Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Area Status: Open
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.

Mid-June through mid-October (summer operating season):

  • 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
  • Camping is allowed at Pawnee Campground (open July through early September), and visitors with a Pawnee Campground reservation do not need to make a timed-reservation.
    • A Pawnee Campground reservation allows visitors to park only within the campground for the duration of their reservation. A timed-reservation is required for all visitors wishing to park in any other lot within Brainard Lake Recreation Area (including trailhead parking lots).
  • Check 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 trail conditions before your visit.
  • See "Restrictions" below for additional regulations.

Target 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. 

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

At a Glance

Current Conditions: To reduce crowding, the Forest has a timed reservation system for Brainard Lake. 
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 timed-ticket reservation is required to enter Brainard Lake Recreation Area. There is no fee to park at the Gateway Trailhead and access by foot/bike. Please see for all fees and additional information.
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: Not yet available
Restroom: Vault toilets
Operated By: Concessionaire: American Land & Leisure
Information Center: Boulder Ranger District; 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.

Difficulty Level: Easy to Intermediate

Road Cycling

Recreation areas with activity Road Cycling:

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

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. A $1 per person fee applies to those riding bicycles into the recreation area during the summer operating season. 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

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  Latitude : 

  Longitude : 

  Elevation : 
10,050' - 10,600'