Why we love it: We can’t get enough of alpine lakes; you’ll see two on this trek.

When to go: The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is near enough to Boulder that the parking spots fill up quickly. Aim to hit the trailhead by 8 a.m. to ensure a spot.

There was a period, last spring, when I wasn’t sure how many more hikes I’d be able to do. I’d just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was reeling—literally and figuratively—from what that meant for my mobility. As I recovered from a flare-up of symptoms, the first hikes I picked were classic: Spots that I’d regret not seeing one more time, like Hanging Lake. Then, I focused on treks that were do-able, like the Rocky Mountain Arsenal’s path. By the end of the summer, I was feeling steady enough—literally and figuratively—to tackle something more. My friend suggested hiking to Blue Lake from the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. She’d done it before and admitted that—at roughly five miles and with an elevation gain of about 800 feet—it would be ambitious for me. But she also offered steaming coffee and homemade treats at the trailhead, so I agreed.

From the parking lot, we delved almost immediately into woodsy calm. About half a mile in, we came to Mitchell Lake. (Stop here for a quick water break and to see if you can spot wildlife on the water’s edge.) We continued up past a meandering stream and an open valley with views of wildflowers and pooled water. A final scramble took us to Blue Lake, which sits at the tree line, meaning that we had unobstructed views of the Continental Divide’s massive Mount Toll.

As we sat on boulders along the lake’s edge, I took a health assessment. Yes, my legs were wobbly. Yes, I’d be exhausted that night. And, yes, every step had been worth it.

Getting there: To reach the Brainard Lake Recreational Area, drive on US-36 west to Lee Hill Drive (about 30 miles). Travel on Lee Hill Drive for six miles and then take a left on Lefthand Canyon Drive. Continue for 8.9 miles to Indiana Gulch Road (keep driving onto Utica Street and Nelson Street; no turns). Take a right onto CO-72 west and then take a quick left onto America Street before continuing onto the Brainard Lake Road and the various parking lots. (There is a small fee to enter the rec area.) Confused? Just use the Google map.

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Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.