Brainard Lake

Substantial snow has begun to fall in the mountains, vastly limiting our ability to hike at altitude (next up.. snowshoe season!). Still craving a breathe of alpine air, however, I was able to convince Ryan to take a nice drive to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area on Saturday morning to play in the snow.

We had visited the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (located in Ward, CO which is about 45 minutes from Boulder) in the summer and although the crowds were obnoxious (no parking to be found, slow crowds making their way around the trail networks, etc.), the scenery of the Indian Peaks Wilderness in that area is unparalleled and we thoroughly enjoyed our day trip. In the winter, the main access gate as well as the fee station closes. This means that we can recreate.. for free! There is a large parking area near the closed entrance that is reserved for winter parking– as this is also a very popular area for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ski touring, and hiking.

The road to this location is steep, and this early in the morning it was also surprisingly icy. The road is well maintained and is obviously plowed, so a quick switch into 4WD and we continued on our way (the road was completely melted and dry by the time we left– around noon). We arrived to the trailhead around 9am. There were only about ten other cars in the lot, and everyone was just as cheery as Ryan and I to be out here on the beautiful bluebird morning that it was. Kids were laughing, dogs were running around, and everyone was in a chatty mood.


We started up the main road and quickly arrived at Red Rock Lake. It was very beautiful and provided an eerie chorus as the lake moaned and groaned as its ice expanded and contracted under the warmth of the sun.

The road was fairly packed down and offered up no troubles for us and our hiking boots, so we decided to continue on another two miles to Brainard Lake.

The layers of clothing gradually began to shed as the sun became more instense. Although the temperatures were only in the mid-30s, at an elevation around 10-11k ft, direct sunlight makes things HOT! We arrived to the lake and enjoyed playing along the shoreline and taking a quick cat nap on some benches nearby. There were only about two or three other parties up there with us, and we enjoyed the complete and utter silence combined with the late morning warmth and surrounding peaks.

With the time approaching 11am, we were beginning to get hungry. We didn’t bring any food or water with us on this trip as we weren’t expecting to travel very far, so we made our way back to the car. It was all downhill from there and we were making good time when we were flagged down by another couple to notify us that just about 30 yards off the trail was a momma moose and her two calves!

Being state park wildlife, they did not mind us gawking at their presence and I happily snapped away on my camera. We watched them graze for a while before continuing on our way– I was giddy of course, as seeing wildlife is always the highlight of any trip we make.

It was a great way to end our morning. Playing in our backyard on a bluebird day.. not much can top that! We will be back once we are ready for some snowshoeing, and I am excited to venture out further into the Indian Peaks Wilderness to see it in all its winter glory.

“The bluebird carries the sky on its back”.
-Henry Thoreau

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