Snowshoeing Brainard Lake

Hiking with Huge Shoes

(Looking for a closer alternative? Try the Lost Lake snowshoe trail)

Looking for more current trail conditions? Try the Snowshoe Trail Conditions - Brainard Lake area!

February 12, 2000

Greg and I had been kicking around the idea of a snowshoe trip for some time when we finally decided that the snow had built up enough to actually make it worth it. After a flurry of emails and phone calls, a group was formed, a date was set, and the search for where to go started. Since none of us had much experience, we weren't sure where to go. After gathering suggestions from avid hikers at work it was decided to try Brainard Lake, on Highway 74 almost to Niwot.

With rentals and new wool socks from REI, Kate and I headed to the meeting place in Boulder early Saturday morning. It was a bit chilly but the day promised to be bright and sunny, hopefully there would be snow on the ground as well.

The seven of us piled into two cars and headed up Boulder Canyon, then hung a right in Nederland. A short while later we made the left onto the road that would (presumably) lead us where we wanted to go. The road dead-ended at a small parking area already filled with other people who apparently had the same bright idea as us.

After taking a few minutes to get all of our gear in order we walked over to the trail map. I'd been biking down the Sourdough Trail before, but that was two years ago and in the summer. Doing this on snowshoes in the winter was going to be a whole new experience. After deciding to take the Sourdough Trail to the St. Vrain Trail on up to Brainard Lake we headed out.

The whole act of snowshoeing seems rather silly the first time you try them on. You strap a very large webbed platform onto your feet and go tromping through snow that you otherwise would never get through. Of course to us beginners it was great, while the girls got used to the shoes the boys spent a lot of energy simply trying to outrun each other while kicking up the most amount of snow. There were also other diversions, like how far off the trail could you actually get without sinking too far in to keep going, how to get up very steep terrain, how to get down very steep terrain. I've talked with various people about their opinion of snowshoeing. Some are very positive and some simply don't like it. If you've never tried it and live in an area that gets enough snow give it a whirl. I think the enjoyability comes from being out in the woods (or fields, depending on where you are), and getting a chance to hike in conditions that make most people stay home. With a big enough platform you can literally float on top of the snow, getting around areas that would otherwise take too much effort to be worth it.

I had picked up a snowshoeing book (Snowshoeing Colorado) while Kate was purchasing gloves from EMS the day before. In this book I found the Brainard Lake area and scanned quickly. The trail I saw was marked as 2.8 miles. It soon became obvious this was not the trail we were actually on. At one point we passed a couple of women coming down the trail who informed us it was more like 6 miles to the lake. This actually didn't discourage us enough to turn around and go back to the cars (we didn't know how far in we were), but it did make us wonder what time we'd actually get done, and what the fastest route back from the lake would be.

There are several forks in the St. Vrain Trail leading up to Brainard Lake, we stuck to the left (I do remember stretches of the trail from my previous trip biking, eventually we went past the last fork that I'd ridden right on, leaving us all in new territory). At one point Greg and I stopped while everyone else continued on. We had stopped to take a look at his USGS map. Unfortunately the map only showed one fork in the trail (we'd passed several), and only two trails (according to the sign at the trailhead and the book I'd seen the day before there were actually about 4). Greg and I headed on up the trail to catch everyone else, who had finally stopped for some food and water near a small clearing.

We kept going, still not knowing how far along we were, occassionally passing other people on skis and showshoes. Eventually we reached the lake (we'd been hiking for several hours at that point but it didn't seem that long to me).

The lake was frozen enough to walk across, and the cleats on the snowshoes gave an excellent grip on the ice (and it was kind of fun to realize you could stand on the ice and not slip). While Stacy and Kate sat down to break out the food I practiced running in showshoes by chasing an extremely fast Black Labrador that had come up the same trail we did with a group of hikers only minutes ahead of us. While I quickly got tired the group decided to head to the CMC cabin on the west end of the lake to get out of the cold and eat the lunches we'd carried up.

To get to the cabin, walk to the west end of the lake and take the small service road that curves back to the north (the road is gated off to prevent cars), then follow the signs up the very short trail.

Inside the cabin we found a small group of people who'd booked the cabin for an extended weekend of camping. They'd come up the main road at 1 am the night before through the wind and blowing snow, but were in good spirits considering the great day (while it never got hot out I never once got cold). The campers were a mix from both Denver and Chicago and planned to stay at least 3 days. They had a very nice fire going in the wood stove and we all chatted while we ate. (You're encouraged to leave a donation for using the cabin, the recommended amount is only $1 or so, more if you'd like). At the end of lunch we packed everything up into our backpacks then headed outside to get our gear back on, while one of the campers graciously came out to take a couple of photos for us.

After that it was time to get back to the cars, and by the fastest route possible. It was now 3pm, and with the look of the clouds rolling in it'd be either getting dark soon or snowing heavily (or both).

The road back down was a lot easier to navigate than coming up. While there were some large snowdrifts the actual snow cover got skimpy enough that most of us took off our snowshoes and just headed down in our hiking boots. It was also a lot shorted, somewhere around 1.8 miles, bringing our total for the day up to just about 8 miles, not back for a whole group who had virtually no experience snowshoeing at all. Seeing the parking lot and the cars of course brought a sigh of relief and congradulations all around for a day well spent in the outdoors of Colorado.


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