE PEAK TO MOUNT AUDUBON

COMMENT: Mitchell Lake Basin and the Blue Lakes are some of the hidden gems of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The Indian Peaks Wilderness encompasses 76,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado, with many of the peaks named in honor of Native American tribes. Mount Audubon is a very popular thirteener with a steady trail, but an early start can give you plenty of solitude. Arrive early to ensure you get a parking spot as this popular destination fills up quickly, especially on weekends. In 2021, Brainard Lake Recreation Area began using a reservation system. Get your reservation online in advance at recreation.gov. Your national parks pass or other federal lands passes are valid at Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Without a pass, the daily fee is $12.

GETTING THERE

Mitchell Lake Trailhead (10,524 feet). Travel Colorado Highway 72 to the town of Ward. Ward is 13 miles north from Nederland coming from Boulder via Colo­rado Highway 119 or by traveling Colorado Highway 7 from the north from Lyons or Estes Park. From the north side of Ward on Colorado Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road (County Road 102). Travel 2.5 miles to the Brainard Gateway Trailhead, and then travel another 2 miles to Brainard Lake. Continue past the lake for 0.5 mile, follow the signs, and take a right at a split in the road in a pine forest. After another 0.5 mile, the road dead-ends in a parking lot with a public toilet, which is at the trailhead.

THE LAKES

Mitchell Lake (10,720 feet) and Blue Lake (11,310 feet). Start from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead and enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness right after crossing Mitchell Creek on a footbridge toward the northwest. You will travel through a forest and cross another footbridge at the base of the lake close to the end of the first mile. You will see Mitchell Lake in some pine forest with several openings to the lake on your right. After 1 mile, leave the lake and the dark forest behind as you climb into the basin heading west. Travel for 1.5 miles more along the creek to reach Blue Lake at 11,350 feet. You will see the pyramid of Mount Toll to your west, and this lake is stunning. Proceed for another 0.75 mile as the basin becomes very rocky before a social trail climbs up into a steeper portion of the basin. Follow it into a cirque and up on some flat rocky benches, and you’ll arrive at Upper Blue Lake at 11,840 feet. The views of both Mount Toll and Paiute Peak’s eastern aspects are imposing, but it’s clear to see why these lakes were named.

THE LOOP AND HIGH-RIDGE TRAVERSE

Paiute Peak (13,088 feet) and Mount Audubon (13,223 feet) via Upper Blue Lake (Class 2–3 for the southeast face to west ridge). Start at the Mitch­ell Lake Trailhead. From the west side of Upper Blue Lake, travel west and ascend the steep slope of rock and rock slabs to reach a prominent rib or bump on the southeast face of Paiute Peak. At 12,300 feet, follow this Class 2+ rib directly north for nearly 400 feet to reach the south ridge crest of Paiute at 12,700 feet. Finish the climb by carefully ascending some Class 3 sections to the summit for almost another 400 feet of rock. This route is super fun, and the view of the basin and lakes below gets more and more dramatic as you get higher. From Paiute Peak, descend east for several hundred feet to the connecting saddle at 12,640 feet on boulders before finding a climbers’ trail and traveling east for 0.9 mile from Paiute Peak’s summit to the top of Mount Audubon (13,223 feet). This is the high point of the loop. From here, descend the Mount Audubon Trail for 3.7 miles to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead.

DR. JON’S EXTRA CREDIT

Mount Audubon Trail (13,223 feet) and Mount Notabon (12,620 feet). Instead of taking the challenging loop of Audubon with Paiute Peak and Blue Lakes as described in the previous section, consider a fun and easy alternative. Follow the Mount Audubon Trail to the north from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. This popular 3.7-mile trail rises and reaches the east ridge of Mount Audubon and provides a gor­geous day on a Colorado thirteener that is the sixth-highest peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. You can even tag 12,260-foot Mount Notabon on the way. 

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To start planning your next adventure, order your copy of Classic Colorado Hikes here.