Lake Helene

Round-Trip Length:  6.5 miles
Start-End Elevation:  9,475′ – 10,692′
Elevation Change:  +1,217 net elevation gain
Skill Level:  Moderate
Trailhead Location:  Bear Lake Trailhead is located 8.9 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Bear Lake Trailhead is located at the end of this road. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.

Last Sunday we decided to head back up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike.  Although we have done a lot of hikes in the park over the years, there are still trails we’ve never been on.  I picked out Lake Helene, a smaller less popular trail than many others.  Although we like Rocky Mountain National Park, it gets so crowded in the summer with tourists.

We headed out from home early, hoping to find a spot at the Bear Lake parking lot.  Although we arrived in the park around 8:15am, it was still way too late to get a parking spot at that lot.  We had to park in the shuttle lot several miles down the road and even that lot was already quite full.  Some friends of ours were also in Rocky Mountain National Park that day and got a slightly later start and they had to park at the Visitor Center near Estes Park and take two different shuttles to get to the Bear Lake area to start their hike.  So, word to the wise, get a very, very early start or be prepared to ride the shuttles!

A couple of pictures of Bear Lake with Hallett Peak reflecting in the lake.  We were still early enough to see the calm waters of the lake and the morning light.

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We started around Bear Lake to the turn off for Lake Helene.  Lake Helene is not marked on any of the trail signs.  You just need to follow signage for Odessa Lake which is beyond Lake Helene.

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After about 0.45 miles the trail splits, with the right spur heading to Bierstadt Lake.  We took the left, still heading in the direction of Odessa Lake.

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We continued climbing up and soon had some great views to the south of Longs Peak.

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The next signage was the turnoff for Flattop Mountain (1 mile from the trailhead).  We kept to the right still in the direction of Odessa Lake.

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We came to a small stream crossing with some beautiful wildflowers.

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Continuing up the trail.

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Encountering some snow between the trees as we continued up.

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As we continued to climb, we did encounter some late season snow fields we need to cross.

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Shortly after that, we crossed a small scree field on an open slope and discovered a few columbine blooming around the rocks.

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Ours views opened looking in the direction of where Lake Helene lies.

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I always have to pause to take any reflection shots I can find, even if just in a small pool!

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We are getting closer to Lake Helene with great views up the valley.

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To the left of the trail we caught a glimpse of Two Rivers Lake but the trees were blocking the view and there was no trail to the lake so we continued up towards Lake Helene.

We turned off of the main trail onto a social trail and headed towards Lake Helene.  Before long we arrived.

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As we sat for a minute, Lisa spotted some moose on the other side of the lake.

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We continued up a short distance and climbed on a small ridge to have our lunch and take in the views including a waterfall.

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We saw quite a few marmots scrambling around on the boulders as well.

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After our lunch break, we headed back down towards Lake Helene and made our way through through some of the dense krummholz to get to the  northeast shore where we could get the great views of Flattop Mountain (12,324′), Ptarmigan Point (12,363′) and Notchtop Mountain (12,129′).

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We headed back up to the main trail.  When we reached it, we took a left and headed up just a short distance to another overlook.  We had a beautiful view down towards Odessa Lake, another 1.15 miles.  We decided not to hike down to the lake but just enjoy the views of it from our vantage point.

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More spectacular views from this lookout.

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After taking in the views, we headed back down the trail towards the trailhead.  More wildflowers along the trail.

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A final shot of Hallett Peak back at Bear Lake before getting on the shuttle to take us back to our car.

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Our trail route for the day.

Lake Helene Map





Rainbow Lakes

Round-Trip Length:  3.04 miles
Start-End Elevation:  9,984′ – 10,283′
Elevation Change:  +299′ net elevation gain
Skill Level:  Easy
Trailhead Location:  The Rainbow Lakes Trailhead is located 5 miles west of Highway 72 on Rainbow Lakes Road (a.k.a. County Road 116 – National Forest System Road 298). Rainbow Lakes Road is located 7.35 miles north of Nederland, CO. Turn west from Highway 72 on Rainbow Lakes Road and keep straight past the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station access road and Caribou 4WD turnoff, through the Rainbow Lakes Campground to the small parking area at the road’s terminus at the trailhead.

Last Sunday we decided to get out for a short hike up to Rainbow Lakes.  I had snowshoed in this area a few years ago but never made it up to the lakes.  Even though a short hike, it was still beautiful.  The trail starts at the Rainbow Lakes Campground area.


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A quarter of a mile up the trail is the junction for the Arapaho Glacier trail.  I want to return another day to hike this trail to get some great views of  Silver, Island, Goose, and Triple lakes.  These lakes have no public access as they are part of the City of Boulder Watershed.


We continued up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness to the first lake at 0.35 miles.  Actually these lakes are really more ponds than lakes.

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We continued on up the trail to the second pond and a small stream crossing with some beautiful wildflowers.

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We continued on up the trail to more wildflowers.

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After about a mile we arrived at the third pond.

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We explored around between the 3rd and 4th ponds taking in the beautiful reflections and just enjoying the day.

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After a short break, we headed back down the trail.

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A shot from the trail head parking lot after returning from our hike.

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Our trail route today.

Rainbow Lakes Map

A few shots as we were heading back down the Rainbow Lakes road back to the highway.  I found the same shot I took a few years back on the snowshoe trek up this road.

Rainbow Lakes Road

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Now time to head to Wondervu for a late lunch!




Mayflower/Lower Mohawk Lakes

Round-Trip Length: 6.2 miles – includes lower Mohawk only
Start-End Elevation: 10.360′ – 11,890′
Elevation Change: +1,530′ net elevation gain
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: From the last traffic light on South Main Street in Breckenridge (the Boreas Pass Road / Broken Lance Road intersection), drive south on Highway 9 for about 2.3 miles to Spruce Creek Road (County Road #800). Turn right onto Spruce Creek Road and drive 1.2 miles to the well-marked Spruce Creek Trailhead. Park here.

Last Sunday we did our annual trip up to Summit County with our friend Janet. We leave early and attend the Dillon Community Church service held at the beautiful Dillon Amphitheater and then head out for a hike after the service. It was a beautiful day.
A view of Lake Dillon near the amphitheater.

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After the church service we headed out to Breckenridge and the Mayflower Lake/Mohawk Lakes trail which starts from the Spruce Creek Trailhead. Signage at the start of the trail.

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We headed down the trail.

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I realized I didn’t really take any pictures along the trail.  The trail travels mostly through the trees and reaches the Wheeler Lake junction at 1.5 miles.  We hiked to Wheeler Lake several years ago starting from the southern trailhead just on the south side of Hoosier Pass near Montgomery Reservoir.  You can read about that hike here.

At the Wheeler Lake junction I did get some great reflection pictures in a large marshy meadow with views of Mt. Helen (13,164′).

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Some interesting designs of the swirls in the water.

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We continued up the trail to the trail split for Mohawk Lakes.

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We headed in the direction of Mayflower Lake, passing some homestead ruins just before the lake.

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After a short 0.5 miles from the trail junction we arrived at the lake.  The lakes sits at an elevation of 11,365′.

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We stopped here for a lunch break.  I then decided I wanted to head up to Continental Falls and lower Mohawk Lake.  Lisa and Janet stayed at Mayflower Lake enjoying the views while I headed off.

Some more shots of around Mayflower Lake while they waited.

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It looks like there might have been some good fishing in the lake!


I continued up in the direction of Continental Falls.  In a short distance I came to an old mining cabin still intact near the base of the falls.

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I walked over to get a view of the falls from here.

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I continued up the steep trail, switch-backing up along the falls.  Another overlook of the falls a little further up.

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A look back across the valley to the peaks.

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Further up the trail were more mining ruins as I approached lower Mohawk Lake.

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A look down on a small pond below.

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A stream outlet from lower Mohawk Lake.

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I soon arrived at stunning lower Mohawk Lake!  Lower Mohawk Lake sits at an elevation of 11,810′.

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I sat for a few minutes taking in the views before heading back down to meet up with Lisa and Janet.

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Upper Mohawk Lake was another 0.5 miles up the trail with an additional 263′ of elevation gain.  I decided to save that for another day and head back since Lisa and Janet were waiting.

I headed down and met up with them and then we made our way back to the trailhead. It was a perfect day to be up on the High Country.

An overview of our hike.

Trail Image




Silver Dollar/Murray Lakes

Round-Trip Length:  4.3 miles – includes both lakes
Start-End Elevation:  11,235′ – 12,205′
Elevation Change:  +970′ net elevation gain
Skill Level:  Moderate
Trailhead Location:  From I-70, exit #228 for Georgetown and follow signs through town for Guanella Pass Road. Follow Guanella Pass Road 9.9 miles south to the Silver Dollar Lake parking area on the right. A 4WD road continues .6 miles to the trailhead. While some 2WD vehicles can make the drive, it’s not recommended.  Parking on Guanella Pass Road adds 1.2 miles and +335′ to the roundtrip hike.

The weather on Father’s Day was perfect to get out into the High Country.  We had a guest from out of town visiting and decided to take her out on a new hike she hadn’t done before here in Colorado. The Silver Dollar Lake trail is a moderate hike not too far from the metro area with beautiful views above tree line.  I wasn’t sure what the trail conditions would be like as I hadn’t been up on this trail in June before so wasn’t sure how much snow we would still encounter. We drove to the trailhead (we were able to drive the 4WD road up the 0.6 miles from the Guanella Pass Road and park at the actual trailhead) and started up the trail.

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A beautiful shot looking up through the trees.

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Some beautiful wildflowers along the trail.

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Our first glimpse of Naylor Lake and the Continental Divide further up the trail.

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A short distance further we encountered our first of many snow field crossings to come.

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We continued on up through the snow.

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We hiked higher up on the ridge overlooking Naylor Lake below.  Naylor Lake sits at 11,605’ and is on private property.

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Heading up more snow fields as we continue to climb in the direction of Silver Dollar Lake.

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Looking back down towards Naylor Lake.

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Onward and upward….

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We arrived at Silver Dollar Lake which sits at 11,950’.

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Silver Dollar Lake with Square Top Mountain (13,794’).

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Looking across and up the ridge in the direction of Murray Lake.  You can see the trail angling across the snow field up towards Murray Lake.

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The water outflow from Silver Dollar Lake.

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A little wildlife around the lake including a chipmunk and a white-crowned sparrow.

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After a lunch break at the lake, we continued on up the short distance to Murray Lake.  More beautiful wildflowers along the trail.

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Looking back on Silver Dollar Lake just a little further up the trail.  It was still quite iced over.

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Onwards up the ridge towards Murray Lake.

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Looking back down on Naylor Lake.

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A panoramic view of both Naylor Lake and Silver Dollar Lake.

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Our first view of Murray Lake after we topped out on the ridge.

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We hiked on down to the shore of the lake.  Murray Lakes sits at 12,205’.

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The outflow from Murray Lake.

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After taking in the views of Murray Lake, we headed back down towards Silver Dollar Lake.

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Looking back up the big snow field we had crossed.

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Leaving Silver Dollar Lake and heading back down the trail.

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A marmot was nice enough to pose for us on our way back down the trail!

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I liked the patterns the late afternoon light created on the snowfields.


We made it back to the trailhead and headed back into Georgetown for some dinner to end the day.

An overview of our route.

Silver Dollar Lake Map

St. Mary’s Lake/Glacier

Trail Length: 2.45 miles (roundtrip)
Trailhead Elevation: 10,367’
Elevation Change:  +477, net elevation gain
Trailhead Location:  From I-70, exit #238 for St Mary’s – Alice – Fall River Road. From the exit ramp, turn north on CR 275 and drive 9.2 miles to the St Mary’s Glacier Trailhead on the left (west) side of the road. Roadside parking is restricted (see rules and regulations above). The trail begins on a wide, rocky forest road marked by a large white sign clearly visible from the road.

I wanted to get out again last Sunday but wasn’t sure where to go and I didn’t feel like driving far.  I also try to stay off of the I-70 corridor heading west into the mountains from Denver to avoid all of the ski traffic.  I finally decided on St. Mary’s Lake/Glacier.  It met my criteria and although I did need to take I-70, it was only for a short distance so I knew I would avoid most of the traffic.

I also decided it would be a great spot as I’ve been working on putting together seasonal contrasting photos taken at the same location during different seasons.  Since we do much more summer hiking, we have many photos of mountain lakes and scenes taken during the summer/fall season but need to collect more from the winter season.  So, I headed off for St. Mary’s Lake.  You can read about our June hike to St. Mary’s lake here.

As with last week, it was a beautiful blue sky day when I left, but more clouds in the sky with blowing snow in the high country.

It’s only about 0.5 miles to the northeast shore of the lake.



A contrasting shot comparing this same view to June.


I continued up the trail along the northeast shore of the lake, heading towards the glacier itself.


I proceeded to climb up the glacier (it’s actually a permanent snowfield and not a glacier).  It was quite windy with blowing snow.  A couple of people ahead of me moving up the snowfield.


Looking back down the valley at the lake.




A contrasting shot from this vantage point looking down on the lake from the glacier.


I was going to continue further up the snowfield but the wind was blowing quite strong and it looked like whiteout conditions ahead so I knew I wasn’t going to get any better views so I turned around.

A view of the mountains to the southeast as I turned to head back down.


Back down at the lake’s shore looking back up the snowfield.



Looking across the lake to the south.  I headed across the middle of the lake to the other shore.



A final view of the lake before heading back down the trail.


Taking in the views heading down.



Near the parking lot were some old cabin ruins.




My route mapped out with MayMyHike.


I made it back to the car and started my drive back home.  A few shots taken from the road of the beautiful peaks near St. Mary’s.




A great short outing on a Sunday afternoon!

Loch Vale-Mills Lake

Round-Trip Length: 7.5 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,180 – 10,236′
Net Elevation Gain: +1,056′
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located 8.4 miles from the Meadows Entrance Station on Bear Lake Road. Just past the Beaver Meadows entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. The Glacier Gorge Trailhead is located on the left side of the road and has limited parking. Additional parking and alternative access can be found at the Bear Lake Trailhead. This will add an additional 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.

The second week in a row I decided to go snowshoeing. I decided to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park as it had been a few years since I’ve been up there in the winter. The forecast called for sun and wind. It seems it is always windy up in the park in the winter. I was hoping for a clear day to get some good photos. Although there was blue sky, because the wind was quite strong and gusty, it was blowing snow all around the peaks and those weren’t as clear as I would have liked but it was still a great day to get out.

I arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and got on the trail around 9:55am. A short distance up the trail, I came to a bridge crossing. You can see the depth of snow here. The snow was all the way to the top of the bridge railings.


A short distance further up the trail (about a quarter of mile from the trailhead) I came to the first trail sign junction. I headed off in the direction of Alberta Falls and Loch Vale.


In 0.87 miles from the trailhead, I arrived at Alberta Falls. The waterfall is named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area. Normally the 30-foot waterfall thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek. No falls in the dead of winter.


Here is a comparison photo comparing winter to autumn at Alberta Falls.


I continued on up the trail. At 2.2 miles I came to the Loch Vale – Mills Lake junction. I continued on up towards Loch Vale.



At the junction of the North Longs Peak trail, I did get a little lost. It is much harder to follow a trail in the winter. I ended up going a short distance up the North Longs Peak trail where the tracks just kind of ended. I turned around and eventually found my way back to the Loch Vale trail and continued up. The snow deepened and the climb steepened on the final approach to the lake.





I arrived at the lake where there were quite strong gusts of wind. Here’s a short video to give you an idea (and this was during a calm spell)!


Some shots around the lake.






I did head across the frozen lake and up into the trees a short distance on the other side.




Some parts of the lake had huge snow drifts while other parts the wind had totally blown off the snow exposing shiny ice.


A couple of more shots of the lake.



Here is a comparison shot contrasting Loch Vale today with an autumn shot.


I started back down the steep, snowy section of the trail.


I reached the trail junction with Mills Lake and decided to head the 0.6 miles up to that lake. A view heading up.


The final approach to Mills Lake.



I arrived at Mills Lake and sat for a few minutes taking in the view. It wasn’t quite as windy here as it was at Loch Vale.



Another contrasting shot of Mills Lake in summer compared to today.


I headed back on down the trail. I again lost the trail at the North Longs Peak trail junction. I would follow a set of tracks that would just kind of end. I turned around and headed back up the way I came from searching for the trail. The wind was quite strong blowing over and covering up tracks that were made. I ran into several other people and together we tried to find the right way. After a little searching, I finally got on the correct trail again. Always a little scary when you lose the trail, especially in winter! There was actually a guy who spent the night out just a few days ago in this very area and was found and taken out the next morning. He had hypothermia but was OK otherwise. A good reminder to respect the mountains and weather conditions and always be prepared!

I made it back down to the car around 3:00pm and was ready to call it a day. An overview of my trip. The route is not accurate on the way back from Loch Vale as my phone shut off at Loch Vale because it was too cold. So, it shows a straight shot to car not following the trail nor my detour up to Mills Lake.


Brainard Lake Snowshoe

Trail Length: 6.41 miles
Trailhead Elevation: 10,065’
Maximum Elevation: 10,379’
Elevation Change: +314′ net elevation
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead Location:    Take Highway 72 to the town of Ward. Just north of Ward turn west of Forest Service Road 102 (Brainard Lake Road) and drive 2.5 miles to the winter closure and parking lot.

Last Sunday I got out with some good friends for my first snowshoe trek of the season. The mountains have been getting plenty of snow already this year so I was excited to get out into the High Country. Brainard Lake is always a nice area and also off the beaten path avoiding the ski traffic into the mountains. The forecast was for some sun and some possible snow showers.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 10:00am and headed out on the trail around 10:20am. In the summer you can drive up to Brainard Lake and start off from there on one of the many trails into the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. However, in the winter the road is closed 2.5 miles from the lake and you must park and walk/snowshoe the additional distance to get to Brainard. You can opt to snowshoe the road or take the Colorado Mountain Club Snowshoe Trail through the woods. We opted for the snowshoe trail. The trail is 0.75 mile longer than taking the road but more scenic as it’s a single track trail through the woods. A view from the parking lot before we headed out.


Heading up through the woods on the trail.



Just a short distance up the trail we passed a small pond. Some views from the pond.





We saw some pretty cool looking ice crystals at the pond as well.



We continued on up the trail. An occasional peak through the trees at the peaks.


The trail continued on up for 1.5 miles, crossed the road, and continued on up another 1 mile to the east shore of Brainard Lake at 10,360’. We arrived at the lake around 11:35am. It was amazingly calm at the lake. This area is normally known to be quite blustery. We sat here and ate our lunch and took in the views. We had lost the little sun we had but still had a nice view of the peaks.





After our lunch, we decided to head back down. There several other trails that head off from Brainard Lake to Mitchell Lake, Blue Lake, Long Lake, and Lake Isabelle. We recently hiked all of those lakes this past summer. You can read about those hikes by clicking on the links on the lake names mentioned. You can also read about my snowshoe hike to Long Lake in 2013 by clicking here.

A comparison photo of Brainard Lake – one shot taken in June of 2016 and the other shot taken on today’s snowshoe trek. Quite a contrast in seasons!


We made a loop and headed back to the parking lot. A small bridge crossing along the way.


The map of our route for the day.


We headed back to Littleton and stopped off at the Morrison Inn in Morrison for some Mexican food before getting back home.