Hello and welcome to my article on hiking to Lake Isabelle! My name is Katy Winge and I’m originally from Minnesota, where I grew up on and around a lot of lakes – so I have always loved water in every natural form.
From a young age I loved to play outside and that has never gone away. I also played sports growing up which led to a collegiate basketball career. Fitness and moving my body is a big part of my life and is important to me.
I moved to Colorado four years ago and instantly became obsessed with the mountains of this state. My soul and spirit sing when I’m exploring or adventuring outside, admiring the beauty of this incredible earth. I feel grounded, clear and free when I do so. Nature helps me reconnect with myself and what’s important to me. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun as well!
Long Lake Trailhead to Isabelle Lake
The hike to Lake Isabelle from Long Lake Trailhead is an adventure I have done every summer since I moved to Colorado. It’s one of my favorite hikes in this state. This year I did the hike in August and conditions were perfect. The temperature was 65/70, it was sunny, and there was hardly any wind which rarely happens on alpine hikes in Colorado.
Typically, this trail is mostly utilized during summer, from June to October. I have also done this hike in July and September but August was the best experience weather-wise. So on this August hike to Lake Isabelle I started at the Long Lake Trailhead. Here you will see a sign pointing you toward Lake Isabelle (there are a couple of signs throughout the hike to guide you).
Lake Isabelle is an out-and-back hike, so you end at the same place you start and take the same route down that you took up. Honestly, this entire hike is epic. My day was three hours long and roughly four miles round trip.
I spent a good amount of time at the actual lake too, taking in the scenery and enjoying some snacks. If you choose to go all the way around the lake, that obviously adds to your distance (around six miles in total I believe).
Terrain and Scenery on this Adventure
You truly get everything on this hiking adventure. The terrain is dirt, forest paths with some boulders/rocks, but well-marked and well kept. The start of the journey meanders along Long Lake, including a river and wetland areas. You will pass small waterfalls, wildflowers and you are surrounded by the mountains of the Indian Peaks Wilderness the entire time.
The pay off at the end is massive when you get to Lake Isabelle. Keep your eyes open for wildlife too, as the area is home to moose, elk and deer. From Lake Isabelle you can continue on the Isabelle Glacier Trail to the Isabelle Glacier, but again that will add more time and miles to your hike.
How Hard is the Hike to Lake Isabelle?
Lake Isabelle is suitable for casual hikers, but can be enjoyed by anyone. I rate it as moderate as there are some strenuous parts, and stretches of serious incline, but nothing too difficult and the majority is more level.
I was fine simply wearing my hiking boots, but I did see others using poles for assistance. It’s also important to remember that altitude plays a factor – if you aren’t used to being high up, that will add to the level of difficulty.
Lake Isabelle is a 9/10 for me in terms of enjoyment. It has everything from a nature standpoint that I look for on a hike. The trail isn’t too difficult and is under a two-hour drive from Denver, so I can do this hike in half a day if I want to. I keep coming back every summer for a reason! Logistically, it’s tough sometimes, which is the only reason why I didn’t give it a 10/10.
Where to Stay Overnight on the Trail
I haven’t stayed overnight on this trail, but you can reserve camping spots in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area where the Lake Isabelle hike is located. The camping fills up quickly, so if nothing is available the closest two towns are Ward and Nederland. You can check lodging options there.
My Best Memories at Lake Isabelle
Every time I hike to Lake Isabelle I meet someone or experience something wonderful. My favorite memory so far though was when I encountered two women two years ago, one of whom was visiting from Germany. I went in September and the weather was chilly and the water in the lake was cold!
But as I sat and took in the incredible view, I watched these women take off their shoes and walk out into the water – they were laughing, splashing and playing. I couldn’t help but smile because their joy was contagious. It inspired me to do the same, so I went into the water and told them.
I asked the German woman if she had been to the lake before and she told me it was her first time but she “hoped it wouldn’t be her last”. I watched these women let their inner child out and live in the moment. It reminded me to live in a way that makes me say “wow, I hope this isn’t my last”.
This year when I went in August, it was so warm that I put my feet in no problem and splashed around – it took me back to that memory of the two women. Lake Isabelle will remind you of the wonder and joy of the world, at least it always has for me and all those I have met on the trail.
Need to Know Before you Go
Important notes: This trail is in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (a nice area with loads of great hikes!) which you must pay to get in. You also now have to make a reservation online to reserve a day/time to hike this trail and the others within the area: recreation.gov/timed-entry/10087515.
The Long Lake parking lot is the place where this trail starts, but parking is very limited. There are other places to park, but you may end up adding a couple miles onto your trip and you will be walking along the road.
The other thing I would highly recommend is bringing lots of water, snacks, and sunscreen, and dress in layers because parts can be chilly and others quite warm. Plus, the wind that is typically at the lake can make it feel a lot colder than it really is. Enjoy every second of this colorful Colorado hike!