Mt Toll, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Mt Toll - 9.1 miles
Brainard Lake Recreation Area
|Round-Trip Length:||9.1 miles (distance and elevation gains will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,525' - 12,979' (12,979' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,454' net elevation gain (+2,923' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Mt Toll - 9.1 Miles Round-Trip
Mt Toll (12,979') is located 4.55 miles from Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Though no maintained trails reach Mt Toll, well-established cross-country routes lead approximately two miles past Blue Lake (11,355') to the summit.
The routes are not technical when free of snow, but still physically demanding and should only be attempted by experienced hikers. Visitors will enjoy several lakes, abundant flowers and miles of open alpine travel on the hike to Mt Toll:
The trail moves quickly to Mitchell Lake, which occupies a damp 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 lakes. 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').
Blue Lake fills a large rock basin framed by Little Pawnee Peak (south), Mount Toll and Paiute Peak (west) and Mt Audubon (north).
Here the maintained trail ends and you must choose your route to Mt Toll, determined by which shore of Blue Lake you'll climb to reach the upper valley.
Ultimately you'll need to be in the southwest corner of the valley for a non-technical ascent, so the most direct approach is up the south shore. The north shore route is longer but more scenic, highlighted by Upper Blue Lake and long stretches of open snowfields.
The following description scales the north shore of Blue Lake into the upper valley:
Follow the social trail around Blue Lake's north shore to begin the first climb (2.75 miles : 11,379'). Though marked by cairns, thick brush, snow and talus make the exact path difficult to follow.
Keep an intuitive heading into the upper valley, which widens considerably as you progress. The cross-country route levels on a wide, rocky bench about 100 yards from Upper Blue Lake (3.35 miles : 11,901'), which fills a rocky depression between Mt Toll and Paiute Peak.
Here you must begin making your way south across the valley. From Upper Blue Lake, scale the talus slope to the south, which crests over a massive perennial snow bowl.
Drop into the bowl and aim for the southwest corner of the valley. Once across (3.95 miles : 12,090'), you must climb a near-vertical wall to reach the saddle between Little Pawnee Peak and Mt Toll. Improvise your way up, avoiding slick snow and loose rock.
Travel levels on the saddle between Little Pawnee and Toll with your first glimpse over the divide (4.25 miles : 12,540'). Identify a good line up Mt Toll's south side for the .3 mile, 439' push to the summit.
While the terrain is initially clear, talus quickly absorbs any path you take and requires a very careful scramble to the summit. Remain patient and steer clear of drop offs and couloirs.
The Mt Toll summit (4.55 miles : 12,979') is small and pointy with one rock wind shelter. Panoramic views include Little Pawnee Peak (12,466'), Pawnee Peak (12,943'), Shoshoni Peak (12,967'), Apache Peak (13,441') Niwot Ridge, Paiute Peak (13,088'), Mt Audubon (13,223') and peaks from Rocky National Park, the Never Summer Range and Gore Range.
- 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 05.200 W105 35.836 — 1.1 miles : Cross Mitchell Lake inlet
- 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 05.432 W105 37.185 — 2.75 miles : Begin climb up north shore of Blue Lake
- N40 05.435 W105 37.459 — 3.0 miles : Steep climb through open alpine landscape
- N40 05.510 W105 37.609 — 3.3 miles : Tundra bench at Upper Blue Lk - cross valley
- N40 05.391 W105 37.756 — 3.55 miles : Midway point across valley
- N40 05.138 W105 37.802 — 3.95 miles : Reach southwest corner of valley
- N40 05.127 W105 38.027 — 4.25 miles : Level on saddle beneath Mt Toll
- N40 05.257 W105 38.096 — 4.45 miles : Methodical scramble over steep talus
- N40 05.321 W105 38.014 — 4.55 miles : Mt Toll summit
- The descent off the summit and cross-country travel back to Blue Lake can be equally demanding and time consuming. Plan travel time accordingly.
- Though only .6 miles long, the terrain between Blue Lake and Upper Blue Lake can be difficult to navigate. Steep talus, lingering snow, large boulders, and thick willow patches that hide terrestrial pitfalls may slow travel. In some instances it's quite possible to become 'cliffed out'. Tread carefully on this stretch.
- Most of the trail to Mt Toll runs at or above treeline, and is highly exposed to the elements. Anticipate strong sun, wind, cool temperatures, and rapidly changing weather conditions. Carry versatile layers, sun protection, and ample water. Get a very early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Only fit and experienced hikers should attempt travel beyond Blue Lake to Mt Toll.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (which covers Mitchell, Blue, Long and Isabelle lakes) May 1 - Nov 30.
- Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.
- 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 packstock combined.
- Campfires are prohibited on the east side of the Continental Divide (including the Four Lakes Travel Zone), as well as at Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.
- Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.
- Stock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.
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 Mt Toll.
Directions to Trailhead
Mt Toll is accessed from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead within 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