lake isabelle

Happy Hiking: Lake Isabelle

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  • Lake Isabelle
  • Distance:  8.6 miles RT (7.6 from where I started)
  • Type: Moderate, Out-and-Back
  • Elevation Gain: 950 ft
  • Other: Toilets Available, Dogs Allowed

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

I have been wanting to hike to Lake Isabelle for a long time.  For some reason, however, I only think about it in the winter time when the gate is closed which requires many extra miles along the road.  Finally, I timed my hike to coincide with opening day at Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

With COVID, entry into the area was regulated with parking slots assigned.  I was planning to park and hike based on the All Trails summer link to the trailhead.  The woman who checked me in told me to go to Mitchell Lake and that would add a 1 mile to my hike.  Ok, no problem.

Having only been to this location once several years ago, I informed her that I am unfamiliar with the area.  She assured me someone up the road would point me in the right direction.

At the next stop, a gentleman asked if I was going to Mitchell Lake.  I replied, “Yes” and he said, “Just go straight, follow the signs to Mitchell Lake, and turn into the parking lot on the right.”

Careful Where You Park!

I proceeded, didn’t see any signs for Mitchell Lake, but promptly saw a parking lot to the right next to a lake.  As a result, I parked.  Little did I know, Mitchell Lake is the name of a parking area, not just a trail or lake.  Upon return from my hike, I had an orange warning on my windshield that I parked in the wrong lot!

The fine print said if I didn’t pay my fees, I could be charged $25.  Well, I did pay the $12 parking fee, so I don’t know really know if I have some ticket or not.  It didn’t say you are fined for mistakenly parking in the wrong area.  Just a fair warning for those who want to hike here during COVID. 

I might also mention, a National Parks card allows entry.  I failed to bring mine with me, though I think it expired in June.  Doubt if they extended its usability for the months of park closures.  Boo!

Lake Isabelle Trailhead

Anyway, after parking, I looked around for the trail to Lake Isabelle as I didn’t know where I was relative to my original plan.  It turned out the trailhead for Lake Isabelle was across the road, but it shortened my trek by a mile.  Now I was hiking 7.6 miles with less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

The trail took me through an evergreen forest for just over 0.5 miles before it opened into a meadow with a trail junction.  To the right was a bridge which connected to Pawnee Pass Trail, east of Long Lake.  A sign pointed straight ahead for the Jean Lunning Trail which continued through a field of wildflowers. Nothing, however, mentioned Lake Isabelle.

The Map

I pulled out my phone to review my All Trails App, but despite keeping the app open, the map disappeared.  This is a reminder to favorite the trail, so the map may be recalled without cell service.  I remembered the path circling Long Lake on the map, so my direction didn’t really matter.  I just wanted to know my location.

The Ascent

Anyway, I continued through the forested area which featured a handful of wildflowers and a few patches of snow.  Though there were a few muddy spots, the trail was mostly dry and after 1.5 miles it intersected with Pawnee Pass Trail on the other side of Long Lake.

Here there is a sign to Isabelle Glacier, though no sign to Lake Isabelle. This, however, is the way to go.  The previous gradual incline briefly turned more steep as the trail led to the lake.  Lake Isabelle, tucked beneath the glacier, is magnificent.

The trail follows the right-hand side of Lake Isabelle and offers a variety of places to stop along the way.  And what a glorious day it was to enjoy!

At the beginning of July the terrain ranged from a dry path, to boulder fields, to mud, to snow fields.  The varied topography made it a bit of an adventure to get around the right-hand side, but fun none-the-less.  The path continues past the lake to a waterfall and the glacier, though the snow made the area inaccessible.

I asked two people if the trail went around the lake.  They said, “Yes.”  But after a failed attempt of trouncing through willows with poor Annie in tow, I found out otherwise.  I’m not sure what they meant with their answers, as once I had cell reception and reviewed the map, I confirmed the trail only extends past Lake Isabelle and does not circle it.

14 Second Video of Lake Isabelle

The Descent

It seemed my communication level with everyone I met was non-existent thus far.  Even upon my return when I took Pawnee Pass Trail for a different descent, I asked a pair of hikers if the trail circled Long Lake.  They said, “No”.

Then I asked, “It doesn’t connect at the other side of the lake?”

“Oh yes, there is a bridge that connects to a trail on the other side.”  Whew!  That is what I expected.

While Lake Isabelle is much prettier than Long Lake, I took a short break just to enjoy the tranquility.  I also briefly visited a smaller lake to the left before crossing the bridge back to Jean Lulling Trail.  The short connector passed by some old mining equipment and provided wonderful views of the creek.

What a rare treat to see three lakes in 7.6 miles with hardly any altitude gain! An added bonus is that the Brainard Lake Recreation Area is only 1.5 hours from Denver. I will have to renew my parks pass and spend some more time in this area.  Not only is there Lake Isabelle, but there is Mitchell Lake, Blue Lake, Little Blue Lake and more.  Lake hikes are my favorite.  I will definitely be exploring more.  Stay tuned!  ETB

Other Hikes in the Area

The Beauty of Brainard Lake


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

5 thoughts on “Happy Hiking: Lake Isabelle

  1. I love Lake Isabelle! And Blue Lake. Also if you’re into summits, I recommend Mt Audubon. I was at Brainard last Friday and they weren’t specifically telling us where to park, so maybe they’ve given up on that system. Sounds like it was confusing.

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