• Activities:

    Snowboarding, Chillin, Camping, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Backpacking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Winter

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    3 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    250 Feet

Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
Scenic

No permit needed in winter to camp at this beautiful frozen lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Camp out here and you can experience a fun camp spot in complete solitude in an otherwise very popular winter adventure destination.

The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is a winter adventurers playground with numerous snowshoe and cross country ski options to be explored. This area is popular as it offers dramatic mountain peaks, a trail for everyone (no motorized vehicles off of pavement), and close proximity to the Denver and Boulder metro area.

From Denver, drive about an hour and a half to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, which is located along highway 72, just north of the town of Ward. In winter, there is a gate which blocks the road to Brainard Lake at a large parking lot.

Park and get your gear ready - I manufactured a gear sled or “pulk” with items from my local Home Depot, details of which I will provide later. You can find several options with a quick google search.

Once you are all packed, snowshoes and appropriate layers on, you’re ready to hit the trail for 1.5 miles of slight uphill hiking along Lefthand Reservoir Road. As you approach the lake, the terrain begins to open up and the camping spots are endless. We actually had to retreat a bit down trail from the lake to find a camp that was sheltered from very intense winds that were sweeping off of the Continental Divide when I was there last.

Benefits of this camp include:

  • Short hike so you can easily go back to your car if the weather gets out of control;

  • Easy to follow path in winter as you are actually hiking on what is a dirt road in summer;

  • Dramatic views of the Indian Peaks

  • You’ll feel like you and your group are the only people in the world;

  • Stars, stars and more stars!

As this is a backcountry camp spot, you’ll want to plan accordingly to make sure you have easy to prep meals and all the supplies you’ll need for a couple days in the backcountry. As Colorado winters can be brutally cold, be sure you have a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the temperatures, and plenty of layers and insulation to keep warm during those long winter nights.

And as always, leave no trace principles should be observed here. Also, moose are prevalent in the area, so care should be taken if you encounter these or other wildlife. 

Pack List

Gear

  • Sled/ Pulk to tow your gear
  • Four-season tent and snow stakes
  • Four-season sleeping bag
  • Insulated sleeping pad
  • Trustworthy stove for winter conditions and plenty of fuel
  • Headlamp and extra batteries - batteries will drain fast in the cold

Sustenance

  • Dehydrated or other backpacking meal. Soup is also a good option
  • Water will freeze so keep it close to the body and melt snow
  • Coffee/Tea/Hot Cocoa are always great to warm the body before bed and in the morning

Clothing

  • Layers and insulation to stay dry and warm
  • Extra base layers in case you get wet
  • Snow boots
  • Snowshoes
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Matthew Eaton Explorer

Greetings! I am an outdoor lifestyle and adventure photographer based in Denver, Colorado. Loving life since 1983. I hope you find some of my adventures below helpful and inspiring!

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