Nestled high in the sub-alpine forest next to the Continental Divide, Brainard Lakes Recreation Area offers a wealth of wonder that shifts with the seasons. Most visitors come in summer when wildflowers bloom to enjoy camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking, wildlife watching, and horseback riding. Temperatures are crisp during fall and spring when areas become open for hunting. Winter brings loads of snow, which is perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Roads close during winter, but the parking area at Brainard Gateway Trailhead remains accessible. It is 2 miles to Brainard Lake from there.
There are over 20 miles of trails crisscrossing throughout the recreation area. By heading west (see Mitchell Lake + Blue Lake or Pawnee Pass), you enter Indian Peaks Wilderness--a backpacking destination where challenging trails straddle the Continental Divide. When hiking in the recreation area or in the wilderness area, wildlife encounters are common. This area is known for its moose, which should be admired only from a safe distance.
Though named for the large Brainard Lake (technically a reservoir), the area actually boasts several lakes, all with their own unique character. These have been carved out within the glacier-swept valley. Talus fields surrounding the upper lakes testify to ongoing erosion. The dramatic backdrop of rugged ice and rock are 12,000 and 13,000-foot peaks, including the especially jagged Apache and Shoshoni Peaks.
Pawnee Campground is the developed camping area, and it is right on the shores of Brainard Lake. It has 40 sites open to tents or RVs and provides toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, water, and trash service. There are no RV hookups or dump stations. Sites are reservable by calling 1.877.444.6777.
Making reservations is not a bad idea, because this campground is in high demand during the short summer season. It is only guaranteed to be open July through Labor Day. Call the Boulder Ranger District office at 303.541.2500 for information.