Brainard Lake Recreation Area


Photo showing plenty of snow at Brainard

The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is the most popular destination on the Boulder Ranger District. Because of the area's high elevation, the best time to visit is after the snow melts in July and August. For road status, check the Road Status Table.

PLEASE NOTE: Visitors that hike trails leading west from the Long Lake or Mitchell Lake Trailheads are responsible for following all Indian Peaks Wilderness permit requirements and regulations including group size, camping and campfire restrictions.

Late June through October 18th (summer operating season):

  • Brainard Lake is closing for the summer season on October 18, 2020 at 5pm.
  • See the Current Conditions section for more details on 2020 season changes.
  • Summer Season Map
  • Motor vehicle access is available 24 hours a day
  • To protect muddy and snowpacked trails, the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking areas do not open typically until late June
  • A fee applies. A self-service fee station is located beyond the entry booth
  • Expect 1-2 hour traffic delays on weekends
  • Camping is allowed at Pawnee Campground (open July through early September).
  • Check summer trail conditions before your visit
  • See "Restrictions" below for additional regulations

Mid-October through late June (winter season):

  • Winter Season Map
  • The gate is closed and the area free of charge for winter recreationists
  • Park at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead 
  • Between November 15 and April 30, dogs are only allowed on the Brainard Lake and Lefthand Park Reservoir Roads, and Sourdough Trail (#835)
  • Check winter trail conditions before your visit
  • See "Restrictions" below for additional regulations

Recreational shooting closures exist year round in this area. Hunting is allowed in accordance with regulations set by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Moose are present in the area. Be considerate of all wildlife. Approaching closely can be threatening to the wildlife and their reactions are dangerously unpredictable. 

At a Glance

Operational Hours:
  • Summer Operating Season: Please see "Current Conditions" section above for updates to the 2020 season. The seasonal gate, located at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead, is open from approximately late June through mid-October. When the fee booth is not staffed, visitors are expected to use the self-service fee station on the north side of the entry portal.
  • 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.
Rentals & Guides: Colorado Mountain Club Brainard Cabin will be closed for the 2020-2021 winter season.
Fees Brainard Lake Recreation Area fees apply during the summer operating season (typically late June through mid-October):
  • Passenger Vehicles & RVs (per vehicle/3 days): $12
  • Vans (per vehicle/1 day): $30
  • Buses (per vehicle/1 day): $48
  • Motorcycles (per cycle/3 days): $7
  • Hiker/Biker/Walker (per person/3 days): $1
  • Short-term Bicyclist: 30 minute free pass
  • American Land & Leisure Season Pass (passenger vehicles): $66
  • American Land & Leisure Season Pass (hiker/biker/walker): $24
Interagency Annual, Military, Senior or Access passes, Golden Age and Golden Access passes are accepted. No fee is charged when the seasonal gate is closed (winter season).
Usage: Heavy
Best Season: Mid July through August
  • 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 only allowed north of the South St Vrain Creek.
  • Brainard Lake Recreation Area Winter Season Regulations (Nov 15 - Apr 30): Motorized vehicles are prohibited; dogs allowed only on the 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; skis only 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: Drinking Water
Restroom: Vault toilets
Operated By: Concessionaire: American Land & Leisure
Information Center: Boulder Ranger District; 303-541-2500; 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.



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  Latitude : 

  Longitude : 

  Elevation : 
10,050' - 10,600'