Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Area Status: Open
Photo showing plenty of snow at Brainard

Winter Regulations in Effect

Winter regulations are in effect as of Nov. 15. Brainard Lake Recreation Area is closed to motor vehicles. Winter recreators are able to park at the Gateway Trailhead/Winter Parking Lot without a permit and access the area from there. To see winter use regulations, visit

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is set in a glacially carved valley offering visitors spectacular panoramic views of Brainard Lake, surrounding subalpine forest, and high peaks along the Continental Divide. Because of the area's high elevation, snow typically remains until July. For road updates, check Boulder Ranger District Road Status.

CAUTION: Several trailheads, such as Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trailheads, lead west into Indian Peaks Wilderness. Visitors entering the Wilderness are responsible for following all Indian Peaks Wilderness regulations and permit requirements. Dogs must be on a leash in the Wilderness.

Requirements – A parking reservation is required to park inside Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Visit Brainard Lake Recreation Area Seasonal Information to purchase parking reservations and view seasonal regulations for camping, pets, shooting, skiing, and more.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: To reduce crowding, the Forest has a parking reservation system for Brainard Lake Recreation Area. 
Operational Hours:
  • Summer Operating Season: The seasonal gate, located at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead, is open from approximately mid-June through mid-October. 
  • Winter Season: Fees are not charged during the winter operating season. Winter recreationists can park at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead to access area cross country ski and snowshoe trails. Never block any gate with your vehicle, whether open or closed.
Fees: A parking reservation is required to park in Brainard Lake Recreation Area. There is no fee to park at the Gateway Trailhead and enter Brainard Lake Recreation Area by foot/bike. Please see for all fees and additional information. Visitors with an agency pass receive a discount on parking reservations during checkout at, but they still must purchase a reservation.
Usage: Heavy
  • Prohibited: Pack animals (horses/llamas); recreational shooting (except for legal hunting) and being on trails posted closed.
  • Brainard Lake Recreation Area Summer Season Regulations (May 1 - Nov 14): Dogs must be on a hand-held leash at all times; when open, developed camping is only allowed at Pawnee Campground (no camping in closed campgrounds); dispersed camping is not allowed in Brainard Lake Recreation Area May 1 - Nov 14.
  • Brainard Lake Recreation Area Winter Season Regulations (Nov 15 - Apr 30): Motorized vehicles are prohibited; dogs allowed only on Brainard Lake and Lefthand Park Reservoir Roads; primitive camping is allowed 1/4 mile away from developed recreation sites (e.g. trailheads, picnic areas) except Red Rock Lake; Only Skis are allowed on Little Raven and CMC Ski Trail.
  • Fishing and Hunting: Permitted in accordance with regulations established by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
Closest Towns: Ward, Colorado
Water: Not yet available
Restroom: Vault toilets
Operated By: Vista Recreation
Information Center: Visitor Information: 970-295-6600; Contact Us

General Information


From Colorado Highway 72 at Ward, turn west onto the Brainard Lake Road. Travel 2.5 miles to the Brainard Gateway Trailhead, and continue another two miles to Brainard Lake. The entrance station is open seasonally.


Mountain Biking

Recreation areas with activity Mountain Biking:

Bike racks are located at the main Brainard parking lot and the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking lot.

Mountain biking is allowed on certain trails within and adjacent to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Bikes are permitted on the CMC, Waldrop, South Saint Vrain and Sourdough Trails, Left Hand Park Reservoir Road and all paved roads. Trails leading west from Brainard Lake Recreation Area enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, where all mechanized recreation is prohibited.

Fatbiking - during winter regulations, Little Raven Trail (#802) becomes a ski-only trail and is not open to cyclists.

Difficulty Level: Easy to Intermediate

Road Cycling

Recreation areas with activity Road Cycling:

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is a good side-trip for road cyclists. It is approximately five miles west from Colorado Highway 72 at Ward to reach Brainard Lake. A scenic overlook at the east end of Brainard Lake offers a spectacular view of the lake, surrounding forest and peaks of the Continental Divide. Restrooms, drinking water and trash services are provided at Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Difficulty Level: Easy to Intermediate

Campground Camping

Recreation areas with activity Campground Camping:

Pawnee Campground provides camping opportunities at Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Lake and Pond Fishing

Recreation areas with activity Lake and Pond Fishing:

River and Stream Fishing

Recreation areas with activity River and Stream Fishing:

Viewing Scenery

Recreation areas with activity Viewing Scenery:


Recreation areas with activity Picnicking: Brainard Lake is surrounded by subalpine forest set in a glacially-carved valley. The craggy peaks of the continental divide provide a spectacular backdrop for visitors to enjoy. With a wide variety of year-round outdoor recreation opportunities available, Brainard Lake Recreation Area is the most popular destination on the Boulder Ranger District.
No. of Sites 30
Reservation Info None
Fire Information Unless seasonal restrictions are in effect, campfires must be attended at all times and cold to the touch with the bare hand before being abandoned. Collection of dead and down wood is allowed; do not break branches from standing trees for firewood.
Difficulty Level: Easy

Scenic Driving

Recreation areas with activity Scenic Driving:

Boating - Non-Motorized

Recreation areas with activity Boating - Non-Motorized:

XC Skiing/Snowshoeing

Recreation areas with activity XC Skiing/Snowshoeing:

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is among the premier destinations for non-motorized winter recreation along the Front Range. The Brainard Gateway Trailhead is located 2.5 miles west of Colorado Highway 72, at the seasonal closure gate on Brainard Lake Road. From here, the Waldrop Trail, Sourdough Trail, South Saint Vrain Trail and Left Hand Park Reservoir Road are accessible to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Snowshoe trail is not restricted to snowshoers only, however it is not well-designed for skiing. The CMC Trail and Little Raven Trail are restricted to skiers only. Dogs are prohibited on all single track trails in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area except for Sourdough Trail from November 15 - April 30.

Warming Shelters none
Difficulty Level: Easy to Difficult

Know Before You Go

Related Information

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  Longitude : 

  Elevation : 
10,050' - 10,600'