I’ve decided to get to know the Brainard Lake Recreation area a little better this year. And why not? This beautiful access point to thousands of acres of accessible forest service land is known as the most popular destination in the Boulder Ranger District.
With it’s convenient access from Boulder and Denver, beautiful lakes and trails that can take you right into the Indian Peaks, Brainard Lake Recreation Area provides an excellent jumping-off point for an amazing day (or longer) in the mountains.
When you look at the Forest Service webpage for information on visiting Brainard Lake, you’ll quickly pick up on its slant towards summer visitors. As the website states, “Because of the area’s high elevation, the best time to visit is after the snow melts in July and August”.
Considering the are will begin picking up snow again in September or October, that leaves a pretty short window.
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But, like most things, the off season shines at Brainard Lake. When the winter gate is closed and the road begins to cover with snow and ice, a dreamy landscape awaits snowshoers and skiers willing to make the two-mile trek just to get to the summer parking area.
Additionally, winter means no worry about timed entry or reservations or even parking fees.
In the winter, you mostly see people up here either getting a nice hike in or a solid training session at high altitude.
I’ve been coming to Brainard Lake this season to train on my splitboard. You aren’t going to get any downhill rides in here without heading deep into the mountains (and be sure of avalanche terrain and conditions; this is serious backcountry). But the skin up to Mitchell Lake and back ends up being about 9 miles of effort, often with no one else around.
Plus I’ll be more familiar with the area when spring and summer arrive.
I’m just getting started with my familiarity of the Brainard Lake area, and beyond skinning up the road from Gateway Trailhead to Brainard Lake and beyond, there are opportunities for trails that parallel the road like the Snowshoe Trail and CMC Ski Trail, or other loops around Lefthand Park Reservoir and the Little Raven Ski Trail.
Of course, from the Gateway Trailhead, the Sourdough Trail goes for many miles in either direction.
I look forward to exploring these more in the coming weeks and months.
Brainard Lake Recreation Area – The Basics
Brainard Lake Recreation Area is located near the town of Ward, Colorado; just west of Highway 72 (the Peak to Peak Byway).
Brainard Lake is about a 50 minute drive from Boulder and just an hour and a half from Denver. The drive is easy and beautiful itself, making it no wonder why this is one of the most popular areas in the Front Range.
Brainard Lake Reservations and Timed Entry
Reservations and Timed Entry are required at Brainard Lake in the peak summer months (mid-June to mid-October).
Brainard Lake Weather
Expect anything in Brainard Lake. Even in the summer, weather can change fast. Especially if you are hiking up into the Indian Peaks.
Brainard Lake Camping
Camping is available at the Pawnee Campground with reservations. It is only open from July through early September, so good luck!
There is backcountry camping in the Indian Peaks Wilderness that Brainard Lake provides access to. As such there is 24-hour parking available here.