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Hike to Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Indian Peaks Wilderness AreaIndian Peaks Wilderness Area is missed by most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park.  It is located about 25 miles south of the National Park and has some fantastic hiking opportunities.If you don’t have the energy (or are simply not in good enough shape) to hike into the sub-alpine and alpine areas of the Rockies, one can drive to trailheads here that begin around 10,500 ft!  In this post, I would like to describe a hike I’ve done a number of times.  It’s a hike up to Lake Isabelle (as sub-alpine lake).

Lake Isabelle

Lake Isabelle

The distance to Lake Isabelle is a 2.5 mile hike from the trailhead.  It is rated as easy as it remains nearly flat for the majority of the hike.  Toward the very end you’ll go through a couple of switch backs, but nothing too steep.  From trailhead to the lake there is only a 388 ft gain in altitude, topping out at 10,868 ft.  It’s a fee area, but if you have your National Park Pass you can use it to get you in free!  Brainard Lake MapThe picture on the left is of my hiking buddy, Steve, looking at a map of the Brainard Lake Area.  It has plenty of camping sites (first come, first served) on paved interior roads.  There are no services available.  They do have nice bathrooms available, but no flush toilets or running water.  This is typically a wet area, so plan on muddy boots and bring rain gear.

Brainard Lake

The area is so named for a dammed lake (Brainard Lake)  You are able to drive across the dam on the way to the trailheads.  Take time to look around the lake and it’s dam.  It’s a beautiful area.  The dam feeds a stream that runs off toward the campgrounds.  Moose frequent the area.  They are fun to watch, but keep your distance, especially from cows and their calfs!

Brainard Lake Dam

Brainard Lake Dam

The Trailheads provides ample paved parking and information concerning trail conditions and recent animal sightings.  Before taking off on your hike, be sure to visit the park volunteers at the information booth to check trail conditions.

Lake Isabelle Trailhead

Lake Isabelle Trailhead

Steve and I at the Trailhead

Steve and I at the Trailhead

The trail is shaded for much of your journey as you will be hiking through Engelmann Spruce and subalpine fir.  The first mile of your hike will have you walking beside Long Lake (which not surprisingly is a long lake!).  It won’t be visible most of time as it is hidden by the trees.

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There are two ways around the lake.  The trail on the north side is the most direct and most traveled (Isabelle Glacier Trail).  If you choose to take the south trail (Jean Lunning Trail), you will cross a small bridge and go around the lake meeting back up with the main trail at the west end of the lake.  It is about 4 miles to circumnavigate Long Lake.

This is a worth while hike on it’s own as many wildlife sightings have been reported in the area.  The day we hiked, there had been moose, bear and mountain lion spotted in the area over the past week!  Unfortunately, the only animals we encountered were noisy marmots up by Lake Isabelle.  There are many wild flowers along the trail in June and July.  So, don’t be surprised to come across the scene below often!

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Stopping to photograph wild flowers and water falls can lengthen the duration of your hike quite a bit.  So, be sure to plan the time into your schedule for ‘stopping to smell the roses’,  as it’s well worth it.  Below are some of the flowers we found along the path on our hike.

Paintbrush

Paintbrush

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Bluebells

Bluebells

After hiking past Long Lake you will begin to notice the area up ahead  appears to be significantly higher in elevation than you are currently at.  You are about to travel up a few switch backs to climb up to Lake Isabelle.  This will prove to be  the most picturesque part of the your hike.

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Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

You are soon rewarded with a view of Lake Isabelle.  At the north end you may notice a large snow cap across the escaping water that cascades into the valley below.  Keep an eye and an ear out for the Marmots playing in the rocks to your right.

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This lake serves as a reservoir for some of the towns east of the foothills in Colorado.  The day we were there, it was half drained to permit some work on the outlet.  But, as you can see below, it still is a beautiful subalpine lake.

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If you’re adventurous, you may want to continue your hike up through the pass.  There is plenty more to see if you’re in shape and properly equipped!

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