Paiute Peak, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Paiute Peak - 8.6 miles
Brainard Lake Recreation Area
|Round-Trip Length:||8.6 miles (distance will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,525' - 13,088'|
|Elevation Change:||+2,563' net elevation gain (+2,786' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Paiute Peak - 8.6 Miles Round-Trip
Paiute Peak (13,088') is located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness between Mt Audubon and Mt Toll. No trail reaches the summit, however two non-technical routes from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead offer access.
The first and longer route scales Mt Audubon on a well-maintained trail, and continues along its rugged west ridge to Paiute Peak. There's some class III scrambling on this approach, but most find it on par with other ascents in the area.
The second follows a moderate trail to Blue Lake, and a more challenging social route to Little Blue Lake. From here you must locate a steep couloir that climbs 850' in just .4 miles to the summit.
No matter how you tackle it, Paiute Peak offers exceptional views of its two iconic neighbors, and across the northern Indian Peaks, Coney Lake valley and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The following description takes the Blue Lake route, preferable for its more varied alpine terrain and freedom from trails after a shorter distance:
The trail moves quickly to Mitchell Lake, which occupies a marshy flat at the base of Mt Audubon (.85 miles : 10,725'). It crosses Mitchell Lake's inlet (1.1 miles) and steepens into the center of the valley above several outlying ponds. Look for moose in this willow-lined corridor
The trail undulates through treeline to a wide cascade and crests just above the east shore of Blue Lake (2.55 miles : 11,355'). A well-defined trail continues along and up the north side of Blue Lake for a short time before losing clarity in the open landscape.
Cairns offer guidance, but rugged terrain will likely force some improvisation up to Little Blue Lake at the base of Paiute and Audubon (3.25 miles : 11,833').
The couloir you must find is located directly above the steep talus slope on the far side of Little Blue Lake. You can take this difficult section head-on, but it's easier to follow a longer route up a ridge that wraps the south side of the lake (3.65 miles : 12,059').
This uneven section levels in the valley's upper basin, where at least one large cairn marks the base of the correct couloir on the southeast face of Paiute Peak (3.88 miles : 12,238').
From here it's nothing fancy - just a very steep push on loose scree and sand until reaching terra firma in a rocky notch with views west of the Divide (4.15 miles : 12,843').
The ground stabilizes while threading talus up to a second notch with a great look at Longs Peak. Continue the intuitive scramble up to Paiute Peak (4.27 miles : 13,088').
Views are incredible from the summit, notably of Upper Coney Lake and Coney Lake (north), Mt Audubon (east) and Mt Toll and Pawnee Peak (south across the valley). Paiute Peak has a distinct cleft summit, with the summit register located on the first 'lobe'.
Keep track of your route to the summit, because the couloir may be tricky to locate on the return - any other route can prove difficult if not dangerous. On the descent, anticipate sliding rocks and be prepared to get out of your own way.
It's also possible to return via the Audubon ridge, which is easy to identify. This adds nominal distance and forms a great loop back to Mitchell Lake Trailhead. Be mindful of time on the exposed and slow-going Audubon ridge if weather approaches.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N40 05.001 W105 34.910 — 0.0 miles : Mitchell Lake Trailhead
- N40 05.145 W105 35.309 — .4 miles : Cross Mitchell Creek
- N40 05.215 W105 35.669 — .9 miles : Mitchell Lake
- N40 05.204 W105 36.213 — 1.5 miles : Bend south into center of valley
- N40 05.070 W105 36.702 — 2.0 miles : Moderate climb through vestiges of treeline
- N40 05.308 W105 37.050 — 2.55 miles : Blue Lake
- N40 05.512 W105 37.328 — 3.05 miles : Steep climb on above Blue Lake
- N40 05.608 W105 37.546 — 3.25 miles : Little Blue Lake (11,833')
- N40 05.499 W105 37.829 — 3.65 miles : Scale ridge up west side of Little Blue Lake
- N40 05.640 W105 37.854 — 3.85 miles : Cairn at base of couloir; begin climb
- N40 05.745 W105 37.912 — 4.05 miles : Steep climb up couloir
- N40 05.875 W105 37.952 — 4.27 miles : Paiute Peak (13,088')
- Technical gear and self arrest skills are necessary when the route is covered by snow. Call ahead for trail conditions.
- The Mt Audubon - west ridge approach is longer (approx 9.5 miles roundtrip) with some class III scrambling along a better defined route on the ridge.
- The descent off the summit and cross-country travel back to Blue Lake can be equally demanding and time consuming. Plan travel time accordingly.
- Be mindful of changing weather and aim for treeline before storms develop. Avoid the Audubon ridge if storms threaten.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Permits are required for all overnight backcountry campers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, June 1 - September 15. Note that camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.
- Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs. Group size is limited to 12 people or people and stock combined.
- There are no designated sites in this travel zone - dispersed camping only. Use established sites whenever possible to minimize impact. Camp at least 100' away from lakes, streams and trails.
- Campfires are prohibited east of the Continental Divide. Gas stoves only.
- Dogs must be leashed at all times.
- Stock is not permitted in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, which includes access to Paiute Peak from Brainard Lake.
Rules and Regulations
- There's an $11 fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Fees, Parking, Pet, Camping and Trespassing regulations are strictly enforced.
- Dogs must be leashed at all times on trails within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.
- Horses and Stock are not permitted on the Blue Lake Trail, or up to Paiute Peak.
Directions to Trailhead
Paiute Peak is accessed from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.
The trailhead is located 5.7 miles west of CO 72 (Peak to Peak Highway) on Brainard Lake Road. Brainard Lake Road is located 13 miles north of Nederland, and just northwest of Ward.
From Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road and drive 2.7 miles to the entrance station. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Continue 3 miles to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (follow signs). The road is closed between the fee station and trailhead from late October through late June or early July (depending on snow). Parking at the trailhead is limited. Additional roadside parking is available in designated spaces only.
Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301