The blog is back, baby! I’m exciting to get back to writing about the adventures I have in Colorado and beyond. I hope this blog is a resource for those looking to explore Colorado and can inspire those who may be further from the Centennial State. I’m sure I’ll post random stories too, because I know those are fan faves.
Quick recap for new readers – I’m Amber, I moved to Colorado in August of 2016 with my husband to start a new chapter in our lives. We spend our weekends watching movies, hanging out with friends, and going on adventures (Code for: hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, etc). This blog has been on hiatus since we moved to Colorado – I lost my writing groove and got lazy with updating. I hope to dedicate time to write once every week or two to recap our most recent adventure and share what we’ve experienced.
Snowshoeing is one of our favourite winter activities. Like hiking? Enjoy winter? Want to participate in a relatively inexpensive activity that burns a lot of calories? You’ve gotta try snowshoeing.
Brainard Lake Recreation Area is a fantastic destination in the Front Range to snowshoe. Two words: Dedicated Trail. That’s right, a dedicated snowshoe trail that takes you from the winter trailhead (the parking lot which is free to park), through the woods, past meadows and lakes, through a campground, to beautiful Brainard Lake. Brainard Lake also boosts dedicated trails for cross country skiing! The skiiers can use the snowshoeing trail but I haven’t seen anyone use it just yet.
Our recent sojourn to Brainard Lake was eventful to say the least. We left a little later than normal, we’re usually the early birds – those people who take one of the first spaces and leave when most people are showing up. That didn’t happen this time. And we have regrets.
Brainard Lake Recreation are is an hour drive from us, coming from the north-Denver suburbs. We arrived around 10:30am and the parking lot was moderately full. While I had gone snowshoeing twice already this season, it was Richard’s first time out. The weather was participating, only “breezy” (Brainard Lake is notoriously windy, sitting up at over 10,000 ft), and it wasn’t snowing.
Let me be very clear – snowshoeing is a workout! You will burn a lot of calories, so you need to dress in layers and bring snacks (our fatal mistake!). I’ve hiked here before using ski goggles because it can be very windy when you are out of the dense tree cover.
The Brainard Lake Snowshoe Trail begins on the southside of Brainard Lake Road, shortly after you pass the gate. The road is usually pretty icy, so be mindful as you walk up to the start of the trail. The majority of the trail is through dense forest, so you’ll be mostly protected from the gusty winds. There are a few steep inclines, and a handful of more gradual inclines – this isn’t a flat trail. You don’t need poles to snowshoe, but I’d recommend it for any hike with rolling terrain, especially for beginners. Shortly after we began, Richard seemed uncomfortable – he kept having to adjust his shoe, pull at his laces….Turns out, his boots that he always wears snowshoeing AREN’T COMFORTABLE – he’s never said anything! I gave him the option, seriously, a no-pressure option, to turn around now because if we keep going and his foot already bugs him, it will not be fun. He decided to press on and he would be okay. Suuuuure.
We didn’t meet many people on the trail. There were two couples we kept pace with, sometimes passed them, then they passed us. You know how that goes! We caught up with everyone when the trail cuts across Brainard Lake Road. The first section follows the south side of Brainard Lake Road, and will ‘break’ at the road itself. You’ll walk up the road approx. 50 feet, then catch the trail on the north (right) side of the road- keep your eyes peeled for trail markers in the trees! It can be difficult to see when there is heavy snow/winds along the road.
The trail will then continue along the north side of the road, again through dense forest, with a slow gradual incline. You’ll come out of the dense forest and will be in the Pawnee Campground! You’re out of the trees, but follow the treeline to catch up with the trail at the end of the campground. This is important, when you reach the end of the campground – you’ll have a choice. Take the road left, where you’ll see a stop sign and Brainard Lake Road…. OR STAY RIGHT, follow the signs for “Do Not Enter” (for the cars) and here is where you will catch up with the snowshoeing trail again. We missed this piece of the trail the first time we visited, and AGAIN this last time. We just couldn’t see the signs for the trail, and Brainard Lake Road is right there, and will take you to the lake in about 1/4 mile, but it’s not as enjoyable walking up the windy road as taking the snowshoe trail.
You’ll be on this last stretch for only a short while, and it will end at beautiful Brainard Lake. Word of warning – weather here is precarious. We have taken this trail three times and I’ve never gotten a great view of the mountain. There’s usually a lot of clouds and wind – adjust your expectations so you’re not disappointed. The trail is wonderful and worth the trip, even if you don’t get the perfect vista at the end.
This trip, we took Brainard Lake Road from the campground and didn’t get to see too much. Since we had missed the final section of the trail, we wandered around the lake a little bit to look for it. Another warning if you’re like us and don’t come prepared with a detailed map, you want to take the Brainard Lake Snowshoe Trail back. You may see a trailmarker for “Snowshoe Trail” – this is a different snowshoe trail that will take you to the CMC Cabin! This will not connect with the Brainard Lake Snowshoe Trail…. which of course I thought it did!!!
We added about 1.5 miles to our snowshoe by hopping on this trail. I definitely thought it was the right trail, and told Richard very confidently that this would be it (I mean, it is labelled Snowshoe Trial). I didn’t think anything of the fact that no one had been on this trail yet. We walked through a couple feet of powdery, fluffy snow (a workout!), before we came upon the CMC cabin. Hmm… I’ve never seen a cabin before?! Strange…. Richard was not a happy camper at this point. Snowshoeing is tiring, we started late, brought no snacks, and went an extra 3/4 of a mile we didn’t need to take. As much as we were sore, tired, and hungry – I was SUPER excited to come upon this delightful cabin. There were skis and snowshoes posted up outside, so there were people inside… and maybe a map I could consult (heh).
Richard waited outside (did I mention he wasn’t happy?) while I took off my snowshoes to head into the cabin and see what was up. I was so surprised! Not only were there a few people inside playing card games and chatting, there was a wood burning fire and a couch to relax on. YES. I signed the guest book “Amber from Broomfield,” said hello to the people inside, and sat my butt down on the couch to warm up. I couldn’t believe Richard didn’t want to come in! He was crazy. They had maps available I could consult and discover that we were indeed on the wrong trail. Oh well, without this little detour I wouldn’t have found the cozy cabin. A happy accident!
Our way back was pretty quiet, save the crunching of our snowshoes. The goal was to get back to the car as soon as possible so we could eat!!! You know, after all of these years hiking and being outdoors for lengthy periods of time, you’d think we’d be smart enough to bring food. Rookie mistake.
We’ll be back to Brainard Lake a couple more times this season, I’m sure – it’s hard to beat considering the free and plentiful parking, great snow coverage, relatively marked trails, and the potential to see a beautiful lake after all that work.
Have you ever gone snowshoeing? What are your favourite trails? DO YOU ALWAYS REMEMBER TO BRING SNACKS?