Round-Trip Length: 8.0 miles roundtrip
Start-End Elevation: 10,061′ – 10,661′
Elevation Change: +600 net elevation gain
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Take Highway 72 to the town of Ward. Just north of Ward turn west on Forest Service Road 102 (Brainard Lake Road) and drive 2.5 miles to the winter closure and parking lot.
Although we have done quite a bit of hiking this winter, we hadn’t been up in the High Country for any winter snow hiking/snowshoeing. I checked the weather for this weekend and Saturday was supposed to be a gorgeous day in the mountains – warm, sunny, and no wind! I called good friends of ours to see if they would be interested for a snowshoe hike up in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area and they were in. We headed up to the Brainard Lake area. This area is usually quite windy in the winter but today was a beautiful sunny calm day. We also decided to head up to this area because as of Monday, March 5th the road from Highway 72 up to the winter parking lot (and all the way to the summer parking area at Brainard Lake) will be closed for reconstruction until June 28th so this weekend was the last chance to get up to Brainard Lake until the summer.
We arrived at the winter parking lot. Although there was snow, they hadn’t had any fresh snow in a little while so we decided to leave our snowshoes in the car and just hike in boots. It ended up being a good decision. Although there was plenty of snow, the trail was packed down and we were able to hike fine just in boots if we stayed in the center of the trail. However, one step off to the side and we post-holed quite deep into the snow! But, without snowshoes we were able to hike faster and cover more mileage.
We started our hike by heading up the trail/road to Left Hand Reservoir. None of us had ever been up to this reservoir in either the winter or summer. Left Hand Creek and Left Hand Reservoir were named for Chief Left Hand of the Arapaho Indians. Heading up the 4-wheel drive road.
A view of Mount Audubon (13,223′) from the trail.
Getting close to the reservoir, we could see by the trees that it normally is quite windy up here. However, we were fortunate today to have a calm day.
After 1.90 miles, we arrived just below the reservoir dam.
We climbed the dam to get a view of the frozen reservoir with perfect views of the Indian Peaks. Tracing a clockwise direction, there is Niwot Mountain to the south southeast, Navajo Peak, Apache Peak and Shoshoni Peak to the southwest; and Mount Toll, Paiute Peak, and Mount Audubon to the west northwest.
After a lunch break at Left Hand Reservoir, we headed back down the trail for the junction with Little Raven Ski Trail where we thought we could cut over towards Brainard Lake.
Looking back up towards the Left Hand Reservoir.
When we arrived at the trail junction, we realized the Little Raven Ski Trail was, exactly that, a ski trail. Hikers were not allowed on that trail so we had to continue on down the road. A quarter of a mile from the parking lot, we came to a trail that we could cut over to the trail that headed up to Brainard Lake. So, we cut over and then proceeded to head back up towards Brainard Lake.
We headed up the trail towards Brainard Lake, passing a small frozen pond with great views.
Arriving at Brainard Lake.
We stopped for another break here and took in the views. This is the nicest weather I’ve had at Brainard Lake in the winter!
Peaks from left to right: Pawnee Peak, Mount Toll, Paiute Peak, Mt. Audubon
A view of Mt. Audubon.
After our break, it was time to head back down to the trailhead parking and into the mountain town of Nederland for some pizza and beer at the Crosscut Pizzeria and Taphouse. The weather was so nice we sat out on the outdoor patio!
Our hike route for the day.