Mt Toll, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Mt Toll - 9.1 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

View of Paiute Peak (13,088') and Mt Audubon (13,223') from Mt Toll

View of Paiute Peak (13,088') and Mt Audubon (13,223') from Mt Toll

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)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

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.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

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.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key 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 05.200 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

Worth Noting

  • 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.
  • An arete occurs where two adjacent glaciers erode toward one another, leaving only a thin, steep rock ridge between their parallel U-shaped valleys. Pawnee Peak and Little Pawnee Peak cap such a formation.

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.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Sunny conditions, 7AM start, solo. Took the north shore route around Blue Lake to gain the shelf. Then Ascended up a narrow slot on rock beside the remaining snow bank heading southwest to reach the snow field beneath Toll. Then up the vertical wall which, while steep, was more pesky than exhausting. Super windy on the saddle but easy route finding as you just pick your way up between large talus to the summit. Beautiful small summit, 360 views east and west, just me and some marmots. Between fatigue and loose talus, the descent down the steep wall caused me a couple of slips and a bent hiking pole. But not too bad. Took the south shore to get around Blue Lake and ran into lots of shelves but aside from a little backtracking made it down fairly easily. Still not sure which shore is better for circumnavigating the lake. Received a hero's welcome back at Blue Lake as several groups had been watching me descend from the summit via binoculars. Back at the car by 2. Total time: 7 hours up and down. Definitely recommend it for anyone who are looking for a more sporting goal beyond Audubon or Pawnee. "
Howard  -  Austin, TX  -  Date Posted: March 30, 2016
"I hiked this trail on a sunny Saturday in August. Plenty of parking at 6AM. Not much wind when I got above treeline, which was a change from the other trips I've made on Brainard Lake trails. I followed the directions with one exception, I think. Instead of climbing the talus slope up to the north end of the upper valley and Upper Blue Lake, then heading south across the upper valley, I headed south immediately after getting to the western edge of Blue Lake and climbed into the southern end of the upper valley. This was an easy climb and it looked like it was much easier to make the southern hike first, rather than trying to travel south across the rocky upper valley. I did climb over a huge washout to get to the base of the near vertical wall up to the saddle, so this may not be possible earlier in the season if there's a lot of runoff. After climbing up to the saddle between Pawnee and Toll the final ascent of Toll was rather easy. About 20-25 minutes. The near vertical wall seemed to be the trickiest part of the hike."
Matthew Sexton  -  Erie, Colorado  -  Date Posted: August 26, 2015
"I hiked this trail with my dad and it was awesome. We drove from Colorado Springs so we didn't get to the trailhead until around 9 AM, and the parking lot was only about half full (weekday). The path to Blue Lake was easy to follow and had several nice views of the lower lakes, as well as great views of the surrounding peaks. Blue Lake itself was quite beautiful, especially with Mt. Toll's prominent peak rising above it. We took the north shore route, but diverged from the social trails rather quickly for a higher scramble route. Most of the rocks were stable enough so the scrambling wasn't much of a problem. The north shore definitely offers better views like the description says. I only took a small detour to Upper Blue Lake to take a few pictures, my father didn't even bother but I'd recommend it. From there we took a fairly high route to the southern base of Toll. We did have to adjust our route several times for easier travel, and at one point had to cross a fairly large snowfield which we knew had a stream running under it but luckily found no hollows beneath us. The last stretch up to the saddle below the summit was pretty steep but we were relieved that it was mostly alpine tundra with little scrambling involved. To make the scramble from the trails end at Blue Lake to the top of the saddle took us about 2 hours. The top of the saddle is a rather large flat area with great views. The lakes you passed on the way up are quite beautiful to the east, and Lake Granby was clearly visible to the west along with the rugged peaks of the Rockies. Unfortunately for us as soon as we crested the saddle we were confronted with some pretty dark clouds to the west headed our way, so we decided to scrap the extra hour or so we estimated scrambling to the summit and back down would take. So we just ate some trail mix took a few pictures and headed back down to avoid a steep downhill thunderstorm scramble. Right as we were heading down we felt a few sporadic rain drops fall. We took a more direct route back but still used the northern shore of Blue Lake. This route only took us about an hour to get back to the trail's end at the east shore of Blue Lake. Of course, soon as we get about half way back to the trail we turn around and there's clear blue skies at the summit. Better safe than sorry though. Once we got back to the trail on the east end of Blue Lake we took the trail fairly quickly as we had a mini-road trip planned for after hiking. The storm we had seen ended up going south of us, as we saw the rain and heard some thunder. People wise, we passed 10-15 people on the way up. At Blue Lake there was about another 10-15 people, one was even fishing on the lake in an inner tube he hiked up with. Once the scrambling began however we saw far fewer people. About the time we got to Upper Blue Lake we heard some voices and finally located their 3 owners about a quarter mile away in a ravine headed down from Paiute Peak. Climbing up to the saddle we passed two hikers on their way down, and at the top of the saddle we glimpsed 3 hikers on the summit southwest of Toll that quickly disappeared. This trail also had quite a number of dogs on them. Overall hike time was about 5 hours. I thoroughly enjoyed this hike and the scenery was top notch. Thanks ProTrails for giving me the idea! Skylar"
McSky  -  Maryland  -  Date Posted: August 28, 2013
"Is there any where I could get a hold of a more detailed description of this route?"
Tom  -  Wisconsin  -  Date Posted: April 23, 2012


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