While it’s 40 degrees in Boulder we decided to go find some snow to play in – without the hassles of I70 and a full day commitment that alpine skiing usually entails.
Where to go? Brainard Lake is a terrific destination for snowshoes, cross country skiing in Winter and we’d like to share this wonderful snowshoe hike with you!
Why snowshoe at Brainard Lake?
Quick question … why snowshoes? First of all, it’s easier, less expensive, and usually safer than backcountry skiing… going up and down hills on snowshoes is far easier than cross-country skis (especially in deep snow), and let’s face it – the gear is cheaper and the knowledge to do it nearly everyone already possesses (you CAN walk, right?) And it’s a great work out and gets you outside!
So Brainard is an extremely popular destination in the spring and summer (hello moose sightings and wildflowers) as well as winter… and the bonus is you don’t have to pay to get in during winter! The first snowshoe hike we’ll talk about Trish and I just did mid Jan 2019 (a few days after Boulder got 1-2” of very wet snow – At over 10,000’ Brainard got 6-8” of pow… Boulder was mid 40s and sunny. Brainard, which can be quite windy, was calm, sunny, and in the low 20s. (hence light fluffy pow when you ventured off the track)
How to get to Brainard Lake Snowshoe Trail
We start the hike right at the pay station (the gate just before is closed so park either on the street heading up to the gate or in the large lot to the right. There is a well-placed restroom too.
The trailhead is on the left of the closed road and (not so) creatively called SnowShoe Trail. (See trail map) The trail is lovely! The quiet of the woods, an occasional open field (summertime lake) and well protected from any wind. There are some rolling hills and a gentle altitude gain of only 500-600’. Even on a busy Sunday, there was not much traffic on this trail. Most people were on the road, which was wider and more open- this is also an option though not nearly as bucolic or scenic. There is a point when you cross the road, so be on the lookout for the trail picking up on the other side just 50-100 feet from the outlet.
From the parking lot to the lake and back is just a hair under 5 miles. It took us about 3 hours round trip but it could take longer if you go slower or take more stops.
Now on the day we were there (A mid-afternoon on a Sunday 2 days after a storm), there were some AT skiers, cross-country skiers, LOTS of snowshoers, a snow-biker, a few hikers only with yak-trax (mostly walking the road but a few were on the boot-packed trail)… you **could** hike this trail without snowshoes, yet if you ventured off the trail, you could quickly sink you to your waist in many spots. We don’t advise this trail without snowshoes. If you don’t have snowshoes stick to the road. Dogs are not permitted on most of this trail but we did see one couple with their smallish and very cute dog in a backpack.
My English teacher would cringe if I was to try and describe much more of this hike so I’ll let the pictures do the talking and just do a touch of narration…
Directions to Brainard Lake Snowshoe Trail from Boulder
So how do you get to this winter wonderland?
From Boulder, head north to Lee Hill Rd (leaving the Dakota Ridge)
Follow Lee Hill west until it merges with Left Hand Canyon Rd…
Keep going North thru Ward.
When you hit the peak-peak (rt 72) and make a quick right-left jog onto Brainard Lake Rd. and take that to the parking area (about 2.5mi)
It’s a beautiful ride! Enjoy!