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Brainard Lake Winter: The Road to Brainard

Distance4.73 mi
Elevation Gain358 ft
Moving Time1 hr 41 min
DifficultyModerate*
The difficulty really depends on the amount of snow
Nearest TownNederland/Ward
Food NearbyBusey Smokehouse

Brainard Lake Winter Road

Brainard Lake in the winter starts from the gates outside of the main entrance, but don’t let that discourage you as there is still plenty to do. One of the easier hikes to do is to take the Brainard Lake Winter Road that leads directly to Brainard Lake.

Getting Started

All winter hikes at Brainard Lake start in the same location, the parking lot just before you get to the entry gate. The parking is home to the Brainard Gateway Trailhead. From the Gateway the easiest thing to do is to take the road or you can take the Sourdough Trail which will loop around in the woods and take you to the road. From the road it is simple…just follow the road towards Brainard Lake!

Red Rock Lake

There are a couple of stops on your way to Brainard Lake and the first one is Red Rock Lake. Red Rock Lake is only about a third of a mile down the road and will be on the left side. There are usually some trails already packed down for access to the lake, one on either side of the parking area (which is covered in snow usually). When you make your way down to the lake be careful because the lake will most likely be frozen, but it will be hard to see the edge because of the snow. You want to make sure not to step in any water or ice on the edge if you can’t see it.

The Frozen Red Rock Lake stretches about 100 yards tp a line of evergreen trees.  Behind the trees are the Indian Peaks.  This is just a few steps from Brainard Lake Road
Red Rock Lake Just off of Brainard Lake Road

Personally I think this lake is really cool. It is small enough to see across and it gives you the first look of some mountain tops peaking through in the distance. When you are finished enjoying the views its time to head back to the road.

The Road

The road itself can have anywhere from no snow to several feet of snow on it depending on the day. Because it is such a popular are for hikers and cross country skiing, the snow is typically very well packed down and easy to handle. There are also several places where the snow drifts and leaves bare pavement.

Brainard Lake Road with a foot or two of snow on it lined on either side by evergreen trees.
Snow Covered Brainard Lake Road

Brainard Lake Road does have a consistent but not challenging incline for most of the way. Along the road you will run into the campground at just over a mile and a half in. This is your next major milestone. The campground and restrooms are closed in the winter. From the front of the campground it is just about a half mile until you make it to Brainard Lake.

Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake is beautiful as always and might look even better due to having to walk the two miles down the road instead of driving it! When you get closer to the lake is usually when the wind starts to really pick up in the winter. It isn’t uncommon for the snow to be windswept as you arrive at the lake with only a couple of inches on the ground. On the other hand 5 or 6 foot drifts are also normal around the sides of the lake!

The views of the snow covered mountains never disappoint.

The snow swept field leading up to Brainard Lake from Brainard Lake Road.  Behind the Lake is a line of trees and then the Indian Peaks.
The and Brainard Lake Indian Peaks from the Edge of Brainard Lake Road

While the road to Brainard might not be the most exciting hike, it is one of the most popular. The views to this point are great and the hike isn’t too challenging if you aren’t used to snow hikes. From the lake you can continue onto other trails or treat it as an out back. Either way I think you will have a very enjoyable day on the snow!

Video

Here is a quick video I put together for the Brainard Lake Winter Road. This was taken early in the season and you can see that there isn’t much snow on the road yet. Later trips i have taken have seen drifts in the feet though. If you enjoy this time-lapsed look at the hike make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. Note: scrolling through the video helps smooth out some of the choppiness from the time lapse.

Time Lapse of Brainard Lake Road

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 4.73 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 358 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,364 feet. I was also moving for a total of 1 hours and 41 minutes.

Effort

The effort on the road to Brainard Lake is dependent on a lot of factors. At its base it is an easier hike on a road with a bit of an incline as you go. When you add snow it could be more challenging. Because Brainard is so popular the snow that is on the road is usually packed down pretty well. I would still suggest having some form of traction device.

Terrain

At its base the hike from the winter parking area to Brainard lake is just a hike on a road. However, those conditions can change drastically depending on the amount of snow that is around. On the day that I went on this hike the snow was very mild. I went there a few weeks later and the snow was about 4 feet tall and people were cross country skiing. The road also tends to get drifts of snow where one area is 4 to 5 feet deep and a few hundred yards further up the road and there is bare road. So kind of be ready for anything. I would still suggest having some form of traction device.

Access

Brainard Lake has moved to a ticketing system in the summer months for access to the parking areas. You can find more information on that at Recreation.Gov. In the winter months the gate is closed and you have to park at the lot just outside of the park entrance. This lot has room for about 50 cars I would estimate. There are pit toilets that are available year round.

Access to the winter and summer lots are on the same raod, Brainard Lake Road. This Road can be found on the Peak to Peak highway (CO-72) between Nederland and Estes Park.

Wrapping up the Road to Brainard Lake

Brainard lake is one of my favorite places in the state of Colorado. It is beautiful and big and a little less crowded than Rocky Mountain National Park. While the summer leads to some great hikes, the winter includes plenty to do but just from a little further away.

The winter hiking is full of snow and beauty but the added two miles does make it take a bit longer to get places. And the wind can be a bit discouraging but overall it is beautiful and I love it. Walking on the road is great as it keeps the need for snow skills low and still allows for some great views.

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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