Fall Hikes with Kids

Navigate our links above to see more of our hiking and camping adventures (or if you’re a lazy bum, click here).

If you’ve been following the blog or our Instgram feed for any length of time, then you know that we love a good hike. Just put us outside with a good pair of boots, a snack, and a hat, and we are ready to go!

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Some of my most memorable hikes have happened in the fall. Of course, the brisk weather and colorful foliage make for beautiful memories. But there’s also something about the shorter days anticipation of a long, cold winter indoors that makes the need to get outside even more urgent at this time of year.

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Mitchell Lake Trail : Summer

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we take the opportunity to slow down, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

Hello from Virginia! I’m popping in to share a hike that we took a few weeks ago in mid/late July.

We hiked this same trail (and more) two times last October when there was snow on the ground and ice on the trails. You can read more about those hikes in that post, and I’m going to repost some of the general information about the Brainard Lake Recreation Area the Mitchell Lake Trailhead below.

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Trail Location

The trail starts within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but quickly leaves that area and continues on into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is open to vehicles from June – October, but the exact opening and closing dates vary each year based on the weather. The entrance fee is on a sliding scale from $1 if you’re walking to $10/car, BUT you can access this area for free with a Nation Parks annual pass. When the area is closed during the winter, you can still park at a lot near the entrance and then enter the area by foot/ski/bike.

During the summer months, you can drive into the area and park at a number of lots. There’s a day-use lot near the main lake that often has spaces, and then there are two smaller lots near the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trailheads, but in our experience, both of these fill up fairly early and remain packed throughout the day.

If possible, park at the Mitchell Lakes Trailhead and you’ll be able to quickly access the trail, if the lot is full, you’ll have to park in one of the other lots and walk over to the trailhead.

On this particular day, the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake parking areas were full, BUT we brought bikes! It was an easy ride from the day-use lot over to the Mitchell lot, and then we locked the bikes up by the ranger shed at the start of the trail. 

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Trail Overview

The hike to Mitchell Lake is just under a mile, and it’s another 1.6 miles to reach Blue Lake. These are both out-and-back destinations, making the round-trip hike to Mitchell approximately 1.8 miles and the hike to Blue Lake five miles. The altitude at the trailhead is approximately 10,500 ft, with a gradual climb of just 200 ft to Mitchell Lake and then reaching a final altitude of 11,300 ft at Blue Lake.

On this particular hike, we only made it to Mitchell lake, but last fall, we made it all the way to Blue Lake (on our second try!).

This is a popular, well-worn trail that is easily visible when there isn’t much snow on the ground, and was relatively well marked with flashes on the trees..

Near the base of the trail, hiking is relatively easy with that slow, gradual climb to Mitchell Lake. There is one large stream-crossing over a short wooden bridge, and then another crossing over a wider stream with fallen logs used as the bridge. In other segments, planks are used to keep hikers out of boggy areas.

If you go beyond Mitchell Lake, there are some steep areas where climbing the rocks is similar to climbing a steep set of stairs, with an increase in the portion of steep climbs as you approach Blue Lake.

Last fall, there was some snow on the trail that had been tramped down and turned to ice, making some areas slick. This summer there was no risk of snow on the trail, but there were plenty of mucky spots and mud puddles. 

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Hiking with Kids

Last fall I said that young kids (4 to 8 year olds) should be able to hike to Mitchell Lake with minimal help but would likely need help making the full trek to Blue Lake. Older kids 8+ should have no trouble with the full hike. Those estimates were based upon the kids we saw on the trails as we hiked. Seeing 4 year-old Alex run along the trail to Mitchell Lake this summer, I think that we were right on target with the lower range.

One big difference between our October and July hikes was the muck! As you can see, we had (almost) no reservations about letting them go wild.

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Dressing for the Trail

At this time of year (and almost any time!), it was really helpful to dress in light layers. Since it was summer, our base layer consisted of tank tops and shorts for the boys, with a hoodie for more coverage. 

I think the key to relaxing on this hike was recognizing that there was going to be muck and being prepared to let the boys play in it with wild abandon. Both boys wore their water shoes, which were perfect for this short hike. We let the boys get wet, jump in mud puddles, and generally disregarded the rules of hiking concerning good socks and dry shoes. If you’re going out for a longer hike and have kids with sensitive feet, water shoes may not be appropriate. 

And don’t forget sunscreen! While there are some segments with plenty of shade, there is a lot of sun shining on much of the trail.

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If you’re in the Boulder area, this hike and the whole Indian Peaks area is definitely worth your time. Just know that everyone else loves the area too, so try to get there early before the lots fill up. Good luck!

On this hike we realized that by 2pm on a summer afternoon the lots are starting to open up. If you’re going for a short hike like this one, that’s still a great time to head out, with the added benefit that you won’t have the strong mid-day sun shining on you.

Even so, facing the crowds is totally worth it to hike (or re-hike) the trails around Brainard Lake. This is such a beautiful area, and it’s such a pleasure to see the trails change with the seasons.

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