July 14, 2017
Our national parks are spectacular, and form the core of my vacation travel plans almost without exception. As I looked forward to this trip to Denver to celebrate a wedding in the family, my daydreams lingered on thoughts of Rocky Mountain National Park. In July. What I seek in nature is solitude or quiet time spent with family. July crowds are not what I seek.
Our national parks are just the front page of our public lands. While I had known that, I had not yet explored any of our nation’s wilderness. While I would not truly explore on this trip, the taste I took will have me returning for more.
A bit of online and hiking book exploration led me to learn of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. A bit of Instagram tourism led me to a few photos of Lake Isabelle on the @coloradomtnlife feed, and I was hooked! I instantly made plans to sneak away from the family vacation to camp nearby so that I could capture both a sunrise and sunset.
Once in Denver, good sense broke through my thinking as my chances to spend time with my daughter who lives in Minneapolis are all too rare. I was thrilled when she, her girlfriend, and my wife’s cousin showed interest in exploring the mountains on foot. With that change of plans, I tucked thoughts of Lake Isabelle away for the future and we headed west from Denver to first check out Golden Gate Canyon State Park. While the photos online were incredible, we did not really know which trail would take us to those sights.
Not wanting to spend our (my) day among dry, brown landscapes, we moved onto discover what Colorado 119 might share. We explored south, and with plenty of daylight remaining turned our front bumper to the north, where we stopped at several grand vistas along 119 and the Peak to Peak Highway.
With a couple hours of daylight remaining, that thought I tucked away earlier came charging forth, as we found ourselves in Nederland, very close to the Lake Isabelle trail that begins in the Brainard Lakes Recreation Area.
It was Brainard Lake where my camping reservation for that night would go unused by me. Unused it would not go, as when we arrived we were able to make another camper’s day by letting the staff know I would not use my site. It was on the drive up from the highway to Brainard Lake that we knew we had made the right call, as the snowy peaks we had sought all day unfolded before us.
A bit beyond the campground, we set off toward Lake Isabelle from the Long Lake Trailhead. A few hundred yards later found our boots alight upon the wilderness of Indian Peaks.
The hike is rated easy/moderate, which on the southern Michigan hiking difficulty scale ranked a bit closer to slightly difficult (or is that just me being woefully out of shape?). 2.2 miles each way, about 400 feet of elevation gain, starts at over 10k of elevation. Spectacular!
We all experienced our first glacier as we approached the lake. It was tempting to stand in the stream to obtain a few more perspectives of the stream and mountains, but none of us wanted to discover the consequences of a slip under the top shelf of the glacier.
We reached the lake just in time for sunset, and the lake calmed at times to reveal the mountain’s reflection.
We stayed about an hour, but made haste once the cold began to set in. Our trip ended with a grunt from a local who calls the wilderness home.
Quite often, travel plans do not unfold as planned. Many times that is for the better. This was a great day spent with family!