Brainard Lake is located in Ward, Colorado and part of the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests. Directions: turn left (i.e., west) off of CO-72 onto Brainard Lake road and drive 5-6 miles to the trailhead. We visited in early May so there was still a lot of snow on the roads and trails. Primary winter time activities include snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking with leashed dogs, horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking. The final two miles of Brainard Lake road were closed to all motorized vehicles due to snowy conditions. However, there was ample free parking at the trailheads east of the road closure. Further, parking is free from October to mid-June and a fee is required the rest of the time. We did not see restrooms or water during our May visit but they should be available during summer months. Also, cell phone service was nonexistent.
We hiked 2.2 miles one way on Brainard Lake road since it was closed to motorized vehicles. The elevation gain was about 300 feet from 10,000 feet to 10,300 feet. We decided not to hike on the designated snowshoeing trails because we did not have snowshoes. We saw several groups of people using mountain bikes to quickly transport themselves and either their skis, snowboards, or fishing poles up the closed portion of the road.
Red Rock Lake was the first scenic destination we came upon during our hike towards Brainard Lake. Camping and fires are not permitted near the lake but fishing and non-motorized boats are allowed.
We continued toward Brainard Lake by hiking on Brainard Lake road. The road was covered with several feet of snow with a few spots of dry road. Although peaceful, the hike/snowshoe on this road is not particularly scenic because of the dense trees adjacent to the road. However, we saw a mole and several Gray Jays and chipmunks near the road. What’s more, moose can be seen near the trails and they consider dogs to be enemies so it is important to keep your dog leashed at all times.
Brainard Lake is surrounded by breathtaking views of mountains to the west and north. In addition, it is the starting point for trails that head to Mitchell Lake, Blue Lake, and Long Lake.
In the summer, Brainard Lake is a popular destination for camping because many of the 55 Pawnee campground camp sites include benches, fire pits, access to several hiking trails, and an up close and clear view of the mountains to the west.
It is nestled next to 12,000 foot mountains including Mount Audubon, Little Pawnee Peak and Shoshoni Peak. My pictures do not do the scenery justice because they were taken at the end of a cloudy day.
In sum, we only experienced a small part of what Brainard Lake and the surrounding trails have to offer but it was readily apparent that it provides family friendly outdoor recreation in the middle of Colorado’s majestic scenery. Related blog posts you might find interesting: