Brainard Lake Winter Closure Gate (10,114 Feet)
February 16th, 2008
4.6 Miles Roundtrip
Greenhouseguy and Greenhouse Spouse
†Quality Time on a High-Quality Trail
The Colorado Mountain Club Snowshoe Trail is a popular destination in the mountains north of Nederland. The trail winds through a scenic subalpine forest and rises and falls over rolling terrain. It is an excellent route for beginners, but more experienced hikers may never tire of the fine views of Brainard Lake and the Indian Peaks at the end of the trail.
The CMC Snowshoe Trailhead
The trailhead is on the south side of Brainard Lake Road about 200 feet short of the winter closure gate. The trail started off on a gradual slope, and headed westward towards Red Rock Lakeís southern shore. There was plenty of powdery snow on this part of the trail.
The lower portion of the CMC Snowshoe Trail
The trail narrowed as it entered a denser part of the forest. It was sunny and the temperature was in the low 30ís; the trees sheltered us from a stiff breeze. It was a great day for a hike.
A straight stretch of trail through the dense forest
There were not many vistas along the trail, but one view of Mt. Audubon was particularly nice.
Mt. Audubon viewed from the CMC Snowshoe Trail
After about 1.25 miles, the trail crossed Brainard Lake Road. We walked down the road for about a hundred yards to reach the north part of the CMC Snowshoe Trail.
Looking towards the north part of the CMC Snowshoe Trail
The north part of the trail started off on a level grade, and then took a sharp left turn and headed uphill. The uphill portion of the hill was relatively short. After a few minutes, I started to notice restrooms, picnic tables, and other amenities of the Pawnee Campground on the left (south) side of the trail. Up ahead, the view of Brainard Lake started to open up. It was windy when we stepped out of the trees, but the scenery was fantastic. Behind the lake was a panoramic view of the heart of the Indian Peaks: Mt. Audubon, Paiute Peak, Mt. Toll, Little Pawnee Peak, Pawnee Peak, Shoshoni Peak, and others.
Carolyn standing on the shore of Brainard Lake with (right to left) Mt. Audubon, Paiute Peak, Mt. Toll, Little Pawnee Peak, and Pawnee Peak behind her
We decided to make a loop hike by following Brainard Lake Road back to the car. We took a shortcut through the Pawnee Campground. The campground is usually loaded with snow because there is nothing to block the wind and snow coming off of the Continental Divide.
The road through the Pawnee Campground
Brainard Lake Road held a small amount of snow. The wind will occasionally scour it down to bare asphalt, but the weather had been milder than usual over the last few days.
Following Brainard Lake Road back to the trailhead
The snow on the road was shallow and pretty firm, so we removed our snowshoes for the rest of the hike. On the way back, we had a nice view of Niwot Mountain. I heard from an acquaintance that it was pretty windy on Niwot Mountain that day; I hiked it a few weeks ago, and had a similar experience, In spite of the frequently harsh wind, itís a great hike.
Niwot Mountain seen from Brainard Lake Road
When we got back to the car, the trailhead was incredibly crowded. Cars were parked on both sides of the road for at least a quarter of a mile. I didnít feel like the trail was crowded, but there were certainly a lot of people on the road as we approached the trailhead. Itís best to arrive at the gate by 8:00 if you want to find any degree of solitude. In spite of the crowd, this is still a fine snowshoe hike. Itís fairly close to the Metro area, there is almost always plenty of snow in the forest, and the views of the Indian Peaks are unsurpassed.