Posted: Mar 11, 2014 by Sam Szarka
Serving as a gateway to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the Brainard Lake Recreation area is a highly popular trailhead and campground in the Roosevelt National Forest near Ward, Colorado. Together with views of the Indian Peaks to the west as well as trails that lead to several alpine lakes, a small glacier and the adjacent Indian Peaks Wilderness, the Brainard Lake Recreation area offers a popular and worthwhile destination.
How to Get There
Brainard Lake Recreation area is located near the towns of Ward, and Nederland, in north central Colorado. From Nederland, drive approx. 13 miles north on Hwy 72 to the tiny hamlet of Ward. Turn west onto Cnty Rd. 102 (Brainard Lake Rd.) and continue to the fee station and beyond. A narrow road circles Brainard Lake itself and offers access to the many trails that head north and west into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Two side roads, Mitchell Lake and Long Lake Road connect Brainard Lake Road to Mitchell Lake and Pawnee Pass/Long Lake trail heads.
Brainard Lake Trails
Four main trails have their trailheads at the recreational area, making Brainard Lake a popular destination for hikers and wilderness adventurers.
Mitchell Lake Trail – Leads to Mitchell Lake and further to Blue Lake. A signed side road leads to the Mitchell Lake trailhead from the Brainard Lake main loop. A total of 0.9 miles to Mitchell Lake. The trail continues another 1.5 miles to Blue Lake, a lake set beneath a ring of high altitude peaks above tree-line.
Beaver Creek Trail – The Beaver Creek trail offers a north-south route that connects to the Mt. Audubon trail (1.7 mi.) and to the Coney Lakes trail (5.1 mi.) in the Middle St. Vrain drainage to the north.
Pawnee Pass Trail – A heavily used trail, the Pawnee Pass Trail travels along the northern edge of Long Lake, then climbs steeply to Lake Isabelle (2.1 mi.) that is situated in a high altitude cirque formed by the surrounding Apache, Shoshone, and Navajo Peaks. At Lake Isabelle, the Pawnee Pass Trail connects with the Isabelle Glacier Trail which heads further west along the northern short of Lake Isabelle to the Isabelle Glacier. At the lake, the Pawnee Pass Trail veers to the northwest toward 12,541 ft. Pawnee Pass. This final section of the trail is steepest and contains several switchbacks along the way, but offers spectacular views of the entire valley and the surrounding peaks. Total trail length is 4.6 miles one-way.
Niwot Cutoff – A short trail that cuts through alpine woodland and connects to the Jean Lunning Trail that traces a route along the southern edge of Long Lake.
Jean Lunning Trail – A short but scenic trail that traces that southern edge of Long Lake, heading through a wet woodland and over several small bridges over creeks that often water meadows of bright wildflowers in the summer months. The Jean Lunning Trail connects to the Pawnee Pass Trail (1.9 mi.) The trail can be used as an alternate route to Lake Isabelle by linking to the Pawnee Pass Trail and then the Isabelle Glacier Trail.
During the operating months (mid June through October) recreation area fees are required. The fees are used by the national forest to maintain the recreational area facilities and for trail maintenance required due to the high amount of traffic. For up to date information of fees and related information, see the Arapaho & Roosevelt Nat’l Forest Brainard Lake Rec. Area page.
Hiking / Camping
Hiking is permitted throughout the recreational area as well as within the adjacent Indian Peaks Wilderness. Overnight camping in the wilderness however, requires a permit, and requires abiding by the rules which includes campfire restrictions among others. For more information, see the Indian Peaks Wilderness page.