Brainard Rec Area: Long Lake Loop (Winter)

Distance7.29 mi
Elevation Gain584 ft
My Time2 hr 59 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownWard
Food NearbyBusey Brews

Brainard: Long Lake Loop (Winter)

I have been to the Brainard Lake Recreation area several times in the summer and absolutely loved it. I decided to give it a try in the winter with the Brainard: Long Lake Loop (Winter) and it was might be even more beautiful with the snow on the ground.

Getting Started

One difference at Brainard in the winter is that there is only one parking area available. That is at the Brainard Gateway trail before you get to the pay booth. From there there are a couple of trails that you can take but to get to Brainard, Long or Isabelle lakes you need to walk down the road.

The road varied on how much snow was on it. There were some people in snow shoes, some people on cross country ski’s, and I was just wearing boots with microspikes. This obviously can vary greatly but do what is comfortable.

I never realized how long of a walk it was but Brainard Lake, where I usually park, is two miles down this entry road. The views on the road are pretty nice and the differing snow levels kept it interesting.

The walk up the entry road towards Brainard Lake.  Snow covers the road with pine trees with deep green needles on either side of the road.  At the end of the road are the snow covered Indian Peaks range on the way to the Long Lake Loop in winter.

Red Rock Lake

The first stop on the walk is Red Rock Lake. This is the smallest and first lake that you will run into and it is only four-tenths of a mile away from the parking area. Even on this warmer day the lake was frozen but still had amazing views.

Red Rock Lake frozen in the foreground with the Indian Peaks range in the background.  Part of the Brainard: Long Lake Loop (winter)

Brainard Lake

Next up on the lake tour is Brainard Lake. Now this is usually where I park so I was starting to get comfortable. The lake was also frozen but surrounded with snow covered mountains that were stunning. The loop around the lake is open for walking if you wish but I stayed on the south side of the lake so I could connect to the Long Lake trail.

A snow covered mountain in the background towering over Brainard Lake.  The is the second lake on the Brainard Long Lake (Winter) Loop

After the lake if you stay to the south you will come to a small parking area with a rest area. Opposite of the parking area is the trailhead for Long Lake. When you get onto the trail the conditions change. There is a lot more snow than on the road. Near the trailhead the snow was well packed and it was easy to see where the trail led.

The beginning of the Long Lake Trail  in the snow with pine trees surrounding it.  This is part of the Brainard Long Lake Loop (winter)

Despite how well the snow is packed on the narrow 8 inch trail in front of you beware of the sides. Immediately next to the trail on either direction was loose snow and my hiking pole sunk down a few feet!

About a half mile on this trail and the trail sort of disappeared. It was windswept and I had to look for landmarks and go in the direction that I thought was correct. It is also a good idea to have a mapping app running, like Alltrails, so you make sure you are in the right spot.

Long Lake

While I was hoping to make it to Lake Isabelle, I decided to cut it short at Long Lake because the wind had blown any semblance of the trail away and was really picking up. That being said Long Lake was an excellent place to stop and enjoy the views.

A frozen Long Lake ringed in the background by the Indian Peaks Range on the Brainard: Long Lake Loop (Winter) hike.

That is long lake ahead of me surrounded by the Indian Peaks Range. The lake was frozen and mostly snow covered. The trails around the lake were also pretty much non existent. To make the loop I headed to the north where I saw a bridge that covered the frozen stream that connects Long and Brainard lakes.

The frozen stream connecting Long and Brainard Lakes on the Brainard: Long Lake Loop (winter) hike

The stream wasn’t completely frozen which made my decision to head back instead of go forward. I didn’t really want to end up stepping on a thawing stream or lake that were covered. It still made for a good hike.

The Return from Long Lake

The return from Long Lake started out pretty well. The path was pretty well packed until it wasn’t. I spent about 100 yards postholing. For those of you who don’t know what postholing is, it is when you step into deep snow and your leg sinks. For me this was to about hip deep.

My legs hip deep in snow on the Brainard: Long Lake Loop (winter) hike.

As you can imagine walking through snow that is hip deep can be very difficult. Those 100 yards were pretty brutal and I was exhausted. This is where snow shoes really help out to keep you above the snow. Unfortunately, mine were strapped to my backpack and I was going to put them on as soon as I reached some solid snow but never did. Big shout out to my Kuhl Klash pants that didn’t let any moisture through even when I was hip deep! The zippered pockets even kept everything where it was supposed to be and dry as well!

After the 100 yard postholing marathon I made it to the Long Lake parking area and took the road the rest of the way back. It was a wonderful day to be hiking and I really enjoyed my time up at Brainard!

Elevation and Distance

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 7.29 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 584 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,562 feet. I was also moving for a total of 2 hours and 59 minutes.

Effort

A good majority of this hike was easy to handle. However, when I got into the deep snow up to my hips it made every step feel like I was moving a mountain. Here is the step count from my Fitbit.

My step count for the Long Lake Winter Loop was 19,085 steps.

Terrain

About two thirds of this hike is walking on the paved street that had differing levels of snow on it. That was the easy part. When moving onto the trails in the woods the snow becomes unpredictable. As I got closer to Long Lake I was falling about hip deep into snow. In the winter these conditions can change on a daily basis.

Access

The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is located near Ward, Colorado on the Peak to Peak highway (Rte 72) and has several hiking trails, the Pawnee Campground, several lakes and is part of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and the Roosevelt National Forest.

During the winter season there is only one parking area available at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead. It fills up very quick. There are no fees during the winter operating season. Restrooms (pit toilets) are located near the parking.

Wrapping Up: Brainard: Long Lake Loop (Winter)

This was a great hike in one of my favorite areas to hike in. There was a good balance between snow and solid ground to test the winter hiking skills. The views at Brainard just can’t be beat and this hike was no exception.

Most of the challenges I had on the Brainard: Long Lake Loop (winter) hike were of my own doing. I was too late to put my snow shoes on and at that point I was already hip dip and had to fight through the snow. When I go back I will definitely be quicker to put them on.

Brainard is popular and the trails are mostly easy to follow. Make sure you are prepared with a mapping strategy for when you get to spots that are completely snow covered and the path isn’t clear. Otherwise enjoy the wonderful views and hiking that the area has to offer!

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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